Strong Contender among John Ward trio of promising 3-year-olds.

Strong Contender among John Ward trio of promising 3-year-olds.

Equi-Photo/Bill Denver

Late Second Wave About to Hit 3-Year-Old Division

Just when you thought you had a pretty good line on the 3-year-old division, here comes a late tidal wave of talent ready to burst onto the scene. By late summer and early fall, little-known names such as Bright One, Minister's Bid, Sterwins, South of Broad, and Cotton King, along with Latent Heat and On Board Again, could be major players.

The last four named are all trained by Bobby Frankel, who is hoping to find a new 3-year-old star in much the same manner he discovered the late-developing Ghostzapper in 2003.

Lightly raced horses have already done remarkably well this year, with Bernardini winning the Preakness (gr. I) off only three lifetime starts and Showing Up running an excellent sixth in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), also off only three lifetime starts, and then winning the $1-million Colonial Turf Cup in his first start on grass.

Over the past week, there have been several outstanding performances by 3-year-olds who have the potential to be major stars by the end of the year.

On June 17, Dale Romans sent out Bright One, a son of the regally-bred Dance Brightly, to a 9 1/2-length romp in a maiden special weight race at Churchill Downs, in which he covered the mile in 1:33 4/5 in only his second career start.

Romans said he does not want to rush the colt, who got a late start due to a few minor issues. "We're just going to play it by ear," he said. "We want to give him enough time between races and not throw him back too quickly. This is as good a prospect as I've had since Roses in May. My Sheets guy told me he got a "1 3/4" on the Ragozin Sheets, which is as good as he's seen in a maiden race. There's an overnight handicap at the end of the Churchill meet he could run in. I believe by the end of the year he could be one of the best around. He's a big, strong, good-looking horse and we should have a lot of fun with him the rest of the year."

John Ward Jr., who already has a potential star in Dwyer (gr. II) prospect Strong Contender, is looking to step Minister's Bid up to stakes company after the son of Deputy Minister scored his second career victory in as many starts June 22. After coming from 10th in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden race at Keeneland to win by 8 3/4 lengths, Minister's Bid defeated graded stakes horses Racketeer and Flashy Bull in a one-mile allowance race at Belmont, winning by 2 1/4 lengths after stalking the pace the whole way.

Ward has been high on the colt for a long time, and is looking at either the Long Branch (gr. III) at Monmouth or waiting for the Haskell Invitational (gr. I), Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II), or West Virginia Derby (gr. III).

As good as Strong Contender and Minister's Bid have looked, Ward feels his best 3-year-old is stakes-placed Dr. Pleasure, who is entered in an allowance race at Belmont on Wednesday after being sidelined with an injury. All three colts are owned by John Oxley, and Ward said the goal for all three is the Travers (gr. I).

"We're lined up well for second half of the season," Ward said. "Minister's Bid got a 118 speed rating on Equibase. I don't know that much about those figures, but I looked up the Kentucky Derby, and Barbaro got a 119. When I saw that I realized how hard a race that was. Mr. Oxley is out of country, and when he returns, we'll decide how to keep the three horses apart until the Travers. That's the one we want to win. If Dr. Pleasure wins on Wednesday, he could be a candidate for the Jim Dandy. Minister's Bid should like the speedier track at Monmouth. And we'll decide where to go with Strong Contender after we see how he runs in the Dwyer."

Ward also is very high on Extreme Supreme, who finished a strong second in a maiden race last Saturday, won by the Frankel-trained Cotton King, who won by 1 1/2 lengths in 1:23 in the slop. What was most impressive about the race was the 6 3/4-length gap to the third horse. And the time was slightly faster than Frankel's other winner on the card, the stakes-placed Latent Heat, who won an allowance race in a common gallop by nine lengths. Frankel has had high hopes for Latent Heat, who finished third in the Santa Catalina Stakes (gr. II) behind Brother Derek in only his third career start. With four starts under his belt, he finally appears to be coming around and could be on his way to becoming the 3-year-old star Frankel has been looking for.

In addition to Latent Heat, owned by Juddmonte, and Cotton King, owned by Frank Stronach, Frankel also has another potential star in South of Broad, who turned in a huge effort to win his career debut at Hollywood Park June 17. The son of Broad Brush, owned by Stonerside Stable, broke from the disadvantageous rail going seven furlongs, and came out running, setting blistering fractions of :21 3/5 and :44 1/5. After being headed at the top of the stretch by the Bob Baffert-trained Gold Maker, he re-broke and drew off to win by 2 1/2 lengths in 1:22 3/5. The colt's debut had been delayed due to a chip in his knee.

Frankel also is looking forward to the return of the Stronach-owned On Board Again, who broke his maiden by 4 3/4 lengths with a powerful move around the turn back in January at Gulfstream Park before being sidelined. The son of Awesome Again  ran that day under the name of trainer Brian Lynch.

Frankel said he was happy with Racketeer's game second-place finish to Minister's Bid and plans to move him back into stakes company.

Todd Pletcher, who already has a number of top-class 3-year-olds, headed by Bluegrass Cat, Sunriver, and High Cotton, sent out the Eugene Melnyk-owned Sterwins to finish an impressive second in the 1 1/4-mile Queen's Plate Sunday off only two career starts, the farthest being 1 1/16 mile at Monmouth Park.

So, with proven 3-year-olds such as Bernardini, Jazil, Brother Derek, Bluegrass Cat, Sunriver, Sweetnorthernsaint, Discreet Cat, Point Determined, A.P. Warrior, and Steppenwolfer all heading into the big summer and fall stakes, watch out for this exciting second wave to make things even more interesting.