12/29/2008 1:00AM

In 2008, more bad news than good

Barbara D. Livingston
The tragic death of Eight Belles (above) cast a pall over the 3-year-old filly division, but Proud Spell and Music Note showed its strength and depth.

Part 3 of 3

3-year-old fillies - The tragic death of Eight Belles cast a pall over this division, which had quite a bit of strength and depth. Larry Jones, the trainer of Eight Belles, sent out the plucky Proud Spell to four stakes victories, including the Kentucky Oaks and the Alabama. The Alabama provided a showdown with Music Note, who had defeated Proud Spell in a roughly run Mother Goose before laughably easy win in the Coaching Club American Oaks. Just for good measure, Music Note also won the Gazelle and was third in the BC Ladies' Classic.

Indian Blessing, last year's champion 2-year-old filly, had another brilliant campaign for trainer Bob Baffert, with six stakes wins, including the Test, Prioress, and La Brea. She also finished second to the older Ventura in the BC Filly and Mare Sprint, and to fellow 3-year-old Zaftig in the Acorn.

As with the males, the European 3-year-old fillies were a talented bunch. Even though Arc de Triomphe winner Zarkava did not come to the Breeders' Cup, Goldikova, twice beaten by Zarkava, showed how strong that group was with her breathtaking victory against males in the BC Mile.

Male turf horse - The Breeders' Cup, as well as the Arlington Million, exposed the lack of depth among the United States-based older grass runners, with the Europeans Conduit winning the BC Turf, the filly Goldikova taking the BC Mile, and the previously unheralded Spirit One scoring a 13-1 upset in the Arlington Million.

It was a merry-go-round all year long in this division, with major races being won by Champs Elysees (Hollywood Turf Cup), Dancing Forever (Manhattan), Daytona (Shoemaker Mile), Ever a Friend (Kilroe Mile), Hyperbaric (Citation), Kip Deville (Maker's Mark Mile), Marsh Side (Canadian International), Monzante (Eddie Read), Presious Passion (United Nations), Rahy's Attorney (Woodbine Mile), Red Giant (Clement Hirsch), Red Rocks (Man o' War), and Thorn Song (Shadwell Mile).

Einstein (Gulfstream Park Turf, Turf Classic at Churchill) and Grand Courturier (Sword Dancer, Joe Hirsch Turf Classic) won a pair of Grade 1 races, but losses in the Arlington Million and BC Turf, respectively, took some momentum out of their championship aspirations.

The 3-year-old grass runners were a promising bunch, led by Court Vision, who won the Hollywood Derby, and Gio Ponti, the Virginia Derby winner.

Female turf horse - Goldikova enabled her trainer, Freddy Head, to become the first person to both ride and train a Breeders' Cup winner. The circumstances could not have been more appropriate, for Head won the BC Mile twice as a jockey with the French-based filly Miesque. Goldikova, also based in France, won the BC Mile, and, like Miesque, simply embarrassed her male rivals.

Forever Together progressed mightily under the tutelage of trainer Jonathan Sheppard. She won three of her last four starts, her victory in the BC Filly and Mare Turf - beating 2008 Grade 1 turf race winners Dynaforce, Folk Opera, Mauralakana, and Wait a While - following triumphs in the Diana and First Lady.

Ventura is probably best known for her BC Filly and Mare Sprint win, but she was just as effective on turf. She beat Forever Together in the Just a Game, lost a heartbreaker in the CashCall Mile, and was second to males in the Woodbine Mile.

Cocoa Beach raced once on turf all year, but it was memorable. She closed like a rocket to win the Matriarch, the most impressive win of Hollywood Park's fall meet.

2-year-old males - Midshipman was the best in the West, Vineyard Haven tops on the East Coast. There would be no showdown in the Breeders' Cup, though, because Vineyard Haven, trained by Bobby Frankel, was given the rest of the year off following his victory in the Champagne. Midshipman, trained by Baffert, followed up his Del Mar Futurity victory with a front-running score in the BC Juvenile, his third win in four starts.

Though they never met, both colts were united at year's end under the banner of Sheikh Mohammed's Darley Stable - which purchased them privately - and were headed to winter quarters in Dubai. Sheikh Mohammed's fingerprints were all over the BC Juvenile Turf winner, too. Donativum, racing for Princess Haya, won the race to give his connections, including Dettori and Gosden, their second victory on Breeders' Cup Saturday.

Others who made an impact were Old Fashioned, who won all three of his starts, including a powerful victory in the Remsen, and Square Eddie, a European import who won the Breeders' Futurity and then was second in the BC Juvenile.

