My name is Brian Zipse, and I support Illinois racing. There I said it, and you know what? I’m proud of it. While I didn’t make it down to Fairmount Park this year (it’s nearly a five-hour drive,) I did have the pleasure of frequenting two fine and very different racetracks in Arlington Park and Hawthorne Race Course. Truth be told, Arlington has always been my favorite of the two, but Hawthorne does have the advantage of real dirt. It also has the year-end racing that, in many of these tight championship races, provided the deciding factor. I hope you enjoy taking a peek at my 2011 Illinois Champions ballot that I just sent in to the Illinois Thoroughbred and Breeders and Owners Foundation. I’m sure my esteemed colleague over at the Chicago Dark Horse blog, Chris Sorenson, will also have something to say about this, but you know what they say, the first is usually best.
Two consecutive open stakes wins at Woodbine for Banner Bill was enough to edge out the talented turf runner, Coalport. It didn’t hurt his cause that his only defeat came at the hands of Union Rags.
Class Break, Our Domain, Remembermealways
While not making much noise on the national scene, Class Break was a model of consistency with three wins, and two seconds from her five starts. A narrow win over Our Domain and Diva’s Diamond sealed the deal.
No doubt about this one, as Suntracer raced well in a number of big races in 2011. If second place finishes in the American Derby, Arlington Classic, and Hawthorne Derby for the turf lover were not enough, a late season stakes win at the Fair Grounds, as well as, a spring allowance victory at Keeneland in which he beat the ill-fated Banned, made this an easy choice.
Our Lady In Red, Third Chance, Seans Silverdancer
Now this was a tough one, as the top two ended the season with very similar statistics. I gave Our Lady In Red the slightest of nods based primarily on her victory over Third Chance in the Purple Violet, even though it was at a distance that was probably more suited to the winner.
Giant Oak, Ioya Bigtime, Free Fighter
Win the Grade 1 Donn to begin your campaign, and you’ve pretty much locked this division up. Giant Oak may have finished the season with seven straight defeats, but he never embarrassed himself against topnotch competition. The lightly raced Ioya Bigtime is getting better with every start, and will be one to watch in 2012.
Peyote Patty, Happy Henrietta, Wild Hope
This was another division that was a tough call, and also generally weak. Peyote Patty gets my vote because of a stakes win on both turf and dirt, with an optional claiming win on Polytrack for good measure.
Shrewd Operator, River Bear, Four Left Feet
This choice goes against the grain for me, as Shrewd Operator only won a single race in two starts in 2011, but I just could not resist the nine length victory over his top competition in this division while earning a 114 Beyer. River Bear was consistent, but with only two wins in ten starts, did not do enough to overtake the one big performance.
Remember how close I said the three-year-old-filly division was? Well, I have the same two battling it out again for this award, and I actually flipped the result. I believe Third Chance to be the more talented of the two, and just a little more accomplished at pure sprint distances.
Male Turf Horse:
Suntracer, Princeville Condo, Tazz
I didn’t have too much of a tougher time voting for Suntracer in this division, as I did in the three-year-old division. His body of work in 2011, all on the turf, makes him one of the most outstanding Illinois bred horses of the year.
Female Turf Horse:
Happy Henrietta, Peyote Patty, Pathway
Much like the older females, the female turf division went a little lacking this year. In this division, Happy Henrietta reversed my vote on Peyote Patty based on winning four times on the grass, including Hawthorne’s Indian Maid.
Horse of the Year:
Simply stated, he won the Donn, and that was enough. Good luck on your next career, Giant Oak.