Now that the Eclipse awards have been handed out and all the acceptance speeches have been given, 2011 is officially over. Thank God for that. Such a mediocre year really grates on the nerves after a few years dominated by standouts such as Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, Lookin At Lucky, and Summer Bird (you can disagree with Summer Bird being included here, but he did win 3 major races in one year), just to name a few. Now that 2011 is over and done with, let’s look forward to the year ahead and see what 2012 has in store for us.
A Loaded Distaff Division
Awesome Feather has already returned to the track, and Awesome Maria should enter the starting gate at any time now. Reigning Champion 3-YO Filly Royal Delta has a score to settle with newly minted Horse of the Year Havre de Grace, who destroyed the former in last year’s Beldame. Plum Pretty and It’s Tricky are also returning to take on their arch rival for another year. And these are just the fillies that have already made a name for themselves. There is plenty of time for another filly to step up and run big.
A Pair of Undefeated 3-YO Fillies
It is my dearest wish that Champion 2-YO Filly My Miss Aurelia and my favorite 3-YO filly Now I Know will meet up on the track at some point this year. Despite having raced primarily against Oklahoma breds, Now I Know is developing nicely and will be campaigning at Oaklawn. Grace Hall, Weemissfrankie, and Stephanie’s Kitten are all primed to have stand-out years, as well.
A Full Handicap Division
It is a rarity that all three Triple Crown race winners return the following year, so hold on to your hats y’all because Animal Kingdom, Shackleford, and Ruler On Ice are all returning this year. All are scheduled to make their 2012 debut on February 11 at Gulfstream Park; Animal Kingdom will likely run in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, and Shackleford and Ruler On Ice are prepping for the Donn Handicap. Add break-out stars To Honor and Serve and Tapizar; lightly raced Boys At Tosconova; one turn specialist Caleb’s Posse; Kentucky Derby third place finisher Mucho Macho Man; undefeated Trickmeister; and New York monster Stay Thirsty, and you have quite a division. At this point, it is hard to say for sure who will dominate the division, but fans will be in for quite the ride.
Maybe a Triple Crown Winner
Every year we hope that the drought will end, and each year the favorite ends up injured, three different colts win each leg of the Crown, or one colt gets really close and ends up denied. I am loath to become too hopeful at this point, but there are several really good colts this year that have a chance of taking home everything. The top two colts are obviously Union Rags and Hansen, and, if nothing else, I along with many others, are hoping that these two will at least give us a thrilling rivalry. Creative Cause, Alpha, Exfactor, Liaison, and Gemologist all have a legitimate chance, also. I profiled In the Beat recently, and he is one I, personally, will be keeping an eye on based on his pedigree and his connections. I will also be keeping an eye on Ever So Lucky, Empire Way, and Unbridled’s Way (a full brother to Eight Belles).
A Filly to Emulate Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, and Havre de Grace
On Fire Baby has already faced the boys once this year. She ran a very game third in the Smarty Jones Stakes and might would have won it if not for the four wide trip she had the whole way. She may or may not face the boys again this year, but, considering her performance in the Smarty Jones, it would be unwise to discount her if she does. Royal Delta is being pointed to the Dubai World Cup, so if either her or On Fire Baby run well and beat the boys this year, we may very well crown a fourth filly Horse of the Year in as many years.
A Blistering Male Sprint Division
2011 Champion Male Sprinter Amazombie is already being pointed toward some early races. Break-out stars Force Freeze and Giant Ryan are also returning this year, and, of course, Caleb’s Posse and Jackson Bend are also returning. Force Freeze, Giant Ryan, and Amazombie faced off already in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, and Amazombie came out on top; and Caleb's Posse bested Jackson Bend in the BC Mile. So I am anxious to see Amazombie and Caleb’s Posse face off. They both ran extremely well in one-turn races, so now it is time to see who is truly the best.
All of this is just a start. As with any year, we know who the talent is going into the year, but we do not yet know who will step up and run big. What do you think 2012 holds for us? Please let me know what you think and who I may have overlooked.