Voting continues until January 2, with a dozen choices for the 2012 Moment of the Year.
Last year, Drosselmeyer’s upset win over Game on Dude in the Breeders’ Cup Classic was the winner. In fact, the past three years the Classic was the choice. In 2010 Blame’s narrow Breeders’ Cup Classic victory over Zenyatta came out on top. In 2009 Zenyatta got the nod for her Classic win.
The 2008 Moment of the Year was Zenyatta’s victory in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic.
This year there is not one moment that defines the year in horse racing. There were several deserving events, including Wise Dan’s win in the Mile, I’ll Have Another’s wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, and Royal Delta’s repeat in the Ladies’ Classic.
Here is how I rank (somewhat biased) the 12 choices for this year’s Moment of the Year
12. Shackleford ends his career on a winning note in the Clark Handicap
While Shackleford became a fan favorite this year, I seemed to spend much of his career trying to beat him. I thought he was a major underlay in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile where he faded to finish seventh at 5-2. The colt did come back with a sharp effort winning the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs to end his career on a good note.
11. Haskell winner Paynter overcomes deadly battles with laminitis and colitis and begins rehab for a possible 2013 campaign
The Bob Baffert trainee showed a ton of talent winning three of his six starts including the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on July 29. The colt entered a life and death battle, first with Colitis and then with Laminitis. His connections took to Twitter to give fans updates, and he beat the odds and now looks as if he will make it back to the track in 2013.
10. Shanghai Bobby digs in under Rosie Napravnik to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and remain undefeated
The Todd Pletcher trainee capped off a perfect juvenile campaign by winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, somehow holding off He’s Had Enough in the stretch to prevail by a nose. Oh, I know how he did it. The colt took full advantage of a racing strip that was kind to speed that day. He is an early favorite for the Kentucky Derby, but I have a feeling he is going to be an underlay heading down the Triple Crown Trail.
9. Rosie Napravnik becomes the first female jockey to win the Kentucky Oaks, guiding Believe You Can to victory
Napravnik has shown she can run with the boys, winning 187 races so far this year with over $12 million in purses. She is eighth in purse money won and 26th in wins. Her biggest win came on one of the biggest stages of the year when she guided Believe You Can to victory in the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs, becoming the first female to win the prestigious race. She gained enough respect among trainers and owners this year that a Kentucky Derby win just may be in her future.
8. For the first time since 1874, the Travers ends in a dead heat as Alpha and Golden Ticket hit the wire together
I thought Alpha would get the job done in the Travers, and he did at 5-2. However, what I did not think would happen is that he would have to share the honors with Golden Ticket, who was sent off at 33-1. I just hope that dude that has to paint the silks on the winning canoe got double time.
7. Groupie Doll trounces her opponents in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint
The Buff Bradley trainee was one of the most impressive winners over the two-day Breeders’ Cup, taking the Filly & Mare Sprint by 4 ½ lengths. The victory was one of three Grade 1 wins on the year, but perhaps her most impressive effort came after the Breeders’ Cup where she was beaten just a nose taking on the boys in the Cigar Mile. Had she got her nostril in front of Stay Thirsty that day she would have garnered more attention for Horse of the Year honors.
6. For the second straight year, Royal Delta wins the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic for trainer Bill Mott and jockey Mike Smith
This year’s Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic was one of the deepest fields ever assembled, which included Royal Delta attempting to defend her title in the race. She went up against the undefeated duo of My Miss Aurelia and Awesome Feather as well as Grade 1 winners Love and Pride, Include Me Out and Questing. She took the field gate to wire, her second Grade 1 on the year. She won the Beldame by 9 ½ lengths, destroying her “rival” It’s Tricky in her previous start. Trainer Bill Mott did a great job getting her to peak at the right time.
5. On the eve of a highly anticipated Triple Crown bid, I’ll Have Another is scratched from the Belmont Stakes
The Racing Gods struck again, denying fans another shot at finally seeing a Triple Crown winner. I’ll Have Another was scratched on the eve of the Belmont Stakes due to a minor tendon injury, a stunning development that left the sports world reeling. It was by far the most disappointing day of the year for horse racing fans and bettors. I was going to go against him with Union Rags and while we cashed for $7.50, it was tough to get too excited about the race.
4. I’ll Have Another and jockey Mario Gutierrez pull the upset from post 19 in the Kentucky Derby
Despite winning the Robert B. Lewis and Santa Anita Derby, the Doug O’Neill trainee was overlooked in the betting, sent off at 15-1. The colt broke from the 19 post with little known jockey Mario Guiterrez. When I was handicapping the Robert B. Lewis I literally had to look him up to find out he was one of the top jockeys at Hastings Park. I was very impressed in his rides in the colt’s two Derby preps, and I remember writing that if the colt loses the Derby, it would not be because of the jock. He rode another flawless race in the Derby and again in the Preakness. I’m sure Mario would have been able to handle the pressure of the Belmont Stakes, but unfortunately we will never know for sure.
3. Fort Larned holds off Mucho Macho Man to take the Breeders’ Cup Classic
This turned out to be one of the favorite races of the year. The main reason is that my bankroll was bleeding uncontrollably over the two-day championship event, and Fort Larned got the job done as my top pick, returning $20.80. I think I was yelling for Brian Hernandez to hold off Mucho Macho Man so loud I lost my voice. I even tossed in a couple of prayers right around the eighth pole. Either the Racing Gods answered my desperate prayers or the saying, “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while” applies.
2. Wise Dan breaks the course record in capturing the Breeders’ Cup Mile over an international field
The colt was just a monster in 2012 and is deserving of Horse of the Year honors. He won five of his six starts this year, the lone loss coming in a head loss to Ron the Greek in the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs. He capped off the year with three consecutive wins going a mile on the turf, all three Grade 1 wins. He could have been competitive in either the Breeders’ Cup Turf or the Classic. His Mile win, setting a course record was one of the best performances we have seen in the Breeders’ Cup in a while.
1. I’ll Have Another runs down Bodemeister to win the Preakness by a neck
Yes, I am a Maryland bred and the Preakness has always been one of my favorite races of the year. However, no race got my pulse racing more than this year. Bodemeister looked gone in the stretch, opening up a three length led that looked insurmountable. I’ll Have Another, under Guiterrez ran down the Baffert colt in deep stretch to win by a neck in an awesome performance. From that instant when I’ll Have Another crossed the wire in front, everyone’s dream of witnessing Triple Crown glory was alive. That in itself was enough for me to name the Preakness the Moment of the Year in horse racing.
Michael Dempsey provides his full card handicapping report each racing day from New York. His Aqueduct Report is available every day Wednesday through Sunday. Michael has covered the New York circuit daily for more than two decades.
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