12/29/2007 1:00AM

2007: A vintage crop of 3-year-olds

Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
Rags to Riches (left) became only the third filly to win the Belmont Stakes when she overcame a bad stumble out of the gate to outlast Preakness winner Curlin.
Had the year merely included a filly beating the boys in the Belmont Stakes, for only the third time in the 139 runnings of the longest and most demanding Triple Crown race, that would have been enough.

Had the year merely included a popular Kentucky Derby winner who at last broke the jinx of Breeders' Cup Juvenile winners, that would have been enough.

And had the year merely included a colt who went from an unstarted maiden to the Preakness Stakes winner in a little more than three months, and later in the year won the Jockey Club Gold Cup and BC Classic to become the overwhelming favorite to be named the Horse of the Year, well, that would have been just fine, too.

But when the same crop includes all three - Rags to Riches, Street Sense, and Curlin - in addition to Any Given Saturday, Daaher, Hard Spun, and Tiago, that makes for a truly special year of racing.

And so it was in 2007, with a 3-year-old crop that rivaled the celebrated class of 1957, which included Bold Ruler, Gallant Man, Iron Leige, and Round Table, and 1973, which included Secretariat, Sham, Forego, and Desert Vixen.

The three Triple Crown races all had a different winner, but it could not have been a more compelling series. Street Sense, the winner of the 2006 BC Juvenile at Churchill Downs, returned to his favorite track and captured the Derby with a powerful late rush that overtook pacesetter Hard Spun.

Curlin finished third in the Derby, in only his fourth career start, yet gained so much from that experience that just two weeks later he was able to run down Street Sense in a thrilling Preakness.

Street Sense got off the Triple Crown trail at that stop, but Hard Spun and Curlin continued on to New York for the Belmont, which went from anticlimactic to dramatically compelling when Rags to Riches, the Kentucky Oaks winner, was entered. She seemingly lost all chance at the start of the race, with a nasty stumble, but she righted herself and one lap later outdueled Curlin.

The depth of this crop was intertwined with another revelation this year, the surging price of bloodstock, which bore no resemblance to what horses could earn on the racetrack. As good as the racing was in 2007, there was a creeping realization that the sport had become horse breeding, more so than horse racing. Darley Stud USA, run by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum of Dubai, acquired Any Given Saturday, Hard Spun, and Street Sense - three of the elite of the class of 2007 - for an aggregate approaching $100 million and retired all three to stud at year's end. A record price, $10.5 million, was paid for the broodmare Playful Act. And Coolmore Stud retired the perfectly sound Holy Roman Emperor before he ever ran at age 3 to fill the void left when George Washington proved infertile at stud.

George Washington subsequently became one of the great tragedies of 2007. A turf mile specialist, George Washington lost his life struggling to run 1 1/4 miles on a sloppy dirt track at Monmouth Park in the BC Classic. But the most widely felt loss was that of 2006 Derby winner Barbaro, news of whose passing in January stretched well beyond the narrow purview of racing to touch the nation. Other top horses who died included John Henry, Mom's Command, steeplechase great Zaccio, and another Derby winner, Gato Del Sol.

Mom's Command did, however, finally get inducted into the Hall of Fame. She joined an overflow cast that also included the horses Silver Charm and Swoon's Son, trainers Henry Forrest, Frank McCabe, and John Veitch, and jockeys Jose Santos and John Sellers.

Santos was forced to retire after sustaining serious injuries in a racing accident in February, then had tragedy strike his family when his oldest daughter, Sophia, was blamed for a deadly auto crash. Another motor accident claimed the life of the sport's winningest trainer, Dale Baird. Other prominent racing people who died this year included Hall of Fame jockey Bill Hartack, trainers Frank Gomez, Farrell Jones, and Warren Stute, owners Ed Friendly, Martha F. Gerry, Merv Griffin, Kitty Hardin, and Trudy McCaffery, track official Ken Lennon, bloodstock agent Richard Jones, and journalist Dick Carter, who wrote under the name Tom Ainslie.

Jerry Hollendorfer became the fourth trainer to win 5,000 races. Among jockeys, Mario Pino passed the 6,000-win mark. Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Rags to Riches, set a single-season record for purse earnings with more than $28 million, while Garrett Gomez won more stakes in a calendar year than any other jockey. And while the sport's winningest rider, Russell Baze, continued his inexorable march toward 10,000 winners, he was suspended for 15 days after thoughtlessly whipping an injured horse in the shadow of the wire, a rare blip in an otherwise exemplary career.

