12/28/2012 4:48PM

Steven Crist: No dominant horse in 2012 Grade 1 races

Barbara D. Livingston
Groupie Doll won three Grade 1 stakes in 2012.

The Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita on Wednesday was the last of the 112 Grade 1 races run in the United States during 2012. A survey of the results (a full listing of them can be found on my blog) suggests an unusual lack of dominance by individual horses but an increasing concentration of success by the sport’s elite trainers and jockeys.

While only four horses won more than two U.S. Grade 1 races this year, accounting for just 12 of the 113 winners (there are two Travers winners via the Alpha-Golden Ticket dead heat), 10 trainers won three or more Grade 1’s, combining to win 65 of them, and 15 riders won three or more, taking 86 of the races.

The only four horses who won three Grade 1’s were Groupie Doll, I’ll Have Another, Little Mike, and Point of Entry. Two of them are Eclipse Award shoo-ins – Groupie Doll as champion female sprinter and I’ll Have Another as champion 3-year-old – while Little Mike and Point of Entry seem likely to run second and third behind Wise Dan for champion turf male. (Wise Dan, the likely Horse of the Year, won two Grade 1’s in the United States and the Canadian Grade 1 Woodbine Mile.)

Another 15 horses won two Grade 1’s apiece, including the cinch Eclipse winners Royal Delta (older female) and Shanghai Bobby (2-year-old male). At least three likely Eclipse winners – Beholder (2-year-old filly), Trinniberg (male sprinter), and Zagora (turf female) – won only one Grade 1 race apiece. The 3-year-old filly race is a close one between Questing (two Grade 1’s) and My Miss Aurelia (one Grade 1.)

These somewhat thin Grade 1 credentials reflect the larger trend of horses making fewer starts at the top of the game, especially in the major dirt races that have defined American championship racing for decades.

Wise Dan’s two Grade 1 victories are historically low for an American Horse of the Year, and it would mean that our last four Horse of the Year winners combined to win exactly two Grade 1 dirt races unrestricted by age or sex – Wise Dan and Zenyatta (2010) won no such races during their HOTY campaigns, while Havre de Grace (2011) and Rachel Alexandra each won the Woodward. You have to go back to Curlin in 2008 to find a Horse of the Year with anything resembling a conventional r é sum é , and to Curlin in 2007 to find a Breeders’ Cup Classic winner who was named Horse of the Year.

Also, if Wise Dan is named champion older male, it will be the third time in the last four years that the winner of that title did not win a single race on the dirt – Gio Ponti in 2009 and Acclamation in 2011 won only on turf and synthetics.

Bob Baffert led all trainers with 14 Grade 1 victories during 2012, followed by Todd Pletcher (11), Dale Romans (9), Kiaran McLaughlin (6), Bill Mott (6), and Shug McGaughey (5). Baffert’s 14 victories with 11 different horses would usually be imposing credentials in the contest for the training Eclipse, but a likely lack of Eclipse-winning trainees and a late-season cold streak (he was blanked at the Breeders’ Cup and was winless in Grade 1’s from Oct. 6 to Dec. 26) has tipped favoritism to Romans, who won his nine Grade 1 races with just four horses – Little Mike with three, and Dullahan, Shackleford, and Tapitsfly with two apiece.

In all, just the top five Grade 1 trainers accounted for 46 of the 113 victories: More than 40 percent of the year’s Grade 1 races were won by Baffert, Pletcher, Romans, Mott, or McLaughlin.

Pletcher figures to be the third Eclipse finalist for winning his 11 Grade 1’s with nine different runners and a strong finish – 10 of his 11 Grade 1’s came after the 4th of July.

John Velazquez topped all jockeys with 13 Grade 1’s (only four of them for Pletcher), followed by Ramon Dominguez and Rafael Bejarano with nine apiece (all nine of Bejarano’s were for Baffert), then Javier Castellano (8), Mike Smith (7), and Garrett Gomez (6). Rounding out the top 10 were Jose Lezcano, Rajiv Maragh, and Joel Rosario with five each, and Rosie Napravnik with four.

You can take a deep breath before turning to the 111 scheduled Grade 1 races of 2013: with the Santa Monica on Jan. 28 downgraded to a Grade 2 next year, the first Grade 1’s of the new year are not until Feb. 9, when the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap and the Donn Handicap will be run at Gulfstream.

