It’s now officially 2012! First of all that means, for me I’m getting close to starting my second semester of my sophomore year in college! For racing that means it’s time for us to start getting excited about last year’s juveniles and three year olds, as they set out as three year olds and older horses. This year, 2012, seems to be setting up as one of the deepest and most contentious in years, with stars piling high in almost every division.
The division is headed my My Miss Aurelia, Grace Hall, and Wemissfrankie. The first little miss is unbeaten in her four starts, and unlike most unbeaten superstar juveniles, she has already displayed her grit a number of times. Should she recover from her troublesome shins sooner rather than later, she will be your early Oaks favorite. Grace Hall was unbeaten until the Juvenile and being trained by Anthony Dutrow and sired by the mega stud Empire Maker, there is no reason to believe she will not improve coming into this year. Weemissfrankie will miss most of the year due to a condylar fracture, but is expected to return during the Del Mar meet, still giving her plenty of time to make her mark.
Two names that may not strike the ears so readily are Ciao Bella and Applauding. The latter broke the track record for six furlongs, over Keeneland’s Polytrack, in her first outing, then gave allowances foes a good spanking in her next start. The promising filly is being pointed towards the Silverbulletday, where she should be watched with great anticipation. Ciao Bella is only a maiden winner, but an impressive one at that. She won in a blowout, but did it with easy, rating towards the rear, before launching her bid. She weaved her way through traffic, emerged with the lead and drew away with complete ease.
Here you have the big three with Hansen, Union Rags, and Creative Cause all coming into the New Year with a strong list of credentials and every opportunity to grow. Hansen, unbeaten in three starts, beat the other two in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, after two complete routes in his initial two starts. Unusual in running style, humble in beginnings, and stunning in color, Hansen has captured the attention of every racing fan, all of whom will be awaiting his return, which could be the Holy Bull Stakes.
Union Rags, a big, beautiful, flashy son of Dixie Union was the epitome of dominance in his first three starts. Imposing and talented, the colt showed many dimensions over the past year, racing from far back, on the lead, and midpack. He also overcame trouble on more than one occasion, and nearly did for a third time in the Juvenile, but was nicked by Hansen. Trained by Michael Matz, expect big things from this youngster coming into 2012.
Creative Cause was your California star, shining brilliantly in a maiden and the Best Pal Stakes. He was roughed up in his next start, but still managed a gritty second before coming back to win the grade one Norfolk. He was third to Hansen in the Juvenile, but with his breeding and running style, one could argue that he is more suited to the Classic distances.
There are more stars waiting to burst than just these three among them Liaison, Rousing Sermon, O’Prado Again, and many more. Today’s Gulfstream Park Derby could also produce another impressive performer, and if it in fact does, I’ll be rooting for Ancient Rome, who started his career at Delaware Park.
Led by Havre de Grace and Royal Delta the talent doesn’t stop there, for we still have the likes of It’s Tricky, Plum Pretty, Awesome Feather and Awesome Maria, all returning to the track. Havre de Grace had a stellar 2011, and is even the favorite in the race for 2011 Horse of the Year. She has beaten the boys and dominated her own sex, but Royal Delta, another by Empire Maker, will be keen on getting her revenge. The distance loving filly took the Alabama, ran second in the Beldame to Havre de Grace, before taking control of her division with a win in the Breeders Cup Ladies Classic. She will be pointed to big things next year.
It’s Tricky will be a force to be reckoned with when racing at any New York track. She dominated at Aqueduct early this year, before taking the Acorn and Coaching Club American Oaks. Her only loss at a track in that state came at the hands of Royal Delta in the Alabama. It’s Tricky is at her best going nine furlongs and will be making lots of noise when the racing shifts to Saratoga and Belmont.
Plum Pretty is more of your mile to mile and a sixteenth specialist. Over those distances she is going to be hard for any filly to beat. She also has a mastermind in Bob Baffert, as a trainer. The man knows how to get a horse ready for a big race, and with the Ladies Classic being in her home state next year, she should not be underestimated.
Lastly, not in talent however, come the “Awesomes.” Awesome Feather is a two time grade one winner, earning both in separate years. She dominated at two, but her 2011 was shortened when she was found to have a tendon issue early in the year. She took nearly the entire year off, but ended it with a ban in the Gazelle Stakes. Awesome Maria, like Feather, had a shortened year, but unlike her younger counter part her perfect season was ended halfway through the year. Before her injury the striking grey sped to victory on four occasions. She dominated Gulfstream, defeating the 2010 Breeders Cup Ladies Classic winner she enhanced her status by winning two more stakes, one being the Grade one Ogden Phipps, at Belmont.
The talent returning in this division is simply astounding. The turf will have Brilliant Speed and Acclamation returning for 2012, while the sprinters and milers are led by the likes of The Factor and Caleb’s Posse. This will also mark the first year in a long time that racing will see the return of all the Triple Crown race winners.
Animal Kingdom, Shackleford, and Ruler on Ice will all be returning, but the two that will garner the most attention will be the unlucky Derby winner, who will be making a bid for the world’s richest race, the Dubai World Cup, and the fan favorite Shackleford. The versatile Animal Kingdom is a threat on any surface, and will be a wild card this season, however Shack on the other hand is all dirt. Anything from a mile to nine furlongs and others will be hard pressed to run him down. Hopefully with rest and age, he returns with the knowledge of how to win.
Others that merit a strong watch are To Honor and Serve, Mucho Macho Man, and Trickmeister. All three were brilliant in their latest outing. Honor redeemed a poor Classic performance with a slam dunk in the Cigar Mile, while both Mucho Macho Man and Trick returned from lengthy layoffs to impress and give fans something to look forward to. Another fun idea is that all three of those colts could all wind up in this year’s Donn Handicap. How awesome would that be?
So, as you can see, 2012 is loaded with potential star power, and I for one, am ready to watch the fireworks go off.