It was yet another roller coaster ride for the Sport of Kings in North America with high points and low points, but all in all it was a solid year that saw impressive horses, fantastic horses and above all tremendous winning streaks. Below, we compiled what we feel were the Top 12 of the 2012 horse racing season.
12. Trinniberg established himself as the top male sprinter in the United States. The three year old colt by Teuflesberg ended 2011 with a disappointing 7th place finish in the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint. It didn’t take him long to get back on track to begin his three year old campaign. He won the Swale Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park in March and Bay Shore Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct in April. I’m not sure what trainer Shivananda Parbhoo was thinking when he had him run 1 1/4 miles in the Kentucky Derby. He ran 17th and near the back of the field. Just a month later, he picked up where he left off in the sprinting ranks. He won the Woody Stephens Stakes (G2) at Belmont Park in June. He surprisingly finished 2nd in the Carry Back Stakes – Gr. 3 at Calder Race Course before running his worst career performance in a sprint race. He finished 9th in the Foxwoods King’s Bishop Stakes (G1). Some thought he wasn’t a Grade 1 calibre horse after that effort. It was his first attempt. He again ran 2nd best in the Gallant Bob Stakes at Parx Racing in September. Going into the Xpressbet Breeders Cup Sprint (G1) at Santa Anita, he wasn’t given much of a chance. He wasn’t able to defeat three year olds in his last three races at this level. How could he beat older horses too? At odds of 13/1, he sat just off the leader early on and outlasted fellow three year old The Lumber Guy to win by 3/4 lengths. He was a legitimate Grade 1 horse and tallied four graded stakes wins.
11. Game on Dude has been the “Dude” in Southern California, but for some reason he can’t seem to win the really big races. He finished 2nd in the Breeders Cup Classic last year and a disappointing 7th this year, despite being on a home track at Santa Anita. He also finished a distant 12th in the Dubai World Cup in March. The five year old son of Awesome Again has five graded wins in eight starts, but none away from Southern California. It does make you wonder if he is capable of running well out of state. Nonetheless, Game on Dude has been dominant on the local circuit winning five graded stakes races. That’s enough to crack the Top 10. He won the Awesome Again Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita, Hollywood Gold Cup (G1) at BetFair Hollywood Park, Californian Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita, San Antonio Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita and Native Diver Stakes (G3) at BetFair Hollywood Park.
10. It was the year of extensive injuries that sidelined several top colts & geldings in the three year old division. So many that it depleted the division down to horses who hadn’t won a stakes race, let alone graded stakes race by the middle of Summer. Some were even forced into early retirement. The following horses bowed out to injury or retirement throughout the year. The stakes race(s) they won are in (). Out of Bounds (Sham Stakes), Algorithms (Holy Bull Stakes), Thunder Moccasin (Hutcheson Stakes) and Secret Circle (Southwest and Rebel Stakes) were gone to injury early in the year, After the Kentucky Derby, the likes of El Padrino (Risen Star Stakes), Went the Day Well (Spiral Stakes), Take Charge Indy (Florida Derby), Gemologist (Wood Memorial), Bodemeister (Arkansas Derby), Union Rags (Belmont Stakes), Hansen (Gotham Stakes and Iowa Derby), Paynter (Haskell Invitational) and of course I’ll Have Another (Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes).
9. The 2012 Travers Stakes did not have the marquee names that we’ve seen over the rich history of the race at Saratoga, but this year’s edition did provide a thrilling finish and an ending that we will never forget. Jim Dandy Stakes winner Alpha, who went off as the 2/1 race favorite, and 33/1 longshot Golden Ticket, made strong moves down the stretch and hit the wire at the same time. Neither Ramon Dominguez or David Cohen knew who won the race. After a long look at the photo, they both won the race in a dead heat. They each took home $400,000. It was the first time since 1874 that the Travers Stakes ended in a dead heat.
