Will the Handicap Division Party Like it’s 1999 in 2012?
By Dana Byerly, Hello Race Fans Co-founder

Another promising 2011 Kentucky Derby hopeful has successfully made his way back to the track after a long layoff. Boys at Tosconova, thought to be Uncle Mo’s chief rival by many this time last year, won an allowance at Aqueduct on Friday. This was his second start after the layoff, his first being a star-studded allowance race on October 8th where he finished a respectable third.

It’s starting to become apparent that next year’s handicap division might be in better shape than previous years. As the name recognition 3-year-olds retire, the handicap division (4-year-old and up male dirt horses) can become less competitive and interesting than other divisions where the most talented horses are still on the track. We’ve been keeping track of post Breeders’ Cup retirements, but let’s take a look specifically at 3-year-olds likely to return as 4-year-olds.

Animal Kingdom
Kentucky Derby winner, recently started light training after being injured in the Belmont Stakes. He’s pointing to the Dubai World Cup.

Preakness winner, will winter in Florida and return to racing next year. No stated targets.

Ruler on Ice
Was just nominated to the Nov 25 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs. No specific word on whether or not he’ll be back as 4-year-old.

Mucho Macho Man
Just returned in a allowance race [link] after taking break from the Triple Crown trail. He’ll winter in Florida and prepare for a 4-year-old campaign.

Stay Thirsty
Will stay in training next year with a goal of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but will probably have a light campaign.

To Honor and Serve
No word either way but seems likely that he’ll be back.

Boys at Tosconova
No word yet on what’s next but it would be downright weird if they retired him this year since he’s just gotten back to form.

Comma to the Top
Out since sustaining an injury in the Derby, the multiple graded stakes winner seems to be close to a return. It wouldn’t be surprising if he ended up being a sprinter/miler but he’s won at over a mile more than once.

Should Animal Kingdom, Shackleford and Ruler on Ice race next year, it will be the first time since 1999 that winners of all three Triple Crown races returned to race as 4-year-olds. The 1998 Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes winners Real Quiet (Kentucky Derby & Preakness) and Victory Gallop (Belmont) returned as 4-year-olds in 1999 and both won Grade 1 races. In 1998, 1997 Triple Crown race winners Silver Charm (Kentucky Derby & Preakness) and Touch Gold (Belmont) also returned to race as 4-year-olds with Silver Charm winning an impressive five graded races.

We have to go back to 1991 to find a year where all the winners returned and each race had a different winner. Unbridled (Kentucky Derby), Summer Squall (Preakness) and Go and Go (Belmont) returned from the 1990 Triple Crown trail to run and win as 4-year-olds. A year earlier, rivals Sunday Silence (Kentucky Derby, Preakness) and Easy Goer (Belmont) returned as 4-year-olds in 1990 and while they didn’t meet again, they both did score Grade 1 wins.

Here’s hoping that this year’s 3-year-olds party like it’s 1999 in 2012!

Triple Crown Race Winners 4-year-old Campaigns

Notes includes the highest level win achieved in their 4-year-old year.

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