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Animal Kingdom, My Miss Aurelia, and Mucho Macho Man

 

In the arena of competition, there usually can only be one winner. This past weekend, with the glorious backdrop of Santa Anita Park playing a supporting role beautifully, 15 thoroughbred stars possessed the talent, and had the luck, to forever etch their name on the illustrious list of Breeders’ Cup champions. Each deserves all the credit in the world for their career defining victories. The tale, of what I had the great privilege of seeing in person, does not end there, though; far from it in fact. Perhaps four decades of rooting for the Chicago Cubs have afforded me with a different appreciation than many. I not only feel the pain of all those horses that did not make it to the winner’s circle on Friday and Saturday, but I celebrate them. Many of these non-winning Breeders’ Cup participants ran excellent races, and deserve recognition. Three of them especially, need to be recognized in this column, and I can wait no longer than my first morning back home to do so.

 

ANIMAL KINGDOM

 

Not to be lost in the track record breaking, and, in my opinion, Horse of the Year clinching performance of Wise Dan in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, was a stunning return to the races of the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner, Animal Kingdom. A truly magnificent specimen of the thoroughbred horse, the four-year-old son of Leroidesanimaux, has never run a bad race in his career, (keep in mind that he was completely wiped out in the early stages of the Belmont Stakes) but this race seemed to be asking an awful lot. After all, he had not raced in 8 ½ months, and that race, an allowance at Gulfstream, was his only run in the past 17 months. Surely, he would not be able to keep up with the likes of Wise Dan, Excelebration, and Obviously, considering such inactivity.

 

Tell that to the copper, green, and red flash rolling down the Santa Anita stretch like a steam locomotive Saturday afternoon. I cannot fairly say that the Graham Motion charge would have won the race with a perfect trip, because I do not quite believe that, but a little trouble along the way certainly was part of the 1 ½ length margin between Animal Kingdom and the fastest winner in the history of the Mile. Animal Kingdom may have only run two races in 2012, but I am convinced more than ever that he is all racehorse. Before the Breeders’ Cup, I made him my early tab for Horse of the Year in 2013; let’s just say his awesome performance on Saturday did nothing to discourage that pick.

 

MY MISS AURELIA

 

Royal Delta is a champion, and on Friday, she did what champions do, with a tour-de-force, front-running thing of beauty. At four-years-old, and a veteran of countless big races, she also holds a sizeable experience edge over My Miss Aurelia. Of whom, my friend and colleague, Matt Shifman has been singing the praises since her return … color me convinced. First of all, like Animal Kingdom, she is simply striking to see in person. Feminine, but rippling with muscles, the bay daughter of Smart Strike is simply not to be looked away from. Unlike Animal Kingdom, she really had no trouble in the running of the Ladies’ Classic, other than having the monumental task of having to run down the back-to-back winner of America’s biggest race for females. Of course, she was not able to get that done, but what she did in the process was earn my ultimate respect.

 

The previously unbeaten Stonestreet and George Bolton champion gave it everything she had from the get go, and made the favorite run her very best to beat her. The final margin of 1 ½ lengths complimented both the winner, and her game, young challenger. After having only a sprint this year to prepare, My Miss Aurelia has now run two super races in winning a grade 1 showdown in the Cotillion, and then following that up with a Breeders’ Cup performance that was proof pudding that she is the finest three-year-old filly in the land. Second best in this race was nothing of which to be ashamed.

 

MUCHO MACHO MAN

 

Last, but certainly not least, was the big run by the big boy in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. As Mucho Macho Man chased Fort Larned down the Santa Anita stretch, leaving the rest of the large field far behind, the crowd went wild for a thrilling climax to the World Championships. Fort Larned was a narrow half-length winner, but both of the horses ran the race of their respective lives. Making all the pace, on a speed-favoring track, Fort Larned was always going to be tough to catch, just ask the other ten Classic horses left in his wake. The vastly improved Ian Wilkes charge had every right to go wire-to wire on that day, and he did in magnificent fashion. Only adding to his win was the one horse that made him earn the victory every step of the way.

