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Zipse At The Track

My Favorite Races of 2011

Best Races of 2011
1) Delaware Handicap - As if there was any doubt. The Epic rivalry between the two fantastic females came to an unforgettable conclusion in the 1 ¼ miles of the Delaware Handicap. In meeting number seven it looked like Havre de Grace was primed to become the queen as she stalked comfortably the early pace set by Life at Ten, but Blind Luck would have none of that. Making a huge move on the turn, the defending 3yo filly champion collared the powerful Larry Jones trainee soon after she had taken the lead, and the race was on. What transpired down the Delaware stretch was poetry in motion. Two great horses giving it their all, Blind Luck could never get by the game Havre de Grace, that is … until the wire. At the time we had no idea it would be their final matchup; it turned out to be the ultimate end to a great rivalry.


2) Hollywood Gold Cup - If not for the unforgettable drama in the Delaware Handicap, this race would have been a great candidate for race of the year. As two of the best horses in America in Game On Dude and Twirling Candy set moderate fractions in first and second early, First Dude sat back near the back of the pack. As the two leaders became joined at the top of the lane for a ferocious battle, it still seemed First Dude had too much to do. Not for this Dude. As Game On Dude tenaciously held off Twirling Candy, it was the other Dude who came rolling late to get up by a thrilling nose on the wire.


3) Princess Rooney Handicap – In a somewhat forgotten performance, I look back at the amazing performance of Sassy Image, as the single most visually impressive race I saw all year. Coming from the clouds does not quite do justice to where the classy daughter of Broken Vow came from in this grade 1 affair to nail future Breeders’ Cup winner, Musical Romance on the wire. If you haven’t seen this amazing last to first (all in the stretch) rush, the replay video is an absolute must watch.


4) King’s Bishop – Superstar Uncle Mo was back at the Spa, and for a moment in the stretch it appeared he was returning with a grade 1 win. That is of course before the flash in the pink silks stormed down the lane to nail him at the wire. The victory of Caleb’s Posse was so narrow that it would take the photo to tell for sure if his relentless rally had gotten there in time. Selfishly, it didn’t hurt that I singled Caleb’s Posse in all of my Pick 3’s, driving my biggest windfall of the year, to rate this race very highly.


5) Santa Anita Handicap – This race had a little bit of everything … drama, glamour, and rough riding. With heavily favored Twirling Candy in the middle, and Setsuko rallying on the outside, the gutsy Game On Dude played a little pinball with the other two at the head of the stretch. Twirling Candy would take the worst of it, leaving Game On Dude to gamely hold off Setsuko in a thrilling finish. Ten minutes would pass before stewards allowed the decision to stand, giving Chantal Sutherland her biggest win to date.


6) Breeders’ Cup Juvenile – In the most exciting finish of the World Championships, it was the speedy gray, Hansen, just holding off the big bay, Union Rags, to win the most important race for juveniles in the nation. Hansen proved his courage, while Union Rags supporters will point out all the extra ground he covered. It was quite a way to finish the season for the undefeated champion, and hopefully a glorious beginning to a great rivalry between the two talented colts.


7 The Melbourne Cup – Yes, I follow racing outside of the United States, and this year it was the race “the race that stops a nation” that was my favorite international race of the year. After 2 miles, French invader Dunaden and Red Cadeaux hit the wire in unison. In one of the tightest photos you ever want to see, Dunaden got the decision by the tip of a nostril to win the lion’s share of the $6.2 million purse. He would verify this big win by taking the rich Hong Kong Vase in his next start.


8) Turf Classic Invitational – Three trips to America, and three grade 1 wins, not bad work if you can get it. While Cape Blanco showed off his talent with cruising wins in the Man O’ War and Arlington Million, it was on a soggy turf course at Belmont Park that the world class 4-year-old would need to summon every ounce of courage to defeat the rallying long shot, Dean’s Kitten by a whisker.