Pletcher and Gomez led their brethren, but other trainers and jockeys had terrific years, too. Carl Nafzger gave everybody a training clinic with his preparation of Street Sense before the Derby. Steve Asmussen deftly guided Curlin through an ambitious campaign. Bob Baffert won a pair of Breeders' Cup races. Barclay Tagg had his deepest lineup in years with Bit of Whimsy, Nobiz Like Shobiz, and Tale of Ekati. Bill Mott made the most of his opportunities with a classy bunch of 2-year-olds. Bobby Frankel had a way with the ladies, winning multiple stakes with Citronnade, Ginger Punch, Precious Kitten, and Sugar Shake. And Kiaran McLaughlin kept on firing with Daaher, Flashy Bull, Invasor, Lahudood, Lear's Princess, and Shakespeare.

Robby Albarado had his best year yet, highlighted by riding Curlin and winning the Arlington Million aboard Jambalaya. Calvin Borel won the Derby, the Sword Dancer, the Travers, and the Alabama. Cornelio Velasquez won two Breeders' Cup races. Kent Desormeaux established himself as a presence on the East Coast. And apprentice jockey Joe Talamo emerged as a budding star in California.

Michael Dickinson, a celebrated trainer on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, gave up training to concentrate on developing and installing synthetic racing surfaces, in which he has been at the forefront. The synthetic revolution this year expanded to Arlington Park, Del Mar, Golden Gate, Santa Anita, and the new Presque Isle Downs, though it has not been seamless, and there is an undercurrent of suspicion that there has been a rush to judgment to embrace the nascent technology.

No controversy, however, lingered longer and caused as much anxiety to as many people as the protracted squabble over the New York Racing Association franchise. With the Dec.o31 expiration just days away, state politicians had not reached agreement on who would run racing at Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga in 2008, although a temporary extension seemed likely to avert a shutdown on Jan. 1.

In New Jersey, government officials were instrumental in helping Monmouth secure its first Breeders' Cup, which this year became the first to encompass two days and expand to 11 races. Before the year was out, the Breeders' Cup announced it would have three more races beginning in 2008, for a total of six Breeders' Cup races on Friday, and eight on Saturday.

The weather at this year's Breeders' Cup was abominable - Noah was sighted floating away on the backstretch - but form largely held up. Curlin, gloriously oblivious to the tension surrounding his embattled owners, completed his sensational year with a powerhouse performance in the BC Classic, a fitting, final reminder of how special were both he and the 3-year-old crop of 2007.

Here now a look back at the year, division by division:

Three-year-old males

Florida was the place to be in the winter and spring. Street Sense and Any Given Saturday had a memorable duel in the Tampa Bay Derby. Curlin was a maiden winner at Gulfstream, Scat Daddy won the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby, and Nobiz Like Shobiz took the Holy Bull before heading to New York to capture the Wood Memorial. In the most widely discussed Derby prep, the Blue Grass, run over Polytrack, saw the first four finishers separated by a half-length. Street Sense was second in that race to Dominican, but Nafzger had him ready for his best three weeks later on Derby Day.

After the Triple Crown, Any Given Saturday had his finest moment when he upset Curlin and Hard Spun in the Haskell. Street Sense won the Jim Dandy and Travers, the latter in a thriller over Grasshopper. Hard Spun showed his versatility by shortening up to seven furlongs and speeding to victory in the King's Bishop, then stretched out to 1 1/8 miles to beat Street Sense in the Kentucky Cup Classic.

In the fall, the 3-year-olds continually showed up their elders. Santa Anita Derby winner Tiago captured the Goodwood, Daaher won the Cigar Mile, and Curlin was the biggest winner, with victories in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and BC Classic.

Three-year-old fillies

This divisional race was over as soon as Rags to Riches got her head down first in the Belmont, but it had plenty of depth, too. Octave, also trained by Pletcher, was second to her stablemate in the Kentucky Oaks and an unlucky second to Christmas Kid in the Ashland, but won the Mother Goose and Coaching Club American Oaks, and was a fast-finishing third in the BC Distaff. Panty Raid, another Pletcher trainee, was a triple threat, winning on dirt (Black-Eyed Susan), turf (American Oaks), and Polytrack (Spinster). As if that weren't enough, Pletcher also won the Acorn with Cotton Blossom.

Dream Rush, second in the Acorn, used her wicked speed to take the Test and the Prioress. Nafzger did his best work with Street Sense, but also won the Alabama with Lady Joanne, who was second in the Mother Goose and Spinster. Lear's Princess, second in the Alabama, gave Rags to Riches her lone loss of the year in the Gazelle. Tough Tiz's Sis, third in the Gazelle, came out of that race to beat older rivals in the Lady's Secret.