Kevin Smith More than 1 year ago
how can you say there was no dominant horse in 2012,point of entry won the 3 grade 1 in new york and would have won the breeders cup if he didn't get a bad trip and i guess wise dan wasn't dominant either. your getting as bad as andy beyer
russell More than 1 year ago
I agree Dan. This could save racing. People want a Forego, John Henry, Best Pal, and Cigar. They dance almost every dance every year. I know Cigar was a infertile horse but his win streak was impressive. Cudos to Mr Mott.
Dan Cronin More than 1 year ago
Its all because of the rules to allow horses to retire and breed at 3 and 4 yrs old, If it was a national rule no breeding til 5yr old season for any reason then all the great 3,4 yr olds would be running and not in Japan or Europe or whereever breeding. Make it a law and the game would be a 1000 times better, the stars would be running. Just think back 2 yrs ago to all the horses that have retired before 5 yrs old, they would have been in the gate for the BC classic.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Dan, I appreciate your hopes and wishes but we - you - they can't legislate soundness and with the big money out there young, young horses get run into the ground. That might be where to begin, give the babies a chance to grow.
cliffaclark More than 1 year ago
No way that would work. The only thing it would do would to move our breeding off shore. If you passed that law here then everyone would move their 4 year old horse off shore to breed. It would make matters worse not better. Remember you can only make a national law not a world law.
Robert Barnes More than 1 year ago
Wise Dan should win horse of the year. He beat Excelebration easily who's only loses this year were seconds to Frankel. Every other contender's big wins came against suspect competition.
Thomas Cook More than 1 year ago
Wise Dan also set two track records. I give Johnny V the Jock eclipse, Romans rainstorm, Little Mike Turf, Zagora filly turf, Older male...... wide open.
russell More than 1 year ago
Michael, the simple fact is that breeders are giving buyers what they want. Why breed a horse to fun 10 furlongs when almost no tracks in the country card races at this distance? That's the point you are missing. I would love to see more distance races. For me they are a lot easier to handicap. As for Wise Dan he is a very deserving HOY. And unlike most years he's not retiring so we can enjoy him some more. There is no way you can tell me Fort Larned is a better horse than Wise Dan.
MICHAEL More than 1 year ago
I have no idea why I keep getting thumbs down when I keep pointing out that we are breeding INFERIOR SPEED HORSES that cannot get our classic distance of 10 furlongs. While the JAPANESE are BREEDING THE ORFEVREs and Gentildonnas and the Vitoria Pisa. The Japanese are breeding the best THOROUGHBREDS in the world today bar none. Funny how the British keeps hyping a miler like Frankel and hyping the 10 furlongs Champion stakes like it is better than the Arc de Trioumphe. Won't be long before Japan is recognized as the best breeders of REAL THOROUGHBREDS, not these short milers we keep hyping like Frankel.
John E. Kielbasa More than 1 year ago
and the japanese have won exactly how many g1 races outside of japan ? the euros dominate the world when it comes to bloodlines and winning g1 races at the classic distances from sprinters like dayjur to milers like goldikova to stayers like daylami high chapparal and to the arc winner winner danedream the euros have it all
russell More than 1 year ago
Very true John. I love betting the Euro invaders especially the French horses. They run great in NY. The Japanese horses are getting better internationally. And Sunday Silence is the main reason. How did we ever let this beautiful black colt go to Japan? Terrible decision.
Ponies Payme More than 1 year ago
The Japanese horses have it all over the US horses. You don't see that? Get your head out of the sand. The US breed is weakening every year.
MICHAEL More than 1 year ago
Who cares about the number of G1 wins by euro. Japan is breding the best stayers in the world. And targeting the most prestigious races in the world
MICHAEL More than 1 year ago
What is even telling is if Wise Dan wins HOTY, the last FOUR winner of HOTY DID NOT WIN ONE OPEN DIRT G1 at our classic distance of 10 furlongs. A reflection of our breeding for inferior MILERS.
russell More than 1 year ago
Crist should have done a more extensive breakdown of Gr1 races by division. There are certainly more Gr1 races for 3 year old colts than fillies and mares on the turf. Many of these races arent even worthy of Gr1 status.
Ann Maree More than 1 year ago
I understand the "sex" restriction but are you saying you don't count Grade 1 races that are restricted by age? Huh? There are 2 yr old races, 3 yr old races, and 3 and up races, with Grade 1s in each of those categories. Sorry, this doesn't make sense to me the way this was stated.
Ann Maree More than 1 year ago
Also, so far as I know, there are no actual criteria for the Eclipse awards...about the only thing that is assumed is one should consider the current year's accomplishments. So, I know of no reason not to give credit to Wise Dan for his Grade 1 win at Woodbine, which gives him 3 Grade 1 wins. Why not just say that? You keep referring to Wise Dan's two Grade 1s.,..he has 3! Whether you consider this to be the case, I imagine most of the voters likely will.
Curtis V Slewster More than 1 year ago
You need to read better. Steven clearly referred to U.S. Grade 1's when he was speaking in the prior paragraph. When Canada becomes part of the United States, we'll talk. He said Wise Dan won 3 Grade 1's. You are reading what you want to hear. Mr. Crist makes perfect sense. It's called Context.
anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well put about trainers and jockies gaining dominance while their horses don't. That's because they're seemingly breeding horses not to race, but to have interesting personalities, though only of a certain kind. Being even tempered seems to be the gold standard for TBs. No wonder no one is winning. As soon as you have owners and fans talking about a horse's personality and qualities, the focus has moved off business, running and winning, a race, not a personality contest. We need a mean steed to tear up the dirt the way Secretariat did.