OK Mr. Zipse, you’re on. My ballot came in the mail today and now I’m ready to reveal MY choices for 2011 Illinois champions. Oh, and Brian, don’t cry when you see that all of my choices are the right ones.
1. Banner Bill (4-3-0-0) - As much as I would like to give preference to horses that actually won in Illinois, it’s very hard to go against Banner Bill’s record. Co-bred by long-time TV anchor in Chicago, Ron Magers, the connections determined that Banner Bill would have had better success in the Great White North, and they were correct. He won his first three races including two $150k+ ungraded stakes races. The only race he didn’t win was in the slop, at Saratoga, back in August. The winner of that race? Oh, just Union Rags. I’m looking forward to Banner Bill’s three-year-old campaign!
2. Sweet Luca
3. Feels Like Flying
1. Class Break (5-3-2-0) - This horse has been nothing but impressive in her debut campaign. In fact, the only two races she didn’t win were her maiden voyage and a first-level open allowance where she was pinched from the start. Other than that she has proven that she can win on synthetic and dirt, short and long. Two of her more impressive wins were in the Showtime Deb and the Illinois Debutante Stakes: both at Hawthorne and with the meet’s leading rider Florent Geroux aboard.
3. Our Domain
1. Suntracer (9-3-3-0) - If only he could have found a way out from under the shadow of Willcox Inn! Suntracer had a great turf campaign in 2011 with three wins and three places out of nine starts. Take away Willcox Inn and he may have won all six of those races. His three wins were all outside of Illinois as he won a first level allowance at Gulfstream, a second level allowance at Keeneland, and the Woodchopper stakes at Fair Grounds. His three second-place finishes were in the Arlington Classic, American Derby, and Hawthorne Derby (and again all to Willcox Inn). The connections thought well enough of this horse to also run him in the Grade 1 Secretariat and a N3X allowance against older horses.
2. Four Left Feet
3. Bowman’s Secret
1. Third Chance (11-4-1-1) - Here’s a filly that had quite a run over the summer in 2011. She strung together four wins in a row, all in dominating fashion. She absolutely ran away with a string of quality allowance races at Arlington then dominated the Powerless Handicap by over 6 lengths at Hawthorne. She also had a second place finish in the Pretty Jenny in the spring losing to my second choice, Our Lady In Red. She also obviously loves running in Illinois as she didn’t fare too well outside of the state. In my mind she is an easy choice for this award.
2. Our Lady In Red
1. Giant Oak (8-1-0-3) - OK so I’m going completely against what I said before about racing in Illinois and also I do prefer horses that win. However how could anyone go against this Illinois-bred champion? In this particular category he’s the only horse that has raced against world-class competition in graded stakes races AND the Breeders’ Cup. Early in the 2011 campaign he won the Grade 1 Donn Handicap with a 105 Beyer defeating next out winner Morning Line. I say with confidence that Giant Oak could have beaten all of the other horses on this list. Thank goodness I can vote with my heart for these awards!
2. Ioya Bigtime
1. Peyote Patty (5-3-0-1) - An absolutely easy choice here for Team Block. Once Peyote Patty got going in 2011 she was firing on all cylinders. In her usual front-running style she took home both the Lincoln Heritage Handicap as well as a very good N3X allowance field. She capped off the 2011 campaign with a 3 ½ length victory in the Illinois Princess Handicap at Hawthorne. Also to note, she won on each available surface in 2011; first on turf, then Polytrack, then dirt. Not too bad for a six-year-old, right?
2. Wild Hope
3. Happy Henrietta
1. Four Left Feet (9-3-2-0) - This was a very tough category as we had a bunch of great Illinois-bred sprinters. My award goes to Four Left Feet mainly because of the good record he posted in 2011. His three victories were won in convincing fashion in a first-level allowance, by DQ in a second level allowance, and he topped off the season with the win in the Lightning Jet Handicap at Hawthorne (at 14-1)!
2. Shrewd Operator
3. River Bear
1. Third Chance (11-4-1-1) - For the same reasons listed above, it’s very hard to go against this filly that has had such dominating wins in 2011. She wins this vote in a very tough division though as it was difficult for me to not give the nod to Wild Hope who hit the board 10 of 13 times and won the Isaac Murphy Handicap.
2. Wild Hope
3. Our Lady In Red
1. Suntracer (9-3-3-0) - This lawnmower was the easy choice in this division for all of the reasons I mentioned before.
3. Free Fighter
1. Happy Henrietta (8-4-2-0) - With four turf victories in 2011 this filly was an easy choice for me. She won two second level allowance races, an open claimer, and took home the Indian Maid at Hawthorne back in October (also posting her best Beyer of the season in that race.) She also had a second place finish in a state-bred second level allowance as well as an optional claiming win on dirt.
2. Peyote Patty
Illinois Horse Of The Year
And the award goes to … (drum roll) … Giant Oak! Yes, the Illinois-Bred that has faced the toughest competition and took home a Grade 1 win early in the year. Good enough for my vote!
Well Mr. Zipse, it looks like we weren’t too far off from each other. Perhaps great minds think alike!
To the rest of the readers, who were your choices in these categories?
Photos courtesy of Four Footed Fotos and Adam Coglianese