03/10/2010 11:49AM

Reigning Monarchs


When Rachel Alexandra runs Saturday at the Fair Grounds, she will try to become the 10th straight returning Horse of the Year to win first time out the following season. No reigning Horse of the Year has lost his or her debut the next year since Ferdinand in 1988, but such horses are only 19 for 31 over the last 50 years:

Since Ferdinand, beaten by Judge Angelucci in the 1988 San Antonio, the nine Horses of the Year who returned to the races have all won first time back, most recently Curlin in the 2008 Jaguar Cup at Nad al-Sheba, his prep for that year's Dubai Cup.

Many of the 12 losses came early in this span including four straight by Kelso: He won his first start of 1961 after winning his first HOTY title in 1960, but lost his first start of the year following his next four Horse of the Year seasons.

It's also interesting to note the change from bringing champions back in allowance races -- which is where 8 of the 16 returning HOTY's ran between 1959 and 1978 -- to returning only in stakes races, which every returning HOTY since Seattle Slew has done.

And just for the record, three of the four fillies or mares who have been named HOTY during this time lost first time back after their coronations. Azeri prevailed in the 2003 Apple Blossom, but Lady's Secret (1986), All Along (1983) and Moccassin (1965) ran 6th, 4th and 4th respectively.