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2011 Year In Review: Division by division
By Jay Privman
Blind Luck and Havre de Grace met four times in 2010, and with both staying in training for 2011, their rivalry was seen as one of the year's potential highlights. Havre de Grace won their first match of the year, capturing the Azeri at Oaklawn in her 2011 debut. They met again four months later, in the Delaware Handicap, a race that forever changed their fortunes.
Blind Luck won, but she was never the same after that gut-wrenching stretch drive. Blind Luck bypassed a potential start at Del Mar, awaited the Lady's Secret, but was woefully flat in that race and was immediately retired. Havre de Grace's heartbreaking nose loss convinced Jones and Porter that she would need to step out of her division and beat males in order to improve her chances for Horse of the Year.
Havre de Grace did just that, defeating the likes of Flat Out in the Woodward in an effort that may prove pivotal in the debate for Horse of the Year. Havre de Grace then romped in the Beldame for her third Grade 1 win of the year, crushing Royal Delta in the process, before finishing fourth in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Before her shocking final start, Blind Luck won three times this year, including the Vanity, and finished second three times.
Awesome Maria won all four of her starts this year but went to the sideline following her victory in the Phipps in June. Miss Match pulled off a 45-1 shocker in the Santa Margarita before losing her next six races. Ask the Moon scored front-running wins in the Ruffian and Personal Ensign at Saratoga. Aruna made a successful transition from turf to Polytrack when capturing the Spinster.
The shadow of Zenyatta loomed large in California. Switch got out of that shadow and returned to a sprint to win the Santa Monica, and Ultra Blend became the first horse other than Zenyatta to win Del Mar's Clement L. Hirsch since 2007.
The retirements of Blame and Lookin At Lucky after last year's Breeders' Cup Classic left this division without an obvious leader. There were several who tried to claim the throne, but no one lasted long.
Tizway won two of the biggest races in New York, the Met Mile and Whitney, but never ran after the Whitney. Flat Out was a terror at Belmont Park, winning the Suburban and Jockey Club Gold Cup, but Churchill Downs -- where he lost three times − proved his Achilles' heel.
After winning a pair of Grade 1 races on turf, Acclamation transitioned to Polytrack and scored a tenacious victory over the star-crossed Twirling Candy in the Pacific Classic, but he was done for the year after one more grass start. First Dude staked his claim to the top spot in California in July when he won the Hollywood Gold Cup, but he suffered a career-ending injury and never ran again.
Game On Dude won a roughly run Santa Anita Handicap in March, just missed in the Hollywood Gold Cup in the summer, and won the Goodwood in the fall. He and Flat Out were in position to secure Horse of the Year in the Breeders' Cup Classic, but they were defeated by Drosselmeyer, who was reunited with jockey Mike Smith for the first time since their Belmont Stakes victory 17 months earlier.
If Drosselmeyer was going to be a one-hit wonder in 2011, he picked the right day to do it. Others who came and went included Giant Oak, who won the Donn in his first start of the year before losing seven straight; Pool Play, who never ran again after his 36-1 upset in the Stephen Foster; and Afleet Again, whose only win in 10 starts came in the Breeders' Cup Marathon.
At year's end, it was Wise Dan who was strongest, winning the Fayette on Polytrack and then the Clark on dirt.
In the spring, major Kentucky Derby preps were won by horses such as Dialed In (Florida Derby), Midnight Interlude (Santa Anita Derby), Archarcharch (Arkansas Derby), Brilliant Speed (Blue Grass), Mucho Macho Man (Risen Star), and Pants On Fire (Louisiana Derby). But through inconsistency or injury, none was among the divisional leaders at year's end.
Motion at first appeared to have his best shot at winning the Kentucky Derby with Toby's Corner, who won the Wood Memorial at the expense of Uncle Mo. But Toby's Corner was lame the week of the Derby and had to be withdrawn, leaving Motion with only Animal Kingdom, who had yet to race on dirt.
But Animal Kingdom ran to his works and captured the Derby as a 20-1 outsider in an effort so convincing that he was favored in the next two legs of the Triple Crown. Animal Kingdom was a rallying second in the Preakness behind Shackleford, then was injured when he became the latest mugging victim in New York in the Belmont.
Ruler On Ice held off Stay Thirsty in the Belmont, but Stay Thirsty rose to the fore in the summer at Saratoga. He won the Jim Dandy and then the Travers against Shackleford, Ruler On Ice, and Coil, who had won the Haskell.
Like Uncle Mo, To Honor and Serve was a highly regarded Derby prospect in the spring who went to the sideline before returning for a fall campaign. To Honor and Serve won 3 of his last 4 starts, including the Cigar Mile, which came just three weeks after he finished seventh in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Uncle Mo, in a stunning comeback from his liver ailment only months earlier, lost a heartbreaker in the King's Bishop, then was a dazzling winner against older horses in the Kelso. But he flopped in the Breeders' Cup Classic, looking like a horse who reacted negatively when asked to do a lot in a short amount of time.
