The debate over which elite Thoroughbred should be voted 2012 Horse of the Year is not a heated argument over two great racehorses like Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, or Blame and Zenyatta. Rather, several equine athletes seem to have formed an impressive enough campaign to take home racing’s highest annual honor, leaving the decision wide open, though one horse appears to be the probable recipient of the award.
The top contender for this prestigious award, Wise Dan seems to be the probable 2012 Horse of the Year. The brilliant chestnut did not begin the 2012 season until April, when he annihilated his rivals by 10 ½ lengths, setting a new track record over Keeneland’s Polytrack in the Ben Ali Stakes (GIII).
Photo by Terri Cage
Wise Dan’s sole defeat of the year came in his second start of the season, the Stephen Foster Handicap (GI). A victim of a rather difficult trip, the Charles Lopresti trainee finished a mere head behind the talented Ron the Greek. Wise Dan returned to the turf next out, running away with the Fourstardave Handicap (GII) at Saratoga. Following two brilliant grade one victories going one mile on the grass, Wise Dan faced one of the toughest Breeders’ Cup fields in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (GI), galloping to a radiant 1 ½-length triumph, setting a new course record of 1:31.78.
With victories on turf and synthetic, as well as a remarkable runner-up finish on the dirt, Wise Dan has displayed a great amount of versatility in 2012. Of the five victories this gelding garnered this year, three occurred in grade one company, granting him with a total of $2,622,037 in earnings for 2012. As a result of the brilliant versatility he exhibited throughout the year, combined with his three grade one victories and two track/course records, Wise Dan would be my choice for 2012 Horse of the Year and is the likely inheritor of this renowned award.
Never finishing out of the money this year, Groupie Doll began 2012 in allowance optional claiming company, finishing second at that level against males at Gulfstream Park, crossing the wire behind the grade one-winning Boys at Tosconova. Following a distant third behind Awesome Maria and Royal Delta in the Sabin Stakes (GIII) going a mile and one-sixteenth, Groupie Doll ran third to reigning Champion Female Sprinter, Musical Romance, in the Inside Information Stakes (GII).
Photo by Terri Cage
Groupie Doll achieved her first victory of the season next out in the Vinery Madison Stakes (GI) at Keeneland, romping by 3 lengths. She was even more impressive next out in the Humana Distaff Stakes (GI), which she captured by 7 ¼ lengths in track record time. She was briefly sidelined by a minor injury, but returned to her brilliance without a problem, winning a pair of grade two events by a combined 10 ¼ lengths over synthetic surfaces.
Groupie Doll’s biggest win of 2012 came in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (GI), in which the filly raced against a speed bias to close for a 4 ½-length triumph. Though that race was intended to be her final of the season, Groupie Doll remained keen and thus contested against males in the Cigar Mile Handicap (GI) at Aqueduct, in which the gifted filly was beat a scant nose by the grade one-winning Stay Thirsty.
This filly has been among the most intense of top horses this year, displaying sheer brilliance in most of her starts. With a track record performance and wins on both dirt and synthetic, Groupie Doll has exhibited great versatility for a horse that is primarily restricted to one-turn races. However, with a loss in the Cigar Mile to culminate her 2012 campaign and the label of “female sprinter” stacked against her, Groupie Doll is not likely to be voted Horse of the Year, though she will be a runaway winner of the Champion Female Sprinter award.
Despite stringing together a win-lose-win pattern throughout the year, Little Mike formed one of the most impressive résumés of any horse in 2012, three of his four wins occurring in a grade one contest. Commencing the year with a win in the Sunshine Millions Turf Stakes, Little Mike then finished fourth in the Canadian Turf Stakes (GIII).
Photo by Terri Cage
Little Mike’s initial grade one triumph of the season came in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes (GI), which the gelding won by 2 ½ lengths. He then shipped to Hollywood Park, where he finished third in the Shoemaker Mile Stakes (GI). Little Mike maintained the pattern he had been forming by taking one of the most renowned turf races in the world next out, the Arlington Million Stakes (GI).
A yielding turf course saw Little Mike turn in his worst performance of the year in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational Stakes (GI), in which the gelding crossed the wire in fifth, but a return to a firm turf course added to the bay’s collection of prestigious victories. On one of the biggest stages in racing, Little Mike called upon his undeniable heart to defeat a deep field in the second richest race in the North America, the Breeders’ Cup Turf (GI).
Little Mike is very much worthy of an Eclipse Award, but with a horse like Wise Dan that has captured the nation with his stunning brilliance, this hard-trying gelding just may not receive any year-end championship awards. He will be a champion in the minds of many and though deserving of Horse of the Year, Little Mike will not be honored with Thoroughbred racing’s most coveted annual award.
