It's time to support the home team. As always, I had the the pleasure of frequenting the two racetracks closest to my home in Arlington Park and Hawthorne Race Course plenty this year. Very different tracks in most ways, Arlington has always been one of my favorites, but Hawthorne does offer 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 2012 Illinois Champions ballot which I just sent in to the Illinois Thoroughbred and Breeders and Owners Foundation. The Dark Horse may have moved to Virginia, but knowing Chris Sorenson, like I do, I am sure he will fire in one last Windy City shot to try to better what you are about to read ... Good luck with that, Chris.
Chatfield Road, Lassell, Moreno's Mine
Two races was all it took for this promising son of Bellamy Road to become the state's best juvenile. His brave win in the late-season Futurity at Hawthorne was a nice way to back up his 14 length score in maiden claiming company.
No doubt about this one. After just missing in a maiden race at Arlington, the grey daughter of Belong to Me broke her maiden next time out on the Hawthorne turf. Finally getting to dirt in her third start, she demonstrated her superiority over this division with an easy score in the Debutante.
There was no single Illinois-bred more consistent in 2012 than the Midwest Thoroughbred homebred, The Pizza Man. I guess you could say he always delivered with 6 wins in 7 starts. He won two stakes and defeated open company, with his only loss coming after a complete lack of pace in the American Derby.
La Tia, Leading Astray, Dolly Peach
Two great candidates here in the polytrack loving, La Tia, and the turf filly, Leading Astray. They were so hard to separate that I sided with the three-time stakes winner La Tia based on the fact that I knew Leading Astray would carry the Female Turf award.
Ioya Bigtme, Suntracer, River Bear
With Arlington's very best racing coming coming on the grass, it should come as no surprise that many of the state's best horses are turf specialists. After switching to long distance turf racing, the classy Ioya Bigtime ran five big races to end the year, including two Grade 3 wins and a pair of bang-up places in the inaugural American St. Leger and the Sycamore at Keeneland.
Third Chance, Peyote Patty, Kepi
I tend to side with horses who run a route of ground in a category like this, but the Ron Magers owned sprinter, Third Chance, was just too good in her four easy wins out of four 2012 starts to ignore.
River Bear, Signsealndeliver, St. Maximus Gato
One of the more interesting categories this year, as on any given day, a handful of horses here could have been considered the best Illinois-bred male sprinter. Seven-year-old gelding, River Bear, with four wins in seven starts, including an open stakes win at Prairie Meadows, was the most consistent of the bunch, in my opinion.
Dominance. Not only was Third Chance clearly the best female sprinter in the state, but she was the best sprinter of either gender. It's just a shame that the four-year-old daughter of Kafwain did not get to test the national waters this year.
Male Turf Horse:
Ioya Bigtme, The Pizza Man, Suntracer
The Male Turf division provided the most agonizing decision of all. On the one hand you had the excellent graded stakes form of the older Ioya Bigtime versus the brilliance and consistency of the young gun. I had to go with the quality of the races of the older horse in the end, despite knowing full well that The Pizza Man is the real deal, and is primed to make a splash on the national scene this year.
Female Turf Horse:
While the older turf females took turns beating each other, a strong three-year-old filly emerged for trainer, Chris Block. Not only was Leading Astray a graded stakes winner at Arlington, but she also proved her class with a pair of near misses in graded stakes in Kentucky in the fall.
Horse of the Year:
In the end, this decision came down to the very difficult decision made in the Male Turf Award. I gave the slightest of nods to Ioya Bigtime over The Pizza Man, so I had to stick with him for Illinois Horse of the Year as well.
Photos courtesy of Four Footed Fotos