All eyes were on Uncle Mo in the King's Bishop, and the winner may have been overlooked that day. But by the Breeders' Cup, Caleb's Posse proved that he had just as much of a right to this divisional title as anyone, if not more so. Caleb's Posse tattooed Shackleford by four lengths in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile for his fifth win of the year and second in a Grade 1 race, becoming the only horse in this division to win a pair of Grade 1 races.
Mott's work with Royal Delta seems certain to bring her the Eclipse Award in this division. In the spring, she was deemed too immature for a race like the Kentucky Oaks, but by the summer, she took the division lead with a victory in the Alabama Stakes over Plum Pretty, who won the Kentucky Oaks, and It's Tricky, who won the Acorn Stakes and Coaching Club American Oaks.
Royal Delta could not handle the older Havre de Grace in the Beldame, but she again asserted her superiority over It's Tricky and Plum Pretty in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic, a race Havre de Grace bypassed to face males the next day in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Turbulent Descent won the Santa Anita Oaks in the spring but was kept around one turn the rest of the year and scored another significant victory in the Test.
Zazu traded decisions with Turbulent Descent in the spring, when she won the Las Virgenes, knocked off Plum Pretty in the Hollywood Oaks in the summer, and in the fall defeated older rivals in the Lady's Secret.
Awesome Feather, last year's champion 2-year-old filly, returned from a tendon injury and won two late-season races, including the Gazelle, to bring her record to 8 for 8.
Other major race winners included Buster's Ready, who won the Mother Goose; Lilacs and Lace, a 48-1 upset winner of the Ashland on Polytrack; and R Heat Lightning, who did not race again following a pair of runaway wins in Florida early in the year, including the Gulfstream Park Oaks.
Drill won the Del Mar Futurity, then was soundly defeated by Creative Cause in the Norfolk. On the East Coast, Union Rags rocketed to the top with a pair of eye-catching wins in the Saratoga Special and Champagne that invited comparisons to trainer Michael Matz's best horse, 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro.
But all three of those colts were defeated in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile by Hansen, whose all-white coat must have put a ghostly fright in them. Hansen went to the front under jockey Ramon Dominguez and just lasted over Union Rags, who was compromised by a wide trip. Still, Hansen did everything asked of him this year, winning all three of his starts. And Hansen provided Dominguez, the defending Eclipse Award-winning jockey and earnings leader at mid-December this year, with his lone win at the Breeders' Cup.
Unbeaten Secret Circle won the inaugural Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint, which drew an otherwise nondescript bunch. Perhaps the saturation point has been reached with 15 Breeders' Cup races, five for 2-year-olds.
Other important divisional winners included Currency Swap (Hopeful), Dullahan (Breeders' Futurity), and Overdriven (Sanford).
Major late-season victories were scored by the unbeaten Gemologist in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, Sabercat in the Delta Jackpot, and O'Prado Again in the Remsen. Dullahan and O'Prado Again are trained by Dale Romans and owned by Jerry Crawford's Donegal Racing partnership.
There may be no more clear-cut divisional leader than My Miss Aurelia, who won all four of her starts, including the Frizette, and was an easy winner of the title-deciding Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, in which she beat such major race winners as Grace Hall (Spinaway) and Weemissfrankie (Oak Leaf and Del Mar Debutante).
Stephanie's Kitten won important races on grass (Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf) and synthetic (Alcibiades) for owners-breeders Ken and Sarah Ramsey, who are battling for the national lead for purse earnings among owners this year.
Disposablepleasure overcame a dreadful start to win the Demoiselle. Now I Know went 5 for 5, winning four at Remington before the Delta Princess. On Fire Baby was just that this fall at Churchill, scoring in the Pocahontas and Golden Rod. Killer Graces returned to her favorite track in December and took the Hollywood Starlet.
Last year's champion in this division, Gio Ponti, came back for an encore performance at age 6. And while he took a final bow with a victory in the Shadwell Mile, Gio Ponti found an insurmountable nemesis in Cape Blanco, who came over from Ireland three times for trainer Aidan O'Brien. Cape Blanco defeated Gio Ponti in both the Man o' War and Arlington Million, then won the Turf Classic on a soggy, bottomless Belmont Park course, from which he emerged with a career-ending injury.
Gio Ponti made one final start, in the Breeders' Cup Mile, but he finished fourth behind the 64-1 longshot Court Vision, who hadn't finished in the money in four previous starts this year. Court Vision barely held off the onrushing Turallure, who was coming off a win in the Woodbine Mile.
With Cape Blanco out of the Breeders' Cup, the depth of O'Brien's Ballydoyle stable was on display with St Nicholas Abbey, who came over to win the Turf under a flawless ride from O'Brien's son, Joseph.
O'Brien also sent Treasure Beach over to win the Secretariat on the Arlington Million undercard.
In California, no one could beat Acclamation. He rattled off Grade 1 scores in the Whittingham and Eddie Read and, after a victory on Polytrack in the Pacific Classic, returned to turf and captured the Hirsch at Santa Anita for his fifth straight win, four in turf stakes.