I’ll Have Another
We’ll never know what I’ll Have Another could have accomplished after the Preakness Stakes (GI). However, his accomplishments prior to the tendon injury that concluded his career before he had the chance to make history in the Belmont Stakes (GI) will certainly grant him a fair share of Horse of the Year votes.
Commencing 2012 with an easy longshot victory in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (GIII), I’ll Have Another continued his winning ways for the remainder of his brief career. His first grade one of the season occurred in the Santa Anita Derby (GI), a race in which the son of Flower Alley battled the talented Creative Cause to prevail by a narrow margin. But it was his next two races that give him hope for being named 2012 Horse of the Year.
I’ll Have Another maintained his winning streak in the Kentucky Derby (GI), taking the esteemed race by 1 ½ lengths in the fastest final time for the mile and one-quarter event since 2008. Battling his rival, Bodemeister, yet again next out in the Preakness, I’ll Have Another showed great perseverance to prevail by a neck. Triple Crown hopes were pinned upon the horse, but a tendon issue led him to be withdrawn from the Belmont and retired.
I’ll Have Another is among the leaders in amount of 2012 grade one victories, with three to his credit, and despite only racing during the first half of the season, I’ll Have Another is the third-leading earner of 2012. Among the advantages I’ll Have Another has on his side is his lack of defeats. However, the name of this award is Horse of the Year and due to his injury, I’ll Have Another only participated the first half of the year. He will earn an Eclipse Award, but, despite how elite his brief campaign was, I would not vote for I’ll Have Another as Horse of the Year.
Point of Entry
A Phipps Stable homebred, this colt began 2012 in allowance company, earning his first graded stakes victory in the Elkhorn Stakes (GII) in April. He then reeled off three consecutive grade one victories – all over turf courses in New York. Point of Entry captured the Man o’ War Stakes (GI), Sword Dancer Invitational Stakes (GI), and Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational Stakes (GI) by a combined 9 ¼ lengths.
But in the Breeders’ Cup, Point of Entry suffered his first loss since February, finishing a half-length behind Little Mike in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (GI). In spite of developing a stellar 2012 campaign, I do not foresee Point of Entry being voted Horse of the Year.
|Point of Entry|
Photo by Terri Cage
Crowned as Champion Three-Year-Old Filly of 2011, Royal Delta began her 2012 campaign with two disappointing results: a distant second in the Sabin Stakes (GIII) and a troubled ninth in the Dubai World Cup (GI). But upon her return to American racing after the Dubai World Cup, we saw the continuance of the brilliance Royal Delta had displayed in 2011.
Photo by Terri Cage
In stunning fashion, Royal Delta took the Fleur de Lis Handicap (GII) by 8 lengths prior to scoring a tenacious victory in the Delaware Handicap (GII). Following a game runner-up performance in the Personal Ensign Handicap (GI), Royal Delta ran away with the Beldame Invitational Stakes (GI), conquering the field by 9 ½ lengths.
In what many viewed as the toughest field of the 2012 Breeders’ Cup, Royal Delta looked to defend her title in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (GI). Digging deep and prevailing with her tremendous class, the daughter of Empire Maker captured the race by 1 ½ lengths. However, despite her stellar latter part of the season and breathtaking Ladies’ Classic victory, I do not foresee Royal Delta being honored Horse of the Year with just two grade one victories to her credit this year.
Fort Larned’s first half of the season isn’t exactly an orthodox array of races for a horse being considered for Horse of the Year. A month after the colt finished fourth in a handicap at Tampa Bay Downs, Fort Larned won the Challenger Stakes before he won the Skip Away Stakes (GIII) in track record-breaking style.
Photo by Terri Cage
After finishing second in the Alysheba Stakes (GII), Fort Larned faded to finish last in the Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) after a poor trip. He redeemed himself with an easy win in the Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap (GIII), forming a winning streak by taking the Whitney Invitational Handicap (GI) at Saratoga by 1 ¼ lengths.
In his first ten-furlong try, Fort Larned contested in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI), weakening to finish third. But, of course, Fort Larned achieved his greatest victory when displaying tremendous persistence to capture the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI). Despite capturing one of the biggest races of the year and two grade ones, Fort Larned will not be voted Horse of the Year, as his 2012 campaign has been slightly erratic, began on a less elite note than other candidates, and saw him capture less grade ones than other top contenders.
Who would I vote for as Horse of the Year? Wise Dan. Who do I think will be voted Horse of the Year? Wise Dan.