As summer gives way to fall, eyes among those in the thoroughbred racing world turn toward the upcoming Breeders' Cup World Championships at Santa Anita.
Especially concerned with the Breeders' Cup races are the connections of the leading 3-year-olds as they relate to competing against older horses. There are no championship races restricted to 3-year-olds, leaving the sophomore colts, geldings and fillies racing versus their older rivals the first weekend in November.
The Breeders' Cup Classic has been won nine times by 3-year-olds, most recently in 2008 by Raven's Pass and 2007 by Curlin. Just two years ago, Royal Delta won the first of her two Ladies' Classic victories as a 3-year-old filly.
Saturday at Belmont Park, 3-year-olds get the chance to run against older horses, some for the first time, in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Beldame Stakes.
Kentucky Derby winner Orb and Belmont Stakes champ Palace Malice both get to start versus older foes in the Gold Cup while leading 3-year-old filly Princess of Sylmar takes on Royal Delta in the Beldame.
"I think you have to be very good to begin with," Palace Malice's trainer Todd Pletcher responded when asked about a 3-year-old winning versus older horses, "and particularly with this running of the Jockey Club, which looks to be a particularly strong one. But we certainly feel like based on the way that he (Palace Malice) has been running and his maturity level, his physical development, that he certainly should stack up very well."
Pletcher also trains Princess of Sylmar who comes into the Beldame off consecutive wins in the Kentucky Oaks, Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama, all for 3-year-old fillies.
"We will not alter her style, and I think that's really important that Javier (jockey Javier Castellano) understand that and not take her out of her own style," Pletcher said of Princess of Sylmar. "What we've got to hope is the last eighth of a mile, the last sixteenth of a mile that Royal Delta comes back to us a little bit. Obviously, we can be helped by someone showing some initiative early, but if they don't do it, we're just going to let our filly run her race and hope for the best."
As a general rule about pitting 3-year-olds against their more experienced comrades, Pletcher had this to say.
"I think any time you step up into older horses for the first time, it can be challenging."
The challenge Saturday at Belmont Park will go both ways as Princess of Sylmar is the 2-1 second pick behind 3-5 defending winner Royal Delta in the Beldame. While in the Gold Cup, Palace Malice is 4-1 and Orb 9-2 with Cross Traffic the 5-2 favorite and two-time defending champ Flat Out 3-1.