01/06/2012 12:49PM

New 4-year-olds Elicit Optimism


Tizway, Drosselmeyer, Blind Luck, and Stacelita, among others, may have ridden off into the proverbial sunset, but one of the great things about this game it how it renews itself. Every January, there is a group of new 4-year-olds eager to take the place of retired older horses.

There are quite a few recent 3-year-old graduates who are capable of making noise this year. Let’s talk about five I find a bit more intriguing than most.

Animal Kingdom – The natural inclination is to think that the reigning Kentucky Derby winner and Preakness runner up would be a prominent member of the handicap division at 4. That might well prove to be the case with Animal Kingdom. But it is interesting to note that before he was officially ruled out for the remainder of 2011, there was talk last summer of Animal Kingdom targeting major turf races. Animal Kingdom’s first major goal of 2012 is the Dubai World Cup, run on a synthetic surface, and it has already been reported that his prep for that event, if it doesn’t happen in Dubai, might be on the turf in Florida. Animal Kingdom is versatile enough to acquit himself well on any surface. But it wouldn’t be a surprise if he focuses as much if not more on turf racing this year as he does on dirt racing.

Nehro – It should be remembered that Animal Kingdom was not the only one to come out of last year’s Belmont Stakes with a season-ending injury. About a week after finishing fourth in the Belmont, Nehro had ankle chips removed. Nehro suddenly emerged relatively late on the road to the Triple Crown last year, finishing a surprising second in the Louisiana Derby, beaten a neck, an excellent second in the Arkansas Derby, also beaten a neck, and then second in the Kentucky Derby, all while still eligible to an entry level allowance race. Nehro still has all his allowance conditions, but he could be a big mover in the handicap division.

Zazu – Last year’s 3-year-old filly division was strong and deep. But up until Royal Delta won the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic, the only member of this group to have meaningful success against older mares was Zazu. Zazu, who had already proven she was right with the leaders of her division with a gaining third in the Kentucky Oaks and a victory over Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty in the Hollywood Oaks, met older opponents in her last two starts of 2011. She was a narrowly beaten second in the Clement L. Hirsch at Del Mar, and could have easily won with a smoother trip, and then won the Lady’s Secret. Zazu was denied a third straight start against her elders when shoulder inflammation kept her out of the Breeders’ Cup. But one big thing she has going for her in 2012 is, unlike many other new 4-year-olds, she has already proven herself outside of her age division.

Mr. Commons – It might be unwise to become too invested in U.S. turf horses because we all know that even an average European stakes horse can come over here and make our best look silly. Until then, however, Mr. Commons could prove to be one of our best grass milers. Mr. Commons showed real potential last year when he jumped in with older horses early and finished a close second in both the Del Mar and Oak Tree Miles despite less than perfect trips each time. Even his fifth in an otherwise uninspiring Breeders’ Cup Mile was good considering the trip he had. But Mr. Commons broke through with the kind of dominating victory he hadn’t delivered since his maiden score in the Sir Beaufort opening day at Santa Anita, and looks to be on his way now.

Winter Memories – The reservations expressed above about our grass horses apply here as well. That said, Winter Memories is a filly I truly can’t wait to see this year. Winter Memories was a bit of a polarizing figure last year. Even before her season-ending dud in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup, some folks were down on her because her connections were disinclined to run her in the Breeders’ Cup, citing that she was only 3 and noting their desire to have a strong 4-year-old campaign with her. But on her day, specifically her winning performances in the Garden City and Lake George, Winter Memories made the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Not many horses can do that.

Westsider More than 1 year ago
Tapizar will be the number one older horse this year. He has all the tools, blood, an outstanding conformation, an absolute monster . Unfortunately Animal Kingdom will probably take four months to recover for his next major race the BC Classic , after his trip to Dubai .(the race race that cuts the heart out Grade one American racing during spring and summer every year ). ,
Westsider More than 1 year ago
Look out for Tapizar> He ispoised for absolute stardom in the coming year. The Sham was just a preview.and wait till Assmussen tightens the screws!!!.
Westsider More than 1 year ago
Look out for Tapizar> He ispoised for absolute stardom in the coming year. The Sham was just a preview.and wait till Assmussen tightens the screws!!!.
Captain Bodgit More than 1 year ago
Seems like I'm optimistic about the 4 year olds every Jenuary. Then they drop like flies and only a select few make it to the Breeders Cup.
Nancy More than 1 year ago
Mike, Great choices above. I hope Animal Kingdom and Winter Memories have a spectacular year - they were my favorites for 2011. Zazu is a marvelous filly too. Where do you see Mucho Macho Man now that he has had time to mature mentally, and physically fill out his large frame? Another favorite is Shackelford, performance wise where do you see him this year?
hialeah More than 1 year ago
Hi Mike, That is an interesting “Top Five to watch” and we will do just that. Who knows with the current three yo’s this early, but I know I’ll continue to watch the progress of Caleb’s Posse. Just a year ago, I believe, he was being point for the Kentucky Derby before going off THOSE rails. And he proved his affinity for one turn races with his King’s Bishop – BC Dirt Mile double. But he has won at two turns with The Ohio Derby(105 Beyer) and Smarty Jones notched on his belt. I think he is at Oaklawn Park right now which was his starting point last year and has a goal of the Met Mile on Memorial Day. I’d be interested to see if he can become a bit more than a one-turn monster. Thanks, as always.
Tom More than 1 year ago
Great call on the article. I was talking with a betting pal at the track the other day and that exact subject came up. We also mentioned Royal Delta, To Honor & Serve, Mucho Macho Man and maybe even Sway Away could be a sleeper. The 3 year old division is looking strong at the moment and could get stronger if Secret Circle can handle the distance. Were in for some fun in 2012. Did you forget about Von Hemel's Now I Know for top 10 3 year old females or do really think the others are better? 5-5, 400k earner, razor sharp work outs. I would take her over all but My Miss Aurelia.