Older males

The defending Horse of the Year, Invasor, continued to prove that he was the best by overcoming a horrible trip to win the Donn before heading to Dubai to capture the World Cup. Alas, that was his last race. Invasor's trainer, McLaughlin, won the Stephen Foster with Flashy Bull. Lawyer Ron took the Oaklawn Handicap and Woodward, set a track record in the Whitney, and was second to Curlin in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Lava Man valiantly prevailed in the Hollywood Gold Cup for the third consecutive year, emulating the feat of Native Diver 40 years earlier, and became only the third horse to win the Santa Anita Handicap twice. He began to tail off, though, following the Pacific Classic, in which Student Council won the long, hard slog on Polytrack. The enigmatic Corinthian was brilliant in both the Metropolitan Mile and the inaugural BC Dirt Mile. Political Force, the Met Mile runner-up, gained revenge against Corinthian in the Suburban, thus keeping things cordial at the Thanksgiving dinner table between their trainers, Allen Jerkens (Political Force) and his son, Jimmy (Corinthian).

Older females

Ginger Punch, who had won the Go for Wand and Ruffian before a disappointing performance in the Beldame, bounced back in the title-deciding BC Distaff with a narrow victory over Hystericalady, the winner of the Molly Pitcher and the Humana Distaff. Ginger Punch had the baton passed to her in the Frankel barn by Sugar Shake, who scored early-season victories in the El Encino and Santa Maria. Miss Shop, second to Ginger Punch in the Go for Wand and Ruffian, captured the Personal Ensign. Unbridled Belle, second in the Personal Ensign, was a powerful winner of the Delaware Handicap, and upset Ginger Punch in the Beldame.

Balance won the La Canada and Santa Margarita early in the year, but was not the same after losing three straight - the Milady, Vanity, and Del Mar's Clement Hirsch - to Nashoba's Key, who showed her versatility by winning Grade 1 races on both turf and Cushion Track. Ermine, second in the Santa Margarita, took the prestigious Apple Blossom. Take d'Tour, second in the Apple Blossom, held off Ginger Punch in the Ogden Phipps.

Male turf horse

A little horse with a big heart, English Channel for three seasons competed against the elite turf horses in the world. In a fitting career finale, he raced over his favorite course, the grass at Monmouth, and romped in the BC Turf, completing a year that also saw him win the United Nations at Monmouth, and the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic. Kip Deville began the year with victories in the Kilroe and Maker's Mark mile races, then had a midseason slump, but found his best form again in time to win the BC Mile.

Both English Channel and Kip Deville were able to brave bad weather, but that proved a bugaboo for After Market, who had to scrap planned starts in the Arlington Million and BC Mile. In the middle of the year, he put together a four-race stakes-winning streak, including the Whittingham and Eddie Read. After Market's absence from the Million aided Jambalaya, who earlier in the year won the Gulfstream Park BC Handicap. Jambalaya was based in Canada, as was Sky Conqueror, who took the Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on Derby Day.

The Tin Man, in his first start at age 9, won the Shoemaker Mile, then was second in three straight races, including the Million. Another popular veteran gelding, Better Talk Now, won the year's most thrilling grass race, the Manhattan, downing English Channel in a photo finish. English Channel also was upset in the Sword Dancer, which was won by longshot Grand Couturier. Sunriver found new life on turf and took the Hollywood Turf Cup two starts after a narrow loss to Doctor Dino in the Man o' War.

To be or not to be? That, regretfully, was the question with the brilliant but unsound Shakespeare. He ran but twice, winning both races, including the Woodbine Mile over Kip Deville, before his shaky legs forced his retirement, having made just eight starts through age 6.

Female turf horse

There might not have been a better singular performance than that of Nashoba's Key in the Yellow Ribbon, in which she ran down lone front-runner Citronnade to remain unbeaten in seven starts. Her win streak came to an end in the BC Filly and Mare Turf, which was won by Lahudood, who was following up a similar upset victory in the Flower Bowl. Citronnade won five graded stakes, including the Gamely, while her Frankel-trained stablemate, Precious Kitten, took the Mabee and the Matriarch.