Get Stormy took the Maker's Mark and Churchill Downs Turf Classic early in the year but never won again and faded badly in the Breeders' Cup Mile. Teaks North also won a pair of Grade 1 races, the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap and United Nations, but he also flopped in the Breeders' Cup, finishing eighth of nine in the Turf.
This division's other major race winners included Courageous Cat (Shoemaker Mile), Fluke (Kilroe Mile), Mission Approved (Manhattan), Sanagas (Hollywood Turf Cup), Ultimate Eagle (Hollywood Derby), Western Aristocrat (Jamaica), Wigmore Hall (Northern Dancer), and Winchester (Sword Dancer).
With no one taking charge in this division, Goldikova was in a prime position to win the Eclipse Award off just one start in this country, but she came up short in the Breeders' Cup Mile, leaving an unsatisfying decision to be made for division honors.
Stacelita won two important races, the Beverly D. and Flower Bowl, but ran only four times in this country and flopped in her final start, the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, finishing 10th of 11 while wearing a plastic goggle to protect an injured eye. Perfect Shirl, the Filly and Mare Turf winner, was a 27-1 shot who was beaten in her six previous starts this year.
The most ambitious body of work belonged to Never Retreat, who ran 11 times from Jan. 9 to Nov. 25 at six tracks, winning five stakes, including Keeneland's Jenny Wiley and First Lady. But she was seventh in the Beverly D. and third in the Matriarch behind Star Billing and Del Mar Oaks winner Summer Soiree.
Star Billing and Summer Soiree rebounded from disappointing performances in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup, which was won by Together just one week after her second-place finish in the First Lady. Together provided yet another winner on these shores for O'Brien, who had a remarkable strike rate.
The most consistent runner on the West Coast was Dubawi Heights, who scored Grade 1 wins in the Gamely and Yellow Ribbon and was second to Stacelita in the Beverly D. In the Yellow Ribbon, the vanquished included important stakes winners Cozi Rosie (John Mabee) and Malibu Pier (Santa Barbara and Santa Ana).
Other major stakes winners included C.S. Silk (Just A Game), Miss Keller (E.P. Taylor), Winter Memories (Garden City), Zagora (Diana), Sarah Lynx -- who pulverized male rivals in the Canadian International -- and Cambina and Nereid, who dead-heated for the win in the American Oaks.
Bill Spawr acquired Amazombie as part of a two-horse package that cost all of $5,000, so he hardly could have expected then what happened now, namely winning his first Breeders' Cup race. But Spawr's tireless work ethic has earned him the respect of countless fellow trainers and bettors over the years, and Amazombie's victory in the Breeders' Cup Sprint was seen as just rewards for the little guy, as Spawr is one of the thousands of trainers in this game who usually toil below the headlines.
Amazombie won 5 of 9, including the Ancient Title, and was disqualified in a controversial decision in the Los Angeles Handicap.
Regally Ready won the year's biggest grass sprint, the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, as well as the Nearctic and four other races.
Giant Ryan won six straight, including the Smile and Vosburgh. Force Freeze gave Giant Ryan a scare in the Vosburgh and tested Amazombie all the way to the wire in the Breeders' Cup.
Other major race winners in this division included Sean Avery (Vanderbilt), Smiling Tiger (Triple Bend), Nick Zito's dynamic duo of Jackson Bend (Forego) and Morning Line (Carter), and Bob Baffert's pair of Euroears (Bing Crosby) and The Factor (Pat O'Brien).
There are some horses who show up just by appointment, and then there are horses like Musical Romance, who race all year long. It's encouraging when those horses are rewarded. In her 14th start of the year, Musical Romance won the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, her fifth victory in a campaign that saw her make at least one start every month from January through November.
The Breeders' Cup race was without Hilda's Passion and Sassy Image, who were the division leaders earlier in the year but were done by the end of August. Hilda's Passion was retired after her runaway victory in the Ballerina, a race in which Sassy Image finished last after having previously won the Princess Rooney and Humana Distaff.
Turbulent Descent scored her biggest win in the Test, but a brutal trip cost her dearly in the Breeders' Cup. Pomeroys Pistol, second in the Test, came back to win the Gallant Bloom. Switch was at her best going seven furlongs. She easily won the Santa Monica in January, and was second to Musical Romance in the Breeders' Cup.
Her Smile won a throwdown over Pomeroys Pistol in the Prioress, and Shotgun Gulch was the upset winner of the Madison.
The European import Black Jack Blues likes to make all the running and dare anyone to catch him, and no one could during his dazzling late-fall campaign, highlighted by an overpowering victory in the Grand National.
Though he faltered in the Grand National, Tax Ruling rebounded to win the prestigious Colonial Cup, adding to a resume that also includes the Iroquois in the spring to give him two Grade 1 wins.
If the Eclipse Award comes down to Black Jack Blues -- who missed the Colonial Cup with an illness -- or Tax Ruling, the only one not sweating it out will be Irv Naylor. He owns both of those 8-year-old geldings.
Mabou was this division's headliner at Saratoga, where he won the New York Turf Writers just three weeks after being claimed for $30,000 by trainer David Jacobson.