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Updated on 09/15/2011 1:40PM
2001: Point Given, Tiznow hit heights
Sports, for most fans, is an escapist pleasure from everyday life, but this year, even racing was ensnared in the cataclysm of Sept. 11. Racetracks were forced to shut down, Grade 1 races at Belmont Park were canceled, and owners from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates avoided the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships at Belmont Park.
This is a year to which most will understandably want to bid good riddance, and yet among the many lessons learned from Sept. 11 is the need to stop and appreciate all that is good, for it can be taken away in an instant.
Point Given, the most popular horse in training, won the Travers Stakes for his fourth consecutive Grade 1 victory, then was retired less than a week later. Breeders in Kentucky looked with anticipation to the breeding season, then were horrified when mares started producing sickly or stillborn foals, as mare reproductive loss syndrome swept through the Bluegrass.
The fragility of the sport was exemplified by what befell Exogenous, who suffered fatal injuries just before the biggest race of her life, and Spook Express, who had a fatal breakdown in what was to be her final start before heading to the breeding shed.
Yet Exogenous and Spook Express were among the many Thoroughbreds who provided racegoers with unforgettable thrills this year. Point Given* and Tiznow* (click here for PP's) were the best of the group, Point Given winning two-thirds of the Triple Crown and Tiznow pulling off the unprecedented feat of winning the Breeders' Cup Classic in successive years. Monarchos gave his Kentucky-bred trainer, John Ward Jr., a most satisfying victory in the Kentucky Derby.
Captain Steve traveled halfway around the world and won the Dubai World Cup. Sprint sensation Xtra Heat won nine times in 13 starts to boost her career record to 17 for 22.
Bobby Frankel won Grade 1 stakes from coast to coast, 18 entering this weekend, to make himself the overwhelming favorite to be named the Eclipse Award-winning trainer. He often won races in partnership with jockey Jerry Bailey, who also appeared headed for another Eclipse Award, in light of his record-setting purse earnings of nearly $23 million. Ka-ching.
Laffit Pincay Jr., who turned 55 on Saturday, won riding titles at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, and Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting, further delaying his membership in the American Association of Retired Persons. Pat Day won his 8,000th race, and Chris McCarron his 7,000th.
Speaking of golden oldies, a horse who last raced 60 years ago gave the sport its greatest exposure, as the book "Seabiscuit" shot to number one on The New York Times best-seller list.
Earlie Fires, Richard Mandella, Holy Bull, Maskette, and Paseana were inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.
Attempts were made off the track to better the sport. Both Keeneland and the New York Racing Association lowered their takeout rates. But proving no good deed goes unpunished, several wagering sites refused to take Keeneland's signal, citing reduced revenue. The National Thoroughbred Racing Association's Drug Integrity Task Force made an attempt to quantify and improve racing's medication and testing policies, but intransigent factions clashed over its findings.
There was contention in the Jockeys' Guild, which ousted long-time national managing director John Giovanni. Garden State Park closed. Shane Sellers was forced to retire because of his battered knees.
Simon Bray won the Secretariat Stakes with Startac, but then had that colt and the top turf mare Astra removed from his care days later by owner Michael Paulson. Auction prices plummeted, as nervous investors watched their portfolios head the same direction as NASDAQ.
The sport lost numerous icons, most notably the loquacious Jimmy Jones, Citation's trainer. The list also included Doug Atkins, Gary Burke, Tom Caldwell, Bob Camac, Marjorie Cordero, Dave Feldman, Mark Hardin, Bonnie Heath, Bart Heller, Ethel Jacobs, Jeff Jacobs, Jane du Pont Lunger, Pat Lynch, Sam Maple, Ben Rochelle, Prince Fahd Salman, George Sloan, and John Tammaro Jr.
Affirmed, the 1978 Triple Crown winner, died, leaving only Seattle Slew as a living Triple Crown winner. The top stallions Nureyev and Unbridled also died, as did the outstanding mares Banshee Breeze, Dahlia, and Waya.