2-year-old fillies - Jockey Mike Smith called Stardom Bound his miniature version of Zenyatta. Utilizing a similar late-running style, Stardom Bound, trained by Christopher Paasch, roared to victories in the Del Mar Debutante, Oak Leaf, and the BC Juvenile Fillies, the latter a title-deciding race because it also included Alcibiades winner Dream Empress and Frizette winner Sky Diva. Mani Bhavan was an early season star, winning her first three races, including the Spinaway, but she flopped in her lone start around two turns in the Alcibiades.

Maram, who began her career in a maiden-claiming race, completed a perfect season with a narrow victory in the inaugural BC Juvenile Fillies Turf, giving her trainer, former Frankel assistant Chad Brown, his first Breeders' Cup victory with his first starter.

Male sprinter - In the middle of the year, Baffert thought he would have to retire Midnight Lute. He finally got him back to the races at Del Mar, in the Pat O'Brien, but the race was a disaster, Midnight Lute finding more traffic than on Interstate 5. But in the BC Sprint, Midnight Lute was magnificent. He finished furiously to become the first two-time winner of the race. It was as fitting final act to a horse Baffert said had more natural talent than his three Kentucky Derby winners, even Silver Charm.

The first half of the year belonged to Benny the Bull, who won all four of his starts at four different tracks, including the Dubai Golden Shaheen, for Dutrow. Bustin Stones, talented but fragile, won all three of his races, including the Carter. Fatal Bullet, a former claimer, won 6 of 7 on synthetic surfaces and was second in the BC Sprint.

On the West Coast, Street Boss was the most consistent, winning the Triple Bend and Bing Crosby, but he could not handle Cost of Freedom in the Ancient Title, or Midnight Lute in the BC Sprint.

In the inaugural BC Turf Sprint, course specialist Desert Code scored a 36-1 upset on Santa Anita's unique hillside course for trainer David Hofmans.

Female sprinter - Ventura, trained by Frankel, added the BC Filly and Mare Sprint to an earlier victory in the Madison. Her Breeders' Cup win came at the expense of many of the division's leaders in 2008, including Dearest Trickski, Indian Blessing, Intangaroo, and Zaftig. Intangaroo won Grade 1 races at three different tracks, on both synthetic and dirt, in the Santa Monica, Humana Distaff, and Ballerina. Indian Blessing's win in the La Brea at Santa Anita gave her victories in three Grade 1 stakes in 2008.

Steeplechaser - Perfection, thy name is Good Night Shirt. Picking up where he left off after an Eclipse Award-winning year in 2007, Good Night Shirt was 5 for 5, all in Grade 1 races, for trainer Jack Fisher while racing from April through November.

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* Part 2 of 3

Some of racing's greatest voices were silenced, most notably Jim McKay, whose brilliant work on Triple Crown telecasts for ABC captivated a generation, and who founded the Maryland Million, which paved the way for rich statebred championships from coast to coast. Luke Kruytbosch, the track announcer at Churchill Downs, passed all too soon, along with former announcer Ross Morton, and media figures Dennis Dodge, Milt Dunnell, Clem Florio, Cliff Guilliams, Gil Stratton, and Dean Williams, photographer Jack Coady Sr., and publicists Edgar Allen and Bob Benoit.

Also taken were trainers Neil Boyce, James Bracken, Alfredo Callejas, Jimmy Croll, Robert DeBonis, Bill Donovan, Bruce Haynes, Don Rice, Sid Watters, Frank Whiteley, Blackie Huffman, and Maurice Zilber; jockeys Charles Burr, Juan Campos, Dale Gress, Brian Long, and George Moore; and owners Harry Aleo, Arthur Appleton, Sid Craig, John Hettinger, Joe Johnson, Tammy Samuel-Balaz, James Stone, and Alec Wildenstein.

Death also claimed breeders Kenneth Jones and Harry Mangurian, track owners Brooks Fields and Buddy Leroux, veterinarians Dr. Ron Chak and Dr. Jock Jocoy, Hall of Fame historian Tom Gilcoyne, bloodstock agent Richard Galpin, Keeneland trustee Buddy Bishop, Keeneland matriarch Alma Haggin, NYRA colors man Louis Olah, pharmacist and restaurateur Lee Wagner, and Art Kaufman, who created handicapping data under the pen name Lee Tomlinson.

Horses in addition to Eight Belles who died included Cozzene, Fit to Fight, Forest Wildcat, Highland Bud, Mazel Trick, Miss Alleged, Nashoba's Key, Princess Rooney, Silver Hawk, Sultry Sun, Terlingua, Vindication, and Yanks Music. Eight Belles died trying to become the fourth filly to win the Kentucky Derby, while two who did win it, Genuine Risk and Winning Colors, both passed.

