For once, the older horses have stolen the thunder from the more glamorous 3-year-olds.
Today, on different coasts, the Pacific Classic at Del Mar goes head-to-head with the Travers Stakes at Saratoga.
Both races carry a $1 million purse. But since this year's crop of 3-year-olds lacks a standout and seems average at best, the Travers, limited to horses in this age group, has failed to generate much excitement.
Even Glen Mathes, media relations director for the New York Racing Association, says the atmosphere has been "quiet," although he feels the race has attracted the normal amount of press coverage.
A pallor was cast over the Triple Crown-age horses this year when Preakness winner Prairie Bayou, probably the best 3-year-old, broke his leg and was destroyed in the Belmont Stakes. The Preakness contributed its share of tragedy with the death of Union City. And Kentucky Derby winner, Sea Hero, who starts in the Travers at 8-1 odds on the track's morning line, seems to be a quixotic sort whose only moment of glory occurred on the first Saturday of May.
One of three horses -- Colonial Affair, Kissin' Kris and Miner's Mark -- have the potential to go off as a lukewarm Travers choice. But no doubt the crowd will make Belmont Stakes winner, Colonial Affair, the favorite, especially after his rider, Julie Krone, scored big at the Spa yesterday. She joined Angel Cordero Jr. and Ron Turcotte (both retired) as the only jockeys to ride five winners in one day at the track.
But if Saratoga is suffering from the post-Triple Crown blues, the Pacific Classic has brought together a stellar group of accomplished older horses, all Grade I winners. A few years ago many of these horses would have been long-since retired. But these days there is not much of a market for stallion prospects and their value lies on what they can do on the track.
Best Pal, a gelding, has no stud potential. But ever since he impressed observers as a 3-year-old at the Kentucky Derby (he was runner-up to Strike the Gold), he has had the potential to be a force in the sport. Now with a series of small, nagging injuries behind him, he is, at age 5, a candidate for Horse-of-the-Year.
He has never been beaten at Del Mar and is the heavy 4-5 choice to defeat the six other horses, including the improving Maryland-bred Valley Crossing, a slow developer who is just now reaching his best form.
Best Pal could move to third behind Alysheba and John Henry on the list of all-time money winners with a victory in the Pacific Classic. He now ranks sixth.
Although the Pacific Classic has come up a better race than the Travers, Del Mar publicist Mac McBride says it has not received it's fair share of attention.
Both races are part of full-card Saratoga and Del Mar simulcasts and can be bet on at all Maryland wagering outlets except the newly opened Shoals off-track betting parlor in Cambridge, which currently takes only Standardbred wagers.
Maryland Moon is Find choice
Trainer Larry Murray hopes to get the stakes-winning stable of Sondra and Howard Bender back in the winner's circle today in the Find Handicap at Pimlico Race Course.
Maryland Moon, the outfit's best grass runner, is the high-weight and favorite for the $75,000 Find Handicap at nine furlongs on the turf.
Last weekend, the Benders' quick 3-year-old colt, Secret Odds, finished a disappointing sixth in the Sneakerbox Stakes at Monmouth Park after setting the pace in the Frank J. De Francis Dash.
Santos Chavez and Gilberto Delgado, who were involved in a spill at Pimlico on Thursday were treated and released from Sinai Hospital that night. . . . Apprentice Austreberto Salazar rode three winners and Luigi Gino s addled two winners on yesterday's Pimlico card. Gino said that his stable star, Majesty's Turn, returned to the Bowie Training Center this week after spending two months on the farm.