12/27/2012 12:01PM

2012 Year In Review: Division by division

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Tom Keyser
Jockey Mike Smith tosses yellow flower petals in the air after guiding Royal Delta to victory in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic.

Read more: I'll Have Another embodied season of defections, debate

Here now, division by division, a recap of the 2012 racing year:

3-YEAR-OLD MALES

I’ll Have Another was a 43-1 outsider when he made his first start of the year following a five-month layoff in the Robert Lewis Stakes, but three months later, he was the talk of the sport. His mercurial rise to stardom came to a crushing end, leaving the division ripe for someone to claim the title with a big second half, but no one stepped forward. Like I’ll Have Another, Bodemeister also had a meteoric campaign, going from an unstarted maiden at the beginning of the year to one of the top contenders for the Derby following his runaway victory in the Arkansas Derby. Like I’ll Have Another, he never raced after the Preakness.

Union Rags, unlucky to lose the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at 2 and the victim of awful trips in the Florida Derby − behind the victorious Take Charge Indy − and the Kentucky Derby, rebounded to win the Belmont but never raced again. Dullahan excelled on Polytrack, with victories in the Blue Grass and then against older horses in the Pacific Classic.

MALE TURF

There were three worthy candidates for the divisional title, and, in turn, Horse of the Year. Wise Dan emerged as the front-runner following his course-record victory in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. He also won the Woodbine Mile and Shadwell Turf Mile, plus the Ben Ali on Polytrack, in which he also set a track record. And he just missed in the Stephen Foster on dirt, his lone loss of the year in six starts.

Little Mike and Point of Entry ran one-two in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at the end of ambitious, decorated campaigns. Little Mike won the Arlington Million and the Turf Classic at Churchill Downs, and Point of Entry rattled off five straight wins, three in Grade 1 races such as the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont Park, before the Breeders’ Cup. All three could receive support for champion older male, too.

Acclamation, the 2011 champion older male, was hampered by nagging injuries much of the year but did start twice, winning the Whittingham and Eddie Read, both Grade 1’s. Other Grade 1 winners in this division were Bayrir (Secretariat), Data Link (Maker’s Mark Mile), Desert Blanc (Manhattan), Get Stormy (Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap), Jeranimo (Shoemaker Mile), Joshua Tree (Canadian International), King David (Jamaica), Turbo Compressor (United Nations), Unbridled Command (Hollywood Derby), Wigmore Hall (Northern Dancer), and Willyconker (Kilroe Mile).

OLDER FEMALES

Royal Delta used a powerful late run to win the Ladies’ Classic at Churchill Downs in 2011, but for her encore performance at Santa Anita, she went right to the front and led every step against the strongest field ever in that race, which included previously unbeaten champs My Miss Aurelia and Awesome Feather. Royal Delta also won the Beldame and won 4 of 5 starts after returning from an early season journey to Dubai. Include Me Out was the pride of California, where she won the Santa Margarita and the Clement Hirsch before finishing third in the Ladies’ Classic.

Love and Pride upset Royal Delta in the Personal Ensign, then took her talents to Southern California and won the Zenyatta, previously known as the Lady’s Secret. It’s Tricky won the Phipps and ran a remarkable race behind Love and Pride and Royal Delta after stumbling badly in the Personal Ensign, but she was no match for Royal Delta in the Beldame. Other Grade 1 winners in this division were Love Theway Youare in the Vanity and Plum Pretty in the Apple Blossom.

OLDER MALES

Fort Larned began the year in minor races at Tampa Bay but was slowly allowed to improve under the handling of trainer Ian Wilkes, who took a page from his mentor, Hall of Famer Carl Nafzger, when it came time for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Fort Larned had won the Whitney in August. In his only prep for the Classic, he was third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, but Wilkes had a bigger target, just as Nafzger did time and time again with Wilkes as his assistant. Wilkes had Fort Larned primed for the race of his life in the Breeders’ Cup. Under jockey Brian Hernandez Jr., Fort Larned boldly took the track at the outset and never looked back, despite a dogged bid down the stretch from Mucho Macho Man. It was old-school horsemanship at its finest.

Among those left in Fort Larned’s wake were Flat Out, who had won the Jockey Club Gold Cup for the second straight year; Ron the Greek, who earlier captured the Santa Anita Handicap and Stephen Foster; and Game On Dude, who won the Hollywood Gold Cup and the Awesome Again, formerly the Goodwood, while capturing 4 of 6 starts after returning from Dubai.