 

As Fort Larned, clearly on top of his game, twice spurted clear, it was up to the Kathy Ritvo trained, and Reeves Thoroughbred Racing owned, Mucho Macho Man, and only Mucho Macho Man, to do all the chasing. It would have been so easy for the massive son of Macho Uno to throw in the towel and finish a clear but non-threatening second to the speedy winner, but that was not what Mucho Macho Man did. Cornering the far turn like a sizable, fine sports car, the big fella dug in and took the race right to Fort Larned, and in the process gave the fans something to remember. He kept coming, and in the end, only a world class performance denied him America’s richest race. It’s hard to believe he still has yet to notch that first grade 1 win, but on the other hand, it’s scary to think how good this still improving colt might become next year as a five-year-old.

 

Some may callously call Animal Kingdom, My Miss Aurelia, and Mucho Macho Man, Breeders’ Cup “losers”. Nothing could be farther from the truth. 

 

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Older Comments about Animal Kingdom, My Miss Aurelia, and Mucho Macho Man...

Oh you know its true, TV
same old tale about late movers IF this would have happened and if THIS hole had of been open, my horse would NOT have been first only at the 15/16ths pole.....LONG beard on that old standby excuse
I think, with a better trip, Animal Kingdom would have won the BC Mile. Not to take away from the fine performance of Wise Dan, but look how much ground Animal Kingdom closed on him in the final jumps. 2013, providing & hoping they stay healthy, could be very interesting - Animal Kingdom vs. Royal Delta in the BC Classic!
Before the BC, Lady of Shamrock was one of my front runners for the award. I still think she's had one heckuva year and should at least be a finalist for the category.
Are you saying Questing for 3yo Filly Eclipse, mshwinds? She could be a finalist. Doesn't matter in that vote if she didn't like a track.
Yes MMA beat Questing in the Cotillion, but that was on a track not to Questing's liking. Also Questing was eased in the LC, so you really can't take away that she did win two G1 wins over 1 G1 that was not against the best company. As for Lady of Shamrock, I doubt she'll even be a finalist because In Lingerie won against older. Missing the Rodeo Drive hurt her more then helped.
You are not wrong, Mary ... I just know how hard it is for a turf horse to win this award. Nothing wrong with the year Lady of Shamrock had, though
MMA deserves a lot of credit for placing to Royal Delta, but you'd be giving her top 3yo filly basically off of a match race and that BCLC place. I'll find out later why I'm wrong. Happy debating.
Yes, two-thirds of her main competition (Questing & Lady of Shamrock) finished out of the money in the BC, while Believe You Can has not run since losing the Mother Goose in the first half of the year.
Lady Of Shamrock is a 3yo filly, and my Eclipse pick in that category.
I figured you would be thinking along those lines, Brian. So here's the even bigger question: Do you think she can win over some of the other fillies that had a full year or at least more races?
Don't forget MMM defeated Questing in the Cotillion.
Questing and In Lingerie did not perform at SA but had a good year besides the BC.
Yes, I believe My Miss Aurelia has a great shot to win the 3yo filly award, despite having run only three times this year.
Here's my question: With only 3 starts for the year and considering the performances she put in, does MMA deserve to be part of the Champion 3-YO Filly discussion?
Most excellent recap of courageous efforts. Thank you for the perspective.
great summary of those off the charts efforts
Great job putting things into perspective. Too many times fans and media tend to "live in the moment." Great article. The three horses were amazing in their own right, even though they didn't win. Kudos to all three. Can't wait to see them in 2013
I remember last week so many people saying they had lost interest in this years BC because all the "stars"had retired I do hope some where along the way they have reconsidered because,to me at least,it was a star spangled 2 days of racing I agree with each of your selections and also agree with the mention by Mike in SB of He's Had Enough

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