Perhaps 2012, with the early retirement of an abundance of
our sophomore stars, was not a remarkable year in the eyes of many racing
enthusiasts. But I view 2012’s racing as a season abounding with horses with
charisma: Animal Kingdom, Black Caviar, Frankel, Groupie Doll, I’ll Have Another, Mucho Macho Man, Paynter,
Royal Delta, Shackleford, Union Rags
and Wise Dan among them. Despite a
three-year-old crop that seemed to disappear off the track with months of the
year still remaining, 2012 featured many compelling Thoroughbreds, along with
their own intriguing storylines. As in any year, 2012 exhibited some of the
highest highs and lowest lows of the Thoroughbred industry.
I have described four highlights per month:
Jackson Bend captured the Hal’s Hope Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream Park,
which would be the penultimate victory of his career.
Havre de Grace was crowned as 2011 Horse of the Year at the Eclipse Awards,
becoming the third consecutive female Thoroughbred to be bestowed racing’s most
renowned annual title.
2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra
delivered her first foal, a colt by Curlin that would later be named Jess’s
The Sunshine Millions at Gulfstream Park displayed an exciting race card for Florida-breds, flaunting the
brilliance of horses like the then-undefeated Awesome Feather, who captured the Sunshine Millions Distaff by an
impressive 5 ¾ lengths, and the classy Mucho Macho Man, who culminated the 2012
Sunshine Millions with a victory in the Sunshine Millions Classic.
I’ll Have Another made his 2012 debut, shocking the racing world with an
easy victory in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) at odds of 43-1.
Black Caviar equaled the Australasian record for consecutive wins with her
nineteenth victory, which occurred in the Lightning Stakes (gr. I) at
Animal Kingdom returned to the races with a win in an allowance optional
claiming at Gulfstream Park in preparation for the Dubai World Cup (gr. I), but was sidelined due to injury yet again
the following month.
With ease, Union Rags triumphed in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II)
following the scratch of the highly-touted Algorithms.
March: Ron the Greek rolled to a
3 ½-length victory in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I), scoring his first
graded stakes win since early 2010.
2010 Horse of the Year Zenyatta
delivered her highly-anticipated first foal, a colt by Bernardini.
Reigning Horse of the Year Havre de Grace made her 2012 debut, winning the New
Orleans Ladies Stakes, only to be retired a month later.
On Florida Derby Day, Gulfstream exhibited a tremendous stakes showcase, which
included not only a victory by Take Charge Indy in the Florida Derby (g. I), but a track record win in the Skip
Away Stakes (g. III) for Fort Larned.
April: I’ll Have Another proved
that his Robert B. Lewis win was not a fluke by prevailing over Creative Cause
in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) after a stirring stretch duel.
Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith acquired
his 5,000th victory, making it all the more special by capturing it
aboard Amazombie in the Potrero
Grande Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita.
Wise Dan made his 2012 debut, crushing the field in the Ben Ali Stakes (gr.
III) at Keeneland, setting a new track record in the process.
Black Caviar ran her flawless record to twenty-for-twenty, breaking the
Australasian record for consecutive victories.
May: Rosie Napravnik, a
fast-closing second in the 2011 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), became the first female jockey to win the Kentucky Oaks when
she guided the Larry Jones-trained Believe You Can to an inspiring victory on the first Friday in May.
In the Kentucky Derby (gr. I),
arguably the most anticipated race each year, I’ll Have Another ran down the
speedy favorite, Bodemeister, in the
homestretch to garner the coveted garland of red roses, carrying 25-year-old Mario
Gutierrez to victory after being escorted to post by richest claimed horse in
history, Lava Man.
I’ll Have Another kept Triple Crown hopes alive with one of the best races of
the year in the Preakness Stakes
(gr. I), battling Bodemeister down the stretch at Pimlico to prevail by a neck.
In one of the most thrilling contests of 2012, Shackleford conquered the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) at
Belmont Park, holding off his rival, Caleb’s Posse, by a scant nose.
June: Camelot easily captured the
Epsom Derby (gr. I), thus keeping his undefeated record intact and maintaining
England’s hope for the first Triple Crown winner since Nijinsky II in 1970.
I’ll Have Another, who was slated to attempt to become the first American
Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978, was scratched from the Belmont
Stakes (gr. I) a day prior to the race due to a tendon issue and was
subsequently retired and sold for stud duty in Japan.