8. Trainer Dale Romans might need to change the name of Little Mike to Big Mike. He ended 2011 on a three race winning streak and carried it over to 2012 by capturing the 1 1/8 miles Florida Sunshine Millions Turf Stakes at Gulfstream Park in late January. He led and faded to finish 4th in the Canadian Turf Stakes (G3) in March. At 12/1, he quickly returned to the winner’s circle by defeating a deep field in the 1 1/8 miles Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes (G1) at Churchill Downs. He shipped to Southern California for the Shoemaker Mile Stakes (G1) and finished 3rd after leading for most of the race. In his first attempt at 1 1/4 miles, he found a way to go wire to wire to defeat yet another strong field in the prestigious Arlington Million. He never seemed to find his footing while finishing 5th in the 1 1/2 miles Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park. He led at the very beginning, but quickly dropped back to lose by 27 lengths. As he’s done twice already this year, he rebounded in super star fashion. At odds of 17/1, he defeated an strong field of American and International challengers to win the 1 1/2 miles Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) at Santa Anita. This time, he sat off the early leaders and made a bold move at the far turn. Jockey Ramon Dominguez pushed him to the lead at the top of the stretch and held off a late challenge from Point of Entry. Not quite a Horse of the Year resume, but certainly worthy of a nomination for top Male Turf honors.
7. Bodemeister was a late addition to the Kentucky Derby and triple crown trail as he made his first career start in January. He broke his maiden second time out at Santa Anita, then finished 2nd to Creative Cause in the San Felipe Stakes (G2). His statement to the three year old division came with his destruction of the field in the Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn Park in April. He led early and extended his lead with every stride. He won by 9 1/2 lengths. With ease, he finished the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.71. That performance made him the Derby favorite at odds of 4/1. He looked every bit the best horse for the first 1 1/8 miles as he set blistering fractions that made every believe he would fade badly at the end. If anyone knows Bob Baffert, he has his horses fit and ready for anything. That was certainly the case. He led by 3 lengths at the top of the stretch and looked like the Arkansas Derby all over again. However, Mario Gutierrez and and I’ll Have Another had other ideas. In the final few strides, Bodemeister was caught and lost by 1 1/2 lengths. It was still an incredible performance considering the fraction he set looked like a seven furlongs sprint.The two would hook up again in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico. The Empire Maker colt once again set quick fractions, nothing like the Derby, but still quick. He held a three lengths advantage at the top of the stretch and looked like he would be able to hold of I’l Have Another this time, but would lose at the end by a neck. Unfortunately, for him and racing fans all over the World, he and I’ll Have Another would never race again. He will be remembered for his gutsy performances in defeat.
6. At the beginning of the year, Fort Larned was just another horse in the Allowance ranks that was trying to become a stakes race contender. His first race of 2012 was a 4th in a Handicap at Tampa Bay Downs on February 4. He won the Challenger Stakes at Tampa in his next start. It was the start of better things to come for this four year old colt by E Dubai. He won back to back races for the first time after winning the Skip Away Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park. He finished a close 2nd to Successful Dan in the Alysheba Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs. He finished ahead of horses such as Mucho Macho Man and Nates Mineshaft. His arrival on the big stage was a successful one. A rough trip throughout resulted in an 8th and last in the Stephen Foster Handicap. That didn’t seem to bother this Ian Wilkes trainee as he shipped to Iowa and won the Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap (G3) at Prairie Meadows, won the Whitney Invitational Handicap (G1) at Saratoga, finished 3rd in the TVG Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park before ending his year with a gutsy 1/2 length win over Mucho Macho Man and the rest of the field in the Breeders Cup Classic at Santa Anita. A feel good story from beginning to end this year. Stories that make horse racing that much more special.
5. Point of Entry was a 1/2 length away from being considered a horse of the year nominee. As a three year old, the Shug (Claude) McGaughey trained colt by Dynaformer raced in one stakes race, the Curlin Stakes and finished 4th. He began 2012 with a 4th place finish in an Allowance Optional Claiming $62,500 at Gulfstream in February. His next race began a five race winning streak that included the Man o’ War Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park, Sword Dancer Invitational Stakes (G1) at Saratoga and Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational Stakes (G1) back at Belmont. In the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) at Santa Anita, he was trapped on the rail and didn’t develop any running room until the last 1/16 of a mile. He exploded to make a late surge but ran out of real estate. He finished 2nd beaten 1/2 length to Little Mike. Still a strong year for this colt, but don’t think it will be enough to get nominated for Horse of the Year. He will definitely be on the ballot of Male Turf honors though.
4. The reigning three year old female horse of the year Royal Delta started 2012 with a surprising runner-up effort to Awesome Maria in the Sabin Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park in February. A little over a month later, trainer Bill Mott and the owners from Besilu Stables shipped their star filly to Dubai to once again run against the boys in the $10,000,000 Dubai World Cup. She ran a distant 9th. After a 2 1/2 months break, she returned to destroy the field in the Fleur de Lis Handicap (G2) at Churchill Downs in June. She followed that with a win in the Delaware Handicap (G2) in July. She was narrowly defeated by Love and Pride in the Personal Ensign Handicap (G1) at Saratoga in August. That loss must have struck a nerve as the four year old Empire Maker filly took her frustration out on the field in the Beldame Invitational Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park. She won by 9 1/2 lengths. Her final race of 2012 was winning the Breeders Cup Ladies’ Classic (G1) again. This year at Santa Anita, last year at Churchill Downs. An impressive year that will most likely get her nominated for Horse of the Year.
