With the 2012 racing year quickly coming to a close and with the Breeders'
Cup World Thoroughbred Championships fresh in our memory, many people like to
discuss and debate about year-end awards, such as Horse of the Year, Champion
Older Male, Champion Older Female, etc.. In most of these debates, you only
have a few logical choices for which to make a case for. Executiveprivilege or
Beholder for Champion Two Year Old Filly? Questing or My Miss Aurelia for
Champion Three Year Old Filly? Wise Dan or Little Mike for Champion Turf Male?
Wise Dan, Fort Larned or Royal Delta for Horse of the Year? There can be
spirited arguments made for each candidate in their respective categories.
While these are all deserving contenders for prestigious awards in 2012, I'm already
looking ahead to what the racing year of 2013 could have in store for us.
The NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll is a poll which ranks the top ten thoroughbreds
in the country. Many of the most respected voices in the industry, including
Horse Racing Nation's Editor Brian Zipse, vote for who they believe deserves to
be Horse of the Year based on a 1-10 system, with 1 being their choice as Horse
of the Year. In the final top ten of the year released just after the Breeders'
Cup, Wise Dan finished atop the poll with 45 first place votes, followed by
Royal Delta in second with four first place votes.
While I know it's INCREDIBLY early for this kind of a poll, I'd like to
entertain the idea of prognosticating what the 2013 final NTRA Top Thoroughbred
Poll will look like when the season is all said and done. Clearly injuries
occur and horses are taken out of training for various reasons, but I'm going
to approach this list with the idea that all horses listed will be healthy and
sound for the entire racing season. (For obvious reasons, I won't be including
the will be two year olds in 2013 in my list.) Without further ado, the final
2013 NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll as I envision it, from 10 to 1:
10) Shanghai Bobby
There really isn't much to knock about Bobby's efforts throughout his two year
old campaign in 2012, easily sewing up Champion Two Year Old Male. The best
thing he has going for him is the fact that he has won four of his five
victories on different tracks (Aqueduct, Belmont, Saratoga, and Santa Anita).
If he stays healthy and performs adequately in his prep races in Florida
(Fountain of Youth, Florida Derby), Shanghai Bobby will undoubtedly be one of
the favorites in the Kentucky Derby. I personally feel like he has huge
distance questions, with his sire, Harlan's Holiday, doing his best work
between 8-9 furlongs, and being out of a mare by the brilliant sprinter,
Orientate. If he runs huge in the Derby, wonderful. If the distance ends up
getting the best of him at Churchill Downs, I'd love nothing more than for the
connections to get bold and run him in the Met Mile at the end of May. I could
see him running competitively in races like the Haskell, Woodward, Kelso and
Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.
9) Groupie Doll
I'm not sure that Groupie Doll can accomplish much more than she did during her
2012 campaign. Since adding blinkers, she's been a completely different animal.
The fact that her only blemish, post-blinkers, was a nose loss in the Grade III
Cigar Mile to Stay Thirsty on three weeks rest from her Breeders' Cup F&M
Sprint triumph says wonders about her ability. Six to seven furlongs seem to
hit her right between the eyes, and I'd expect trainer Buff Bradley to run a
very similar schedule with her in 2013.
While he may not have visited the winner's circle as frequently as some would
prefer, Nonios has all the tools to become one of the top handicap horses on
the West Coast. While I've got my doubts about his willingness to stay 10
furlongs, his breeding (Pleasantly Perfect out of a Touch Gold mare) would
suggest he's built for stamina. He's done quite a bit of racing this season,
especially for a "late" developing, and I feel like with a nice
breather, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer will have Nonios primed and ready to roll
in the 2013 season. He should be competitive in all the biggest races in
California this upcoming season (Santa Anita Handicap, Californian, Pacific
Classic, Awesome Again Stakes, and Breeders’ Cup Classic/Dirt Mile).
I wouldn't necessarily say Executiveprivilege was compromised by the speed
favoring track at Santa Anita in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, but she
surely wasn't aided by it. A beautiful daughter of First Samurai,
Executiveprivilege has always been highly thought of, as evidenced by her
$650,000 price tag at the Ocala Breeders Co. spring sale of two year olds in
training. To date, her only blemish is the second in the Juvenile Fillies to
Beholder, but I wouldn't be shocked if, when all is said and done, Executiveprivilege
turns out to be the better of the two girls. I'd imagine 9 furlongs would be
her absolute maximum as far as desired distance goes, with races between 7-8.5
furlongs more up her alley. A 2013 campaign similar to that of the one that
Turbulent Descent ran as a three year old (Las Virgenes, Santa Anita Oaks,
Acorn, Test, Breeders' Cup F&M Sprint/Ladies' Classic) would seem to make
6) My Miss Aurelia
All things considered, My Miss Aurelia may have run one of the bigger races on
Breeders' Cup weekend that went relatively overlooked. The 2011 Champion Two
Year Old Filly missed the vast majority of her three year old campaign due to
injury, not returning to the races until August at Saratoga. Following the
victory at Saratoga, she came back to win a thrilling edition of the Grade I
Cotillion at Parx over Questing. With only two races in her 2012 season under
her belt, My Miss Aurelia ran a very nice second to the wonder-mare Royal Delta
in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic. The run was very impressive, especially
considering the fact that Mike Smith sent Royal Delta directly to the front on
a speed favoring track and threw down the gauntlet for the rest of the field. A
very strong showing for My Miss Aurelia to end her abbreviated three year old
season leads me to believe she'll be ready to put forth a monster 2013 season.