Union Rags, who had once been viewed to be the best of the 2012 sophomore crop,
prevailed with a gutsy victory over the blossoming Paynter in the Belmont Stakes.
The spectacular meeting of Royal Ascot
provided the racing world with great performances from some of the most elite
equine athletes in the world, including another dominant win by the great Frankel
and the outstanding Black Caviar’s first international outing.
July: Mucho Macho Man confirmed
himself to be among the best handicap horses in the nation with a scintillating
victory in the Suburban Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont Park.
Point of Entry garnered his first
grade one victory of his career and the first in a string of three with a
triumph in the Man o’ War Stakes (gr. I).
Acclamation captured the Eddie Read
Stakes (gr. I) as his seventh straight victory in what would be the final start
of his career.
Paynter dominated the Haskell Invitational (gr. I), surfacing as one of the top
sophomores in the United States, only to soon spike a temperature that would
quickly become a much more serious issue.
August: Fort Larned garnered his
first grade one victory with a triumph in the Whitney Handicap (gr. I) at
Saratoga Race Course.
Wise Dan returned to the turf, dominating his rivals in the Fourstardave
Handicap (gr. II) at Saratoga in spite of heavy going.
The underdog Little Mike led from
start to finish to conquer rivals in the prestigious Arlington Million (gr. I).
For the first time ever, a dead heat resulted in the Travers Stakes (gr. I) when Alpha
and Golden Ticket galloped under the
wire in unison.
September: In his bid for the
English Triple Crown, Camelot came up short, finishing second behind Encke in the St. Leger Stakes (gr. I).
Wise Dan again displayed his brilliance, capturing the Woodbine Mile Stakes
(gr. I) by 3 ¼ lengths.
Zenyatta’s statue, sculpted by Nina Kaiser, was unveiled at Santa Anita Park.
The final weekend of September exhibited grand performances from elite
Thoroughbreds preparing for the Breeders’ Cup World Championships on each coast, including Royal Delta’s dominant
victory in the Beldame Invitational (gr. I), Flat Out’s second consecutive win
in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I), and Game On Dude’s triumph in the Awesome Again Stakes (gr. I).
October: The initial weekend of
October flaunted a great stakes card at Keeneland Race Course that included
brilliant wins by Groupie Doll and Wise Dan.
Solemia overtook Japanese Triple Crown winner Orfevre in the final strides of
the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (gr.
Gentildonna captured Japan’s Filly
Triple Crown with a triumph in the Shuka Sho (gr. I).
The legendary Frankel made his final career start, extending his unbeaten
record to fourteen-for-fourteen with a victory in the Champion Stakes (gr. I)
at Ascot as racing fans bid him farewell with bittersweet tears.
November: The 29th
edition of the Breeders’ Cup provided racing enthusiasts with a great display
of excitement and brilliance from some of Thoroughbred racing’s best athletes,
as evident in races such as Royal Delta’s Ladies’ Classic, Groupie Doll’s Filly
& Mare Sprint, Wise Dan’s Mile, and Fort Larned’s Classic.
Havre de Grace became the most expensive purchase of a broodmare prospect in
history when she sold for $10 million to Mandy Pope at the Fasig-Tipton November
Zenyatta’s half-sister, Eblouissante,
made her career debut, easily winning a maiden special weight at Hollywood Park
for trainer John Shirreffs.
The weekend after Thanksgiving, two stars went out as winners: the wildly
popular Shackleford culminated his career with a victory in the Clark Handicap
(gr. I) at Churchill Downs and Stay Thirsty narrowly defeated Groupie Doll to finish his racing career with a
win in the Cigar Mile (gr. I) at Aqueduct.
December: Game On Dude – who
finished a disappointing seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) – redeemed
himself with a win in the Native Diver Stakes (gr. III).
Violence stamped himself as a
serious contender for the 2013 Derby trail with a win in the CashCall Futurity
Santa Anita’s opening day was highlighted by the final grade ones of the year,
the La Brea Stakes (gr. I) and the Malibu Stakes (gr. I), which were won by
Book Review and Jimmy Creed, respectively.
Paynter, after months of battling serious illnesses, was cleared to return to
trainer Bob Baffert’s barn and was announced the winner of the Vox Populi
Goodbye, 2012! Hello, 2013!