Earlier on Breeders’ Cup day, Tapizar scored an upset in the Dirt Mile, defeating, among others, Shackleford, who was eliminated with a bad start. Shackleford shined on other days, including the Met Mile, in which he outlasted Caleb’s Posse in one of the best duels of the year, and the Clark Handicap, which provided Shackleford with a popular, emotional sendoff at his home track, Churchill Downs.

If the Met Mile was the best race of the year, the Cigar Mile, in which Stay Thirsty barely held off the filly Groupie Doll, wasn’t too far off.

Others winning Grade 1 races in this division were Hymn Book (Donn) and To Honor and Serve (Woodward).

FEMALE SPRINTERS

While Groupie Doll just missed in the Cigar Mile when taking on males for the first time, she was a terror against fillies and mares, winning five straight races, including three Grade 1 races, after adding blinkers. Her Breeders’ Cup victory was breathtaking. Over a Santa Anita track that seemingly favored both speed and inside lanes, she rallied wide yet still crushed her rivals by 4 1/2 lengths, dominating that race as much as she dominated this division. Bred by owner Fred Bradley and trained and co-owned by his son, Buff, Groupie Doll is the pride of her hometown of Frankfort, Ky.

Last year’s divisional champion, Musical Romance, suffered three losses against Groupie Doll, but did win the Princess Rooney. Mizdirection beat the boys in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, giving her owner, popular sports talk host Jim Rome, further reason to embrace a sport he once scorned.

Dust and Diamonds won four of her last five starts of the year, the only setback in that streak coming when she was second to Groupie Doll in the Breeders’ Cup.

Turbulent Descent, last year’s Test winner, returned to Saratoga and won the Ballerina. This year’s Test went to Contested, and Emma’s Encore was the upset winner of the Prioress for her ageless trainer, Allen Jerkens.

FEMALE TURF

In a division where no one stood out all year, Zagora won the championship race of the year when she prevailed in a roughly run Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf. It was her fifth win in eight starts. Zagora had been prominent in several major stakes in the year, finishing second to Nahrain in the Flower Bowl and third to Winter Memories in the Diana.

Among those Zagora vanquished in the Breeders’ Cup was Marketing Mix, who had a terrific year, winning 4 of 6, including the Rodeo Drive – formerly the Yellow Ribbon – before finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup. She also was second in the Beverly D.

Tapitsfly excelled in one-mile races, taking the Just a Game and First Lady. Dayatthespa won her first five starts of the year, including the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup, but seemed to forfeit her best chance at a championship when she propped during the running of the Matriarch and finished fifth as the favorite.

The 3-year-old Lady of Shamrock won the American Oaks and Del Mar Oaks before finishing fifth in the Breeders’ Cup when facing elders for the first time. Other Grade 1 winners included Belle Royale (Gamely), Better Lucky (Matriarch), Daisy Devine (Jenny Wiley), I’m A Dreamer (Beverly D.), Samitar (Garden City), and Siyouma (E.P. Taylor).

MALE SPRINTERS

Uneasy lies the crown. Amazombie, the 2011 champ, won just twice in the six starts, and though he captured the Bing Crosby, he was eighth as the favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, in which Trinniberg seized control of the race and very likely the divisional title.

Trinniberg’s victory completed a year of extreme emotions for the Parbhoo family, which owns and trains him. Trinniberg used his brilliant speed to win a pair of minor sprint stakes to start in the year, but that propelled him into the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby, in which he pressed the pace of Bodemeister before fading to 17th, the distance far beyond his range.

He returned five weeks later and won the Woody Stephens on the Belmont Stakes undercard, but earlier that day the family’s popular older sprinter, Giant Ryan, suffered catastrophic injuries in the True North that led to his being euthanized the next week. Trinniberg lost his next three starts but saved the best for last.

In the Breeders’ Cup, Trinniberg outran a number of 2012 Grade 1 winners, including Coil (Santa Anita Sprint Championship), Poseidon’s Warrior (Vanderbilt), and The Lumber Guy (Vosburgh).

Willy Beamin pulled off one of the more notable feats of the Saratoga meeting, capturing the prestigious King’s Bishop three days after beating New York-breds in the Albany. Jackson Bend won the Carter, but the popular little horse was retired just one start after being plowed into by another horse during a morning training accident at Saratoga.

