Big Cap Raises More Questions About Quality of Older Dirt Horses

Big Cap Raises More Questions About Quality of Older Dirt Horses

Category : News - Sun 13/03/2016 - 12:06 EDT

Ask even the most diehard horse players to name the top three dirt horses in North America right now, and you’d likely be met with a blank stare – a reaction reinforced by the results of the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap March 12.

With horses like Liam's Map, Honor Code, and of course, American Pharoah, whisked off to stallion duties following the 2015 Breeders' Cup, there's little doubt that California Chrome (scheduled to contest the Dubai World Cup on March 26) is the best dirt horse in training, but who's next? Effinex, a solid, but unspectacular grade 1 winner appeared ready to join the conversation, but when plans to jettison his trip to Dubai were confirmed after a series of poor workouts, there was plenty of reason to doubt his form. Effinex went off at even money in the Santa Anita Handicap, but finished a non-threatening third behind runaway longshot winner Melatonin. 

Lack of depth and quality

If anything, the Big Cap reinforced the parity that exists in the handicap division, but that parity looks largely due to the absence of quality runners at this point in the season. On the east coast, Mshawish, a converted turf runner, is the most accomplished horse in the division following his score in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap February 6 at Gulfstream Park. Not to take anything away from his accmplishments, but when a horse like Mshawish switches surfaces late in his career and immediately ascends to the top of his class, there's reason to doubt his peers.  

Three year-old stealing show

Speaking of peers, it's probably safe to call Keen Ice a bust at this point. Known as the only horse to beat American Pharoah during his historic three year-old season, Keen Ice has since finished fourth, fourth, sixth and seventh - most recently flopping in a Dubai prep race for the World Cup. As three year-old stars like Mohayman, Nyquist and Songbird continue to rack up wins and dominate headlines, the Handicap division is wide open for the emergence of quality runners. 

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