Honey Ryder faced males three times in her six starts, and twice ran second to them, then was second in the BC Filly and Mare Turf. My Typhoon won three straight, including the Diana, before losing her form. Wait a While, last year's champion 3-year-old filly, won a pair of stakes, but lost the Flower Bowl to Lahudood, then was kept out of the Breeders' Cup because of soft ground before running second to Precious Kitten in the Matriarch. Royal Highness was the upset winner of the Beverly D., in which Lahudood finished last.

Two-year-old males

War Pass gave trainer Nick Zito his fifth victory in the Champagne, then clinched a championship with a front-running score in the BC Juvenile over Pyro, giving him a perfect 4-for-4 record. Ready's Image, the winner of the Sanford, was the early-season leader of the division until being overtaken by Majestic Warrior in the Hopeful Stakes. Mott, who trained Majestic Warrior, also won the Remsen with Court Vision.

No horse dominated on the West Coast, where Georgie Boy won the Del Mar Futurity, Dixie Chatter the Norfolk, and Into Mischief the CashCall Futurity. Wicked Style was a terror on Polytrack, winning the Arlington-Washington Futurity and Keeneland's Lane's End Breeders' Futurity, but he flopped in the Breeders' Cup. The inaugural BC Juvenile Turf went to Nownownow, who rallied from last to first on a yielding course at Monmouth.

Two-year-old fillies

As with War Pass, Indian Blessing completed a perfect season in the Breeders' Cup. Her gate-to-wire victory in the Juvenile Fillies over Matron winner Proud Spell followed a similarly easy tally in the Frizette. Country Star bypassed the Breeders' Cup, but looked every bit as good as Indian Blessing with victories in the Alcibiades and Hollywood Starlet.

Rated Fiesty won all three of her starts, including against the boys in the Kentucky BC, before heading to the sidelines. Irish Smoke was sharp in the Spinaway, but beat only one horse in two starts going two turns. Pure Clan emerged late in the year, winning all four of her starts, including the Golden Rod. Mushka took the Demoiselle for Mott. Cry and Catch Me (Oak Leaf) and Set Play (Del Mar Debutante) won major races in California.

Male sprinter

No one was able to put together a long, consistent campaign, but Midnight Lute won when it mattered most, with victories in the Forego and then the BC Sprint. The Breeders' Cup lost some of its luster when Fabulous Strike, who was a powerful winner of the Vosburgh, missed the race with an injury. Fabulous Strike lost just once, to Mach Ride in the Smile at Calder's Summit of Speed. Idiot Proof, second in the Sprint, won the Ancient Title after setting a Monmouth track record in the Jersey Shore. Benny the Bull, who was fourth in the Sprint, came out of that race to win the De Francis Dash.

Silver Wagon won the General George and then the Carter the first four months of the year, but raced only once more. Diabolical, the Carter runner-up, won the Vanderbilt, but, like Fabulous Strike and Silver Wagon, had just a four-race campaign, as did Triple Bend winner Bilo. As good as Diabolical was in the Vanderbilt, the best Saratoga sprint performance might have been Hard Spun in the King's Bishop.

At Del Mar, In Summation nosed out Greg's Gold in the Bing Crosby, then Greg's Gold came back to take the Pat O'Brien. Smokey Stover, a stablemate of the late sprint champ Lost in the Fog, won stakes at Santa Anita, Bay Meadows, and Monmouth, but could not handle the sloppy track in the Breeders' Cup. Johnny Eves got his first stakes win in his graded stakes debut in the Malibu.

Female sprinter

Of the three new Breeders' Cup races this year, this was the only one that had a new Eclipse Award attached. Maryfield was based in California, but her three stakes wins all came on the East Coast, including in the inaugural BC Filly and Mare Sprint.

The most versatile, and perhaps the best, horse in this division was River's Prayer. She won all five of her starts on turf, dirt, and Polytrack, most notably in the Princess Rooney, which was her lone meeting with Maryfield. Dream Rush won four graded stakes, including the Test and the Prioress, but was fifth in the Breeders' Cup. Hystericalady only sprinted twice, but one was the Humana Distaff, which she won by four lengths over Santa Monica winner Pussycat Doll.


Many of the leading 3-year-olds on the flat were whisked away to stud prematurely, so give thanks for the perennials like Lava Man, or the best jumper of this decade: McDynamo. McDynamo. McDynamo. McDynamo. McDynamo. Say it five times, fast, because that's how many times in a row he won the BC Steeplechase.

Good Night Shirt was fourth in the Breeders' Cup, but won three major races, including the season-ending Colonial Cup. Mixed Up got off to such a fast start that twice he was assigned more than 160 pounds in his races. He split two meetings with Good Night Shirt.