Just as the nation tried to right itself from Sept. 11, so too did racing, with a Breeders' Cup punctuated by the memorable performances of Fantastic Light, Johannesburg, and, most dramatically, Tiznow. Here's a further sampling, division by division, of 2001, a racing odyssey.
After the previous year's 2-year-old champion, Macho Uno, was taken out of training, Point Given, whom Macho Uno nosed out in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, became the Kentucky Derby favorite. The massive, chestnut-colored Point Given solidified that position with victories in the San Felipe Stakes and Santa Anita Derby. In Florida, Monarchos unleashed a breathtaking mid-race move en route to victory in the Florida Derby. Bob Baffert, Point Given's trainer, had another top contender, Congaree, who won the Wood Memorial at the expense of Monarchos.
Ward, Monarchos's trainer, stuck unwavering to his plan in the fortnight preceding the Derby, while other trainers worked their horses sharply. But the difference that gave Monarchos the Derby victory might have been the patient ride by Jorge Chavez, who allowed him to settle off the record-setting Derby fractions.
Point Given flattened out after being too close to the Derby pace, but he made amends in the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes, which he won by 12 1/4 lengths.
Large crowds turned out at Monmouth Park and Saratoga to see Point Given win the Haskell Invitational and then the Travers. But less than one week later, he was retired with a minor leg injury. Congaree and Monarchos also were injured before the fall, and though they will be back next year, their absence left the major fall races for the older male horses to decide.
Golden Ballet won the Santa Anita Oaks, but then was upset in the Ashland Stakes by Fleet Renee, who was defeated in the Kentucky Oaks by Flute, who won the Alabama Stakes but then was defeated in the Beldame Stakes by Exogenous and the Breeders' Cup Distaff by Unbridled Elaine, who then lost the Falls City Handicap to Forest Secrets, who had been defeated by Fleet Renee in the Mother Goose Stakes.
Other than that, this division was orderly.
Flute's victories in the Kentucky Oaks and Alabama Stakes were the equivalent of a colt winning the Kentucky Derby and Travers, but Golden Ballet, the ill-fated Exogenous, and Fleet Renee won just as many Grade 1 races, and Unbridled Elaine won the biggest race of them all, defeating her elders.
Xtra Heat never raced farther than seven furlongs, but compiled an admirable record sprinting against fillies. She gained more notice with her second-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Sprint against colts.
Tiznow entered the year as the reigning Horse of the Year, and emerged as the early front-runner to repeat by virtue of his runaway victory in the Santa Anita Handicap. But he didn't race again for six months, and nearly was retired, as trainer Jay Robbins sought to alleviate the horse's nagging back problem.
Robbins got Tiznow back to the races, and had him prepared brilliantly for the Breeders' Cup Classic, which he won by re-rallying in the final yards to beat Sakhee, the Arc de Triomphe winner, by a nose. Sakhee was entered in the race at the last minute, when Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin Racing Inc. elected to try him on dirt for the first time in his career.
Another thrilling race was the Pimlico Special, in which Include ran down Albert the Great in the final yards.
Otherwise, this division belonged to Frankel, who won the Woodward Stakes and Whitney Handicap with Lido Palace, the Hollywood Gold Cup and Jockey Club Gold Cup with Aptitude, and the Pacific Classic with Skimming.
Gourmet Girl won the Apple Blossom and Vanity handicaps, twice defeating Lazy Slusan, who also won a pair of Grade 1 races, the Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap and the Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap. Neither, however, won a race the second half of the year.
Critical Eye took the Hempstead Handicap, but lost the Go for Wand Handicap to Serra Lake, who was defeated by Pompeii in the Personal Ensign Handicap. Pompeii, in turn, never could catch longshot Miss Linda in the Spinster Stakes, proving that the Eastern-based fillies and mares were every bit as inscrutable as those in the West.
Spain nearly won the Breeders' Cup Distaff for the second straight year, but the 3-year-old Unbridled Elaine caught her in the final yards.