Other Grade 1 winners in this division were Camp Victory (Triple Bend), Emcee (Forego), and Next Question (Nearctic).

3-YEAR-OLD FILLIES

The most significant win of the year came in the Kentucky Oaks, with Napravnik making history aboard Believe You Can. But Believe You Can ran just once more before going to the sidelines for the rest of the year, emblematic of a division that saw a number of fillies lay claim to the tiara from January through December.

Early in the year in California, Eden’s Moon won the Las Virgenes, and Willa B Awesome the Santa Anita Oaks, but neither made an impact nationally. Karlovy Vary captured the Ashland, but like Eden’s Moon was pummeled in the Kentucky Oaks. Contested won the Acorn, flopped in the Mother Goose against Zo Impressive, then rebounded in the Test, but she never raced again.

The summer belonged to Questing, who scored a pair of dazzling victories at Saratoga in the Coaching Club American Oaks and the Alabama. At that moment, she was clearly the division’s leader.

But Questing lost a close decision in the Cotillion to My Miss Aurelia, the 2-year-old champ of 2011, who benefited from a seven-pound weight break. That was only the second start of the year for My Miss Aurelia, who then ran an excellent race when second to Royal Delta in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic, a race in which Questing was eased. But My Miss Aurelia was upset as the heavy favorite on Wednesday in the La Brea, which Book Review captured with a late run.

Also in the fall, Dance Card won the Gazelle, and In Lingerie beat elders in the Spinster.

2-YEAR-OLD MALES

This division belonged to trainer Todd Pletcher, whose Shanghai Bobby won all five of his starts, including the Champagne and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Pletcher also directed Violence to an unbeaten three-race campaign, highlighted by his victory in the CashCall Futurity. And Pletcher won the Remsen with Overanalyze.

O’Neill set his sites on the 2013 Derby with several promising runners, including Goldencents, who was second to Shanghai Bobby in the Champagne before winning the rich Delta Jackpot. O’Neill also sent out Know More to a debut win in the Best Pal.

Per usual, Baffert had a deep group of 2-year-olds, including Power Broker, who romped in the FrontRunner (formerly the Norfolk), and Rolling Fog, the Del Mar Futurity winner.

Uncaptured won 6 of 7 starts in Canada and Kentucky, including a season-ending victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club. George Vancouver shipped in from Ireland to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, defeating, among others, Breeders’ Futurity winner Joha.

2-YEAR-OLD FEMALES

Executiveprivilege was the leader of the pack early in the campaign in California, winning her first five starts, including the Del Mar Debutante and the Chandelier. In New York, Dreaming of Julia won her first three races, including the Frizette, and Kauai Katie won her first three starts, including the Matron. And in Kentucky, Spring in the Air won the Alcibiades.

Those four all met in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies – clearly the deepest field of the year in this division – but were knocked off by Beholder, who avenged a narrow loss to Executiveprivilege in the Del Mar Debutante by leading her rivals from start to finish under Garrett Gomez.

Executiveprivilege tried to pad her resume in the Hollywood Starlet, but Pure Fun shipped in from Kentucky and knocked her off, Gomez again playing the role of spoiler.

So Many Ways won all three of her starts, including the Spinaway, the French filly Flotilla won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, Seaneen Girl was the upset winner of the Golden Rod, and Unlimited Budget won her only two races in a brief, late-season campaign, including the Demoiselle.

STEEPLECHASE

The two leading candidates for the Eclipse Award in this division appear to be Demonstrative and Pierrot Lunaire, both of whom won a pair of Grade 1 races.

Pierrot Lunaire was victorious in the Lonesome Glory and the Grand National, defeating Demonstrative in the Grand National, but there was no rematch in the season-ending Colonial Cup, which was won by Demonstrative, who added to his victory in the summer in the New York Turf Writers.

Spy in the Sky won the Smithwick, but lost his final three starts of the year in races won by either Demonstrative or Pierrot Lunaire. Divine Fortune did not win a Grade 1 race but was second in three of them: the Iroquois, to the ill-fated Arcadius; the Grand National; and the Colonial Cup.

Amy Hurley More than 1 year ago
Groupie Doll didn't face males for the first time in the Cigar Mile. She was beaten by Boys at Tosconova in an allowance at Gulfstream early in the year.