3. It’s hard to imagine a sprinter getting as much media attention or hype as three year olds along the Derby or Oaks trail or horses from older male and female divisions, but Groupie Doll has put together a season that puts her name among the greats of the sport. The four year old daughter of Bowman’s Band started the year with a 2nd and two 3rd’s in Allowance Optional Claiming and the Grade 3 Sabin Stakes and Inside Information Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Since then, she has been unstoppable. The William Bradley trainee won her next five races including three Grade 1. The most prestigious was her dominant win in the Breeders Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. She also broke the seven furlongs track record at Churchill Downs when she won the Humana Distaff (G1) in a time of 1:20.44. The streak was snapped when she lost by a nose to Stay Thirsty in the Cigar Mile (G1) at Aqueduct. She proved in 2012 that she is the fastest female Sprinter in North America and one of the best overall.
2. I’ll Have Another went from unknown to superstar in a matter of weeks during the Spring. The three year old Flower Alley colt trained by Doug O’Neill and owned by Reddam Racing burst onto the scene when he won the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita in February at odds of 43/1. He followed it up by winning the Santa Anita Derby (G1) in April. He was given no respect for both wins as he went off at odds of 15/1 in the Kentucky Derby. He gave O’Neill, Reddam and rising star jockey Mario Gutierrez their first Derby win. Two weeks later, the chestnut colt won the Preakness Stakes and put himself into position to become the first triple crown winner since 1978. All the sports media attention was solely on him. Could he finally break the long drought? Unfortunately, no. A leg injury a couple of days prior to the Belmont Stakes not only forced him to miss the race, but retire as well. It was a disappointing end to an incredible run. Nonetheless, his four race winning streak gets him nominated for Horse of the Year.
1. Wise Dan winning five graded stakes races with four in Grade 1 company. In two of the five wins, he broke a track record. In the Breeders Cup Mile (G1) on turf at Santa Anita, the five year old son of Wiseman’s Ferry defeated a World class field in a time of 1:31.78. A field including former Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, European sensation Excelebration and new Del Mar one mile turf record holder Obviously. He also broke the 1 1/8 miles Keeneland track record on the all weather surface when he won the Ben Ali Stakes (G3) in a final time of 1:46.63. Other wins include the Ricoh Woodbine Mile Stakes (G1) at Woodbine, Shadwell Turf Mile Stakes (G1) at Keeneland and Fourstardave Handicap (G2) at Saratoga. He was a head away from winning the Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) at Churchill Downs on dirt. A win there would have given him a Grade 1 win on all three surfaces. Combine his success on synthetic, turf and dirt, as well as, achieving two track records in the process, Wise Dan should be your 2012 Horse of the Year at the upcoming 2013 Eclipse Awards in January at Gulfstream Park.
** We normally write articles and keep our viewers up to date on horse racing here in the United States and North America, but it is hard to omit the stellar career of European superstar Frankel who retired upon his 14th and final win in the Qipco Champion Stakes (Group 1) at Ascot on October 20. The four year old son of Galileo won all 14 of his career starts with his final 10 coming at the Group 1 level. His first 12 races were at a mile or less and many felt he needed to make a statement and challenge other stars at longer distances. He stepped up to run in the 1 1/2 miles Juddmonte International Stakes (Group 1) at York on August 22 and won by a commanding seven lengths over a field that included mutliple Group winners in St. Nicholas Abbey and Twice Over. Multiple Group 1 runner-up Farrh finished 2nd. In the 1 1/2 miles Qipco Champion Stakes, he fell backwards and almost looked as if he was sitting down. He laid back and was not hurried by rider Tom Queally. He sat near the back until late in the race. As usual, he came down the middle of the lane and pulled even with 11 time Group winner Cirrus Des Aigles. In the final strides, Queally had Frankel cruising to a 1 3/4 lengths victory. He capped an incredible career with one of his most interesting races. Timeform had him rated at a historic rating of 147. No horse has ever received that high of a rating.
If you have any other highlights from the 2012 horse racing season that you would like to mention or add, please do so below. We look forward to another great year of racing in 2013! We will be with you every step of the way!