Male turf horse
Some guys have all the luck. On the same day that Aptitude was put up in the Hollywood Gold Cup, Frankel won the United Nations Handicap, also via disqualification, with Senure. In the fall, Senure won the Clement Hirsch Memorial Handicap, and Frankel also won Grade 1 races with Denon in the Hollywood Derby, Super Quercus in the Hollywood Turf Cup, and Timboroa in the Turf Classic.
With Anticipation bounced back from his United Nations disqualification to win both the Sword Dancer and Man o'War handicaps.
Bienamado won the San Juan Capistrano and Whittingham handicaps, but floundered on a soggy course as the favorite in the Arlington Million, which went to international star Silvano.
European participation in the Breeders' Cup was terrific, and one of the greatest international runners of all-time, Fantastic Light, won the Turf over another European, Milan. His principal owner, Sheikh Mohammed, missed the Breeders' Cup, but made the right moves by putting Fantastic Light in the Turf, and Sakhee in the Classic.
Val Royal won the Breeders' Cup Mile in only his third start since returning from a tendon injury. If Robbins did the best individual training job of the year with Tiznow, Julio Canani was the runner-up for his handling of Val Royal.
Female turf horse
Astra roared to two dazzling victories the first half of the year, including the Beverly Hills Handicap, but struggled on the yielding turf at Arlington in the Beverly D. Stakes and was done for the year. England's Legend, who won the Beverly D., was favored in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, but faded badly behind Banks Hill, a European who rolled to a 5 1/2-length victory in the most lopsided result on Breeders' Cup Championship Day.
Imports dominated this division, with Grade 1 victories going to Golden Apples, Happyanunoit, Innuendo, Janet, Lailani, and Starine, all of whom began their careers overseas.
Officer and Came Home came roaring out of California to win major races on the East Coast, with Came Home taking the Hopeful Stakes and Officer the Champagne. Officer won the first five starts of his career, and went off as the shortest-priced favorite on Breeders' Cup Championship Day.
But the word in the Juvenile was Johannesburg. Officer faded to finish fifth, as the unbeaten European colt Johannesburg swept to his seventh victory.
Repent, the Breeders' Cup runner-up, returned to win the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, third-place finisher Siphonic took the Hollywood Futurity, and eighth-place finisher Saarland came back to capture the Remsen Stakes, making the Breeders' Cup Juvenile look far stronger than it did the day it was run.
Tempera looked like the best filly in the West in the summer at Del Mar before she was upset in the Del Mar Debutante. Trainer Eoin Harty, believing Tempera needed more time between races, elected to train her up to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, and she responded by winning in significantly faster time than Johannesburg in the Juvenile. Harty finished one-two when Imperial Gesture completed the Godolphin-owned exacta.
Habibti, who defeated Tempera at Del Mar but faltered in the Breeders' Cup, rebounded to take the Hollywood Starlet over You, who beat arch-rival Cashier's Dream in both the Adirondack and Frizette stakes.
In case you hadn't heard, Frankel was 0 for 36 in Breeders' Cup races going into this year. He is now 1 for 42, thanks to Squirtle Squirt, who also won the King's Bishop Stakes at Saratoga.
This division was one of the strongest of the year. Caller One went to Dubai and made off with the Golden Shaheen. El Corredor came off an extended layoff and won the Pat O'Brien Handicap at Del Mar. Left Bank finally got a Grade 1 win in the Vosburgh and also won the Cigar Mile.
Xtra Heat gave the boys a scare in both the Breeders' Cup and the
De Francis Memorial, which was won by Delaware Township.
Defending sprint champion Kona Gold, after winning the San Carlos Handicap, outdueled Caller One and Swept Overboard in a memorable Bing Crosby Handicap at Del Mar. Following the Bing Crosby, Kona Gold stopped in front of the grandstand as the crowd cheered long and loud. An act, as we bid auld lang syne to 2001, that ought to be resolved to be repeated more often in 2002.
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