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

3-year-old males - Big Brown had raced just once at 2, and did not make his 3-year-old debut until March. But he more than made up for lost time. After a powerful win in an allowance race, he crushed 11 rivals in the Florida Derby, then almost disdainfully ran away from 19 challengers in the Kentucky Derby, despite breaking from the outside post, No. 20. He was the first to win from that post since 1929, before the advent of the mechanical starting gate, and he gave his jockey, Kent Desormeaux, his third victory in the Derby. A similarly easy victory in the Preakness Stakes put Big Brown in position to capture the Triple Crown, but in the Belmont, he was eased with a quarter-mile remaining by Desormeaux. All eyes were on them as Da' Tara scored the upset win for trainer Nick Zito, who also stopped Smarty Jones's Triple Crown bid four years earlier with Birdstone.

Big Brown returned to win two stakes at Monmouth Park - the Haskell and a grass race against older horses - but he was injured before the Breeders' Cup and retired, thus depriving fans of seeing the showdown they had wanted all year, Big Brown vs. Curlin in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Colonel John proved adept on both synthetic surfaces (winning the Santa Anita Derby) and dirt (Travers). But it was the Europeans who shined brightest in the first BC Classic run on a synthetic surface.

Raven's Pass, under Frankie Dettori, outfinished Henrythenavigator to lead a one-two finish of European invaders in the Classic. Raven's Pass, owned by Sheikh Mohammed's wife, Princess Haya of Jordan, was trained by John Gosden, a native of Britain who started his career in the United States. Gosden put bookends on the first 25 years of the Breeders' Cup. He won the inaugural Mile in 1984 with Royal Heroine.

A European 3-year-old also struck in the BC Turf, with Conduit, trained by Michael Stoute, rallying for the win. The United States-based crop of 3-year-olds was generally considered to be of moderate ability, but the Europeans were special.

Older males - Curlin, the 2007 Horse of the Year, went halfway around the world to win a pair of races in Dubai, including the Dubai World Cup in March, to stake his claim as the best horse in the world. He came home and won three more Grade 1 races - the Stephen Foster, Woodward, and Jockey Club Gold Cup - his only two losses coming when he stepped outside his comfort zone. He was second in his lone grass start, the Man o' War, and was fourth on a synthetic surface in the BC Classic at the end of a long, demanding campaign.

Albertus Maximus had a strong fall for trainer Vladimir Cerin, highlighted by his victory in the BC Dirt Mile against Goodwood winner Well Armed. Muhannak won the inaugural BC Marathon, yet another European who thrived on Santa Anita's Pro-Ride surface.

When Commentator was right, he was dazzling. A 7-year-old gelding, Commentator won the Whitney for the second time, and was a runaway winner of the revived Massachusetts Handicap. He finished second in the Metropolitan Mile to Divine Park. Einstein was a threat on both turf and dirt. He finished the year with a victory in the Clark, outrunning Commentator.

Go Between, though based in Kentucky, went to California for five of his six races and made off with the Pacific Classic. He finished second in the Santa Anita Handicap to Heatseeker, who also won the Californian. Heatseeker's victory in the Californian avenged a loss the previous month in the Oaklawn Handicap to Tiago. Mast Track scored a front-running win in the Hollywood Gold Cup, a race that had been won the three previous years by Lava Man, the popular California-bred gelding whose celebrated career came to an end with his retirement this year.

Older females - Zenyatta dominated this division, winning all seven of her starts at four different tracks, on both synthetic surfaces and dirt. Trained brilliantly by John Shirreffs, she staked her claim to the division lead with a powerhouse performance in the Apple Blossom, then returned to California and ran the table at Hollywood, Del Mar, and Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting. Her massive size, late-running style, and perfect record made her one of the most popular horses in training, and she received a heartfelt cheer from the Breeders' Cup Friday crowd following her win in the renamed BC Ladies' Classic.

All the major race winners of the year seemed to eventually fall to Zenyatta. Cocoa Beach took the Beldame and switched to grass to win the Matriarch, but was second in the Ladies' Classic. Ginger Punch, the 2007 Eclipse Award winner, abdicated her throne in the Apple Blossom. Though she subsequently won the Phipps, Go for Wand, and Personal Ensign, Ginger Punch again was no match for Zenyatta in the Breeders' Cup. Nor was Hystericalady, who was brilliant in the Delaware Handicap and Molly Pitcher, but was humbled twice by Zenyatta.

The division suffered a horrible loss in the spring when Nashoba's Key, the Santa Margarita winner, was euthanized after a freak stable-area accident. She won 8 of 10 starts during her career.