Races such as the Azeri, Apple Blossom, La Troienne, Vanity, and Zenyatta
should set My Miss Aurelia up nicely for another run at the Ladies' Classic
5) Mucho Macho Man
I've always thought Mucho Macho Man had all the physical attributes needed to
be a top handicap horse, and it surely looks like that is what he's become. He
concluded his 2012 with a major effort in the Breeders' Cup Classic, losing to
Fort Larned by a head while earning a 116 Beyer Speed Figure. It appears that
trainer Kathy Ritvo likes to give the big son of Macho Uno plenty of time
between his dances, so a relatively light schedule similar to last season's
would seem to be likely. If his connections send him out in the Donn in
February, I wouldn't mind seeing him give the Pimlico Special a shot in the
middle of May. Follow that up with a very comparable Belmont/Saratoga schedule
(Suburban, Woodward), and Mucho Macho Man should be primed and ready to roll
again at Santa Anita in the fall.
4) Wise Dan
Wise Dan was as steady as they came in 2012, putting forth a great effort each
and every time he set foot on the track, regardless of the surface. It would
appear as though he will be named Horse of the Year for 2012, and rightfully
so. Five wins and a placing in six starts have put Dan at the head of the pack
when it comes to year end awards, but what does that mean for 2013? Does he
stay at the mile on the grass and continue to toy with his competition, or does
Charles Lopresti look for the next group of foes for Wise Dan to tackle? He
seems to be best suited at a mile on the turf, and in all honesty, why fix it
if it isn't broken? I fully expect to see him back at Santa Anita on the grass
in November defending his Breeders' Cup Mile crown.
3) Fort Larned
The 2012 Breeders' Cup Classic winner was fantastic all season. With the
exception of an inexplicable poor performance in the Stephen Foster, Fort
Larned was as good as they came in 2012. Five stakes wins, four of them graded,
over five different tracks at distances from 8.5-10 furlongs is as complete a
resume as a race horse can have. Fort Larned has brilliant tactical speed which
can make him incredibly dangerous in any sort of race setup. He can sit just
off a strong pace like he did in the Whitney, or he can go straight to the lead
and take the field gate to wire as he did in the Cornhusker and Breeders' Cup
Classic. Being one of the leaders in the handicap division now, I'd be shocked
if he again began his season at Tampa Bay Downs. Fort Larned hit many of the
big races on the east coast in 2012, and I expect nothing less from him and his
connections in 2013. Races like the Donn, possibly Metropolitan Handicap,
Whitney, Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup should have him set to attempt to
become only the second horse in Breeders' Cup history to repeat as Breeders'
Cup Classic champion.
2) Royal Delta
The 2011 Champion Three Year Old Filly will soon be crowned 2012 Champion Older
Female, and rightfully so. After a disastrous trip in the Dubai World Cup,
Royal Delta returned to the United States and proceeded to pick up right where
she left off in 2011. A smashing victory in the Grade II Fleur De Lis was just
the beginning for the daughter of Empire Maker. She would go on to score
victories in the (now) Grade I Delaware Handicap, as well as the Grade I
Beldame prior to her front running victory in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic
for the second year in a row. In 2013, the year-end goal has to be running
against the boys in the Breeders' Cup Classic, right? She's proven she can
handle her own gender, so why not take on a new challenge? I'd imagine trainer
Bill Mott will want to give her a chance to redeem herself in the Dubai World
Cup, and after that I would suspect he would guide her on a very similar path
as this season. Will Royal Delta stamp herself as one of the great mares of all
time in 2013? Time will tell, but I've got a sneaking suspicion that she'd do
just fine against the gentlemen.
1) Animal Kingdom
When trainer Graham Motion announced that Animal Kingdom would be making his
return to the races in the Breeders' Cup Mile, I couldn't help but be
skeptical. Everyone knows that Graham Motion is one of the greatest horsemen in
the game today...but the Mile? Was he aware that Wise Dan and Excelebration
were headed to the Mile? Animal Kingdom had run one race in sixteen months! If
he ran in the top five, not only would it be a miraculous training job, but it
would take a very special horse. Fast forward to five minutes after the
Breeders' Cup Mile was run, and all I could think of was, "If he stays
sound, Animal Kingdom will be the horse to beat in 2013." After being
pinned on the rail and racing behind horses for the majority of his trip, Animal
Kingdom found a seam with a sixteenth of a mile to go and absolutely exploded,
finishing two lengths behind Wise Dan. A special horse, indeed. The first major
goal of the 2013 season for Animal Kingdom is the Dubai World Cup. Of what
would appear to be his three biggest goals of the 2013 season (Dubai, Royal
Ascot, Breeders' Cup), I truly think the World Cup will be the most difficult
for AK to tackle. Not only will he likely be facing Royal Delta and many of the
world's top thoroughbreds, but he'll have to deal with another domestic horse
that refuses to win on dirt or turf, but once he hits a synthetic surface, all
bets are off. Anyone trying to beat Dullahan on a synthetic surface may be
fighting a losing battle, but I digress. Animal Kingdom goes into the 2013
racing season with all eyes on him. He is the great hope. He's won on dirt,
grass and synthetic. He's won the Kentucky Derby. He nearly won a Breeders' Cup
race over the likely Horse of the Year off of a nine month layoff. Distance
isn't an issue for him. Word is he'll prep for Dubai in the Gulfstream Park
Turf Handicap. Following the World Cup, possibly the Prince of Wales' Stakes at
Royal Ascot in June, and hopefully end the year at Santa Anita in the Breeders'
Cup Classic. Fingers crossed - Animal Kingdom could be in for an historic
season in 2013.
Well, there you have it. How I envision 2013's Top 10 Thoroughbreds...in 2012.
I'd love to hear the opinions of others, whether it be dissecting my top ten or
letting me know who you see in 2013's top ten and why.
Best of luck to all.
Written by Matt Bernier