12/22/2011 12:25PM

2011's best stakes horses for win bettors

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Oaklawn Park/Coady Photography
Archarcharch paid $31 in the Southwest and an even bigger $52.40 in the Arknsas Derby (above).

Welcome to the 12th annual ROI Awards. We usually wait until closer to the Eclipse Awards in January, but with many newspapers, magazines, and websites doing their end-of-year wrapups earlier and earlier each year, we might as well join the club.

ROI stands for return on investment, and for our purposes it refers to the average payoff you would have received if you had wagered $2 to win on each of a horse’s races this past year. Eclipse winners generally are star horses who get pounded at the betting windows. While we in Vegas applaud the athletic ability of the champions, what we cheer for most of all is our money, so the ROI Awards honors the horses who gave us the best bang for the buck.

Since these are national awards, only horses who ran at major U.S. simulcast tracks that attracted sizable betting pools were considered (though we’re expanding that with Nevada books taking more Woodbine programs), with a heavy emphasis on stakes races.

So, without further ado, the envelopes please . . .

2-year-old male: We always like to start the show with a category that really illustrates what we’re looking for in an ROI Awards winner. Hansen returned $16.20 when he won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and also paid $3.60 in his maiden win and $3 in the Kentucky Cup Juvenile. Added up that’s $22.80 and divided by his three races gives him a respectable $7.60 ROI for every $2 wagered. Union Rags was the BC Juvenile favorite and is still the 2012 Kentucky Derby favorite, but even though he paid $17.80 in winning his maiden at Delaware, his other wins were $4.40 and $8.50, giving him an ROI of $7.68 from his four starts. But neither of those was good enough to top Currency Swap, who won his maiden at Saratoga, paying $21.80, and also won the Grade 1 Hopeful at the Spa at $5.80 for an ROI of $13.80 from his two starts to win the division.

2-year-old female: This was a tightly contested race. My Miss Aurelia was 4-for-4, capped off by a $6.20 win as the favorite in the BC Juvenile Fillies and has an overall ROI of $6.03, not bad considering she was never more than 3-1. Stephanie’s Kitten had a $21.60 score in the Grade 1 Alcibiades at Keeneland and $14.20 in the BC Juvenile Fillies Turf and with a $4.20 maiden score, she had an ROI of $8 from five starts, but that was just edged out by On Fire Baby’s $8.20 ROI from four starts, highlighted by a $20.20 win in the Grade 2 Pocahontas at Churchill.

3-year-old male: As most of you will recall, we had Animal Kingdom win the Kentucky Derby at 20-1, Shackleford win the Preakness at 12-1, and Ruler On Ice win the Belmont at 24-1, but it took two big payoffs to take the honors in this division this year. Archarcharch fit the bill as he returned $31 in the Grade 3 Southwest at Oaklawn and then topped that with a $52.40 score in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby. With five starts, Archarcharch’s ROI was $16.68.

Female sprinter: This division was similar. Shotgun Gulch won at 11-1, Sassy Image at 16-1, and Musical Romance at 20-1, but it was Holiday for Kitten who had two big scores to put her over the top. She won the ungraded Giant’s Causeway at Keeneland at $25.60 and capped her campaign with a $39.60 hit in the Grade 2 Thoroughbred Club of America, also at Keeneland. Her overall ROI was $9.38 from eight starts.

Male sprinter: This was a tight race, just like a sprint should be. Sean Avery won the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga at 17-1 along with three chalky wins for an overall $10.53 ROI from five starts. However, he was just nipped at the wire by Force Freeze, who won the ungraded Teddy Drone at Monmouth at $36.20 and ended up with an ROI of $11.67 from three starts.

Older female: Havre de Grace and Blind Luck did their best to make this a chalky division, but Miss Match had a win at $9.20 in an allowance race at Golden Gate in January and followed that up in March with a $92.40 win in the Grade 1 Santa Margarita. She didn’t win the rest of the year, but her ROI of $12.70 from eight starts was still enough to win the division.

Older male: Drosselmeyer upset the BC Classic at $31.60, but with just one more win ($6.90 in a minor stakes at Belmont) his ROI was just $5.50 and was blown away by Pool Play’s $75.20 victory in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster at Churchill. It was Pool Play’s only win in four starts but still gave him an ROI of $18.80.

Turf female: Perfect Shirl won the BC Filly and Mare Turf at 27-1 but that was her only win of the year and only increased her ROI to $8.23 from seven races. Sarah Lynx raced in Germany, France, and Japan during 2011, but made one stop in North America for the Grade 1 Canadian International at Woodbine and beat the boys to the tune of $46.90. We have a rule that you can’t win the ROI Horse of the Year off just one race, but those who cashed on her could hardly care.

Turf male: Ultimate Edge had scores of $70.40 in the Grade 2 Oak Tree Derby, $31.40 in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby, and two more double-digit payoffs for an impressive ROI of $18.40 from seven starts. In some years, that would have put him in contention for the ROI Horse of the Year, but he didn’t even win this division as Court Vision won the BC Turf, paying $131.60, so even though he was winless in his previous four starts, his ROI was still a robust $26.33. But even that wasn’t enough to win the ROY Horse of the Year as we will see in a minute.

3-year-old female and ROI Horse of the Year: No other 3-year-old female had an ROI of $5 or more, but it wouldn’t have made a difference anyway as Lilacs and Lace blew away the competition with her $99.40 score in the Grade 1 Ashland at Keeneland. She also had a $6.80 win in the California Oaks at Golden Gate for total payoffs of $106.20 from four starts for an ROI of $26.55 to edge out Court Vision for ROI Horse of the Year.

That’s it for this year’s honors. Have a good night, and be sure to tip your waitress.