9) The Preakness – All sweated up before the race, not many would have given Shackleford a big chance to win the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown as the field entered the starting gate. 1 3/16 miles later though, the beautiful chestnut had not only beaten off all comers on the front end, but he also had enough in the tank, or in the heart, to hold off a hard charging Kentucky Derby champion, to get the big win at Old Hilltop.


10) Sir Beaufort Stakes - How does a grade 2 stakes race for 3-year-olds in the final week of the year make my list? Simple, it was the race I believe will mark the coming out party of my favorite horse in training, Mr. Commons. Bursting through a seam like a steam locomotive, the son of Artie Schiller motored home to an eye-catching score on opening day at Santa Anita. Look for him to go on to bigger and better things in 2012.



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Older Comments about My Favorite Races of 2011...

Brian you hit a HOME RUN with this list... your recall is amazing. I would add Florida Derby (Dialed In & Shackleford) cuz final 1/16th was heart stopping))
I love that Sassy Image race at Calder, it was Silky Sullivan-esque! I can't disagree with any of your selections, but that BC turf mile was pretty good as well. Sounds like you're all in on Mr. Commons & I hope he gives us lots of thrills this summer and a rooting chance against the Europeans in the BC.
Can't argue with any of them, for us Turallure fans, he was amazing in the BC, even if he was 2nd and the Great Gold 3rd, and Inglorious was wonderful in the Plate. Add 5 more next year?
So glad you included the Melbourne Cup, I loved this year's running!! Your top three are my top three, love it.
Breeders cup Classic...hands down...but I love Drossie !!,
I like this list a lot, but think Winter Memories spectacular turf win needs to be in there somewhere. It certainly deserves mention with at least Mr.Commons win at #10.
I like the BL-HDG "match" race at #1 - these mid-year races often get overlooked. One of the best races I ever witnessed was Azeri vs. Take Charge Lady in the Apple Blossom where they were on a head bob for the last 1/16th of a mile - classic!
And Danedream's Arc and Frankel's Guineas, Sussex or QEII. All exciting. Too many to choose from, really if you go worldwide.
Thank you, Arazi. Your namesake's win in the Juvenile was high on my list in '91.
Great list! Not sure about the Turf Classic, but I love the rest! The Melbourne Cup was amazing - worth watching for those who haven't seen it.
Both can consider themselves honorably mentioned ... If I had done a top dozen, then I would have agonized about leaving others off ;-)
You're the author. Why not make it a top dozen? Or honorable mention? :)
Did you see the Princess Rooney, Ann? Yes, the Garden City and the Queen's Plate were the two I had the toughest time leaving off. If only it were a top dozen.
Annmatt, the Garden City was an amazing race! It is also on my top 10 list for the year.
Great list for the most part, but, where the heck were you when they were running the Garden City, and Winter Memories was trapped behind a wall of horses and came out of the clouds in a thriller! Loved Sassy Image's performance, love Sassy Image, but no way does it compare (IMHO) to WM's Garden City run! Gives me chills every time I watch that race.
Great list Brian! I loved the Melbourne Cup! Such a great finish. I also liked Gracie's Woodward romping and Orferve's Arima Kinen
Great list...I also loved the King's Bishop...what about Kentucky Derby?
Very much agree with your #1. However, there were so many awesome races this yr, how did you manage to numerate them??
Brian, great recap of very memorable races in a year in which it was a little tougher to find mega-highlights. Completely agree on your Mr. Commons thoughts. I'm thinking this is your new Paddy O'Prado! If this one stays healthy, he's going to be a monster in 2012.
Del Cap was awesome and I was so happy I got to see it live. In actuallity I got to see two of these races live :) I had Hansen, and still hope he dominates at Gulfstream. Though, being at DP, my home track, even though HDG lost by the smallest of margins, was my favorite race. I may have not witnessed any of their other races live, but I got to see the final showdown, and it was awesome :)

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Meet Brian Zipse 

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, and American Pharoah. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. 

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, or ZATT for short, and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as co-hosting the popular racing show, HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.


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