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Thursday, July 25, 2013
Second half questions

By Bill Finley
Special to ESPN.com

The second half of the 3-year-old season kicks off Saturday at Saratoga with the Jim Dandy. With the race for the 3-year-old male championship completely up in the air, the Jim Dandy, Haskell, Travers, Pennsylvania Derby and, perhaps, the Breeders' Cup Classic, are finally going to give some definition to a division that has been crying out for clarity.

Here's a look at the major players, what's in store for them and their odds of winning the 3-year-old championship:

Orb (7-5): Even with a Kentucky Derby win on his record he doesn't get the credit he deserves. It's insane that Oxbow is ahead of him in the polls when this colt has won the Fountain of Youth, Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby and Oxbow's only major win came in the Preakness. That said, he's still got to step up and win the Travers to be firmly entrenched on top of the division. There's no smarter trainer in the sport than Shug McGaughey, so it would be foolish to criticize his moves, but I sure wish he would have this one in the Haskell.

Verrazano (2-1): Very well could be the most talented 3-year-old out there. Though it was in a mere allowance race, his 16 -lengtyh romp back in February at Gulfstream was arguably the best race run this year by any 3-year-old. But he's got a lot to prove. He ran 14th in the Kentucky Derby and then won the Pegasus in a race that became laughably easy when Itsmyluckyday pulled up. Look for him to win the Haskell. If trainer Todd Pletcher is serious about a 3-year-old championship he'll run him back in the Travers, something he may not want to do because the races aren't four months apart.

Oxbow (5-2): Wayne Lukas might get an Eclipse Award for this horse because he's the only trainer out there who still likes to make every dance. He'll be the only horse in the sport to make all three Triple Crown races and the Haskell, something that used to be commonplace. And he's also penciled in for the Travers. Is he a good horse in a bad year who has been in the right place at the right time? That's my guess, but you can go broke fast doubting D. Wayne Lukas.

Palace Malice (6-1): Yes, he's a Classic winner, but the recent history of the Belmont includes a number of horses who never went on to do another thing. This one has never broken a 100 Beyer and was eligible for a non-winners of two allowance before winning the Belmont. Can't see him winning the Jim Dandy or anything else important the rest of the year.

Power Broker (12-1): Bob Baffert has won three straight Haskells and six of the last 12, which is one of the great training accomplishments of this century. In Power Broker, Baffert doesn't appear to have the ammunition to win four straight, but, then again, you just don't know. Baffert has been uncharacteristically careful with this horse, keeping him out of the Triple Crown while feasting on easier spots like the Easy Goer Stakes. That he's finally ready to take the kid gloves off is a sign that he thinks this horse is ready to win something important.

Moreno (15-1): It took him 10 starts to break his maiden, which makes his recent ascension hard to fathom. After he finally broke his maiden, he came right back to win the Dwyer by seven lengths. OK, it was a lousy Dwyer, but he looked awfully good that day. Should he win the Jim Dandy you're going to have to take him seriously.

Golden Soul (20-1): Haskell starter has yet to win this year. The runner-up in the Kentucky Derby, he's got to win something before anyone can get excited about him.

Someone Else (20-1): That no one seems capable of stringing a few wins together and because this is not a particularly strong group, you have to consider that someone will come from nowhere to win the championship. But who?