Zipse: Racing fans have much to look forward to in 2019

December 25, 2018 08:42am

Wednesday's big card of opening day at Santa Anita marks the unofficial beginning of the 2019 racing season. A year ago, on the day after Christmas, City of Light and Unique Bella unwrapped Grade 1 victories, signaling their readiness for strong seasons to come and kicking off a 2018 year that certainly proved historic both here and aborad. It remains to be seen whether or not this coming year will bring about such compelling storylines, but one way or another, there is plenty to look forward to in 2019.

Racing in January will be headlined by the riches offered on Jan. 26 at Gulfstream Park. For the third consecutive year, the
Pegasus World Cup will be America's richest race, and once again we will see a retiring champion make his swan song in South Florida. In 2017, California Chrome did not fire, but last year Gun Runner marched off to stud on a high note. This time around, Accelerate will look to add one final trophy to what has been a sensational run for the experienced son of Lookin at Lucky.

If the soon to be champion is to add to his impressive list of Grade 1 victories -- which includes the Breeders' Cup Classic, Santa Anita Handicap, Gold Cup at Santa Anita, Pacific Classic and Awesome Again -- he will have to outrun a familiar foe and fellow Breeders' Cup winner City of Light. Currently, the rivalry stands at one win apiece, as the Dirt Mile hero edged Accelerate in the Oaklawn Handicap, before succumbing to him in the Gold Cup.

While the Pegasus World Cup features a pair of retiring Breeders' Cup winners, the unveiling of the new $7 million
Pegasus World Cup Turf will also be featured on the card. It's still very much in doubt whether the field that enters the starting gate will be worthy of such a purse, but I applaud Gulfstream Park for attempting to bring American turf back on to the front page. The success of the race may depend on international involvement, and in Magical, they are off to a great start. The improving 3-year-old filly gave Enable everything she wanted in the Breeders' Cup Turf, so it will be interesting to see whether she can duplicate that type of effort in a return trip to the United States.

Of course, the other big story of the early part of the racing season will be the road to the
Kentucky Derby. The trail has already begun, and as we've come to expect, trainer Bob Baffert is front and center. The only conditioner to win the Triple Crown in the last 40 editions of the series, Baffert is fresh off his second sweep, this time with the undefeated Justify. While there may be no colt in his barn with that type of talent -- at least that we've seen yet -- the five-time Kentucky Derby winner has a stable of contenders for 2019 which may well be his deepest yet.

Led by the undefeated Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner,
Game Winner, and the impressive hero of the Los Alamitos Futurity, Improbable, look for Baffert to be a constant as the next four months build to a fever pitch proceeding the first Saturday in May. Besides his current top two, Baffert also boasts a plethora of potential stars, which include: Roadster, Coliseum, Tale of the Union, Magic on Tap, Mucho Gusto, and Kingly.

Still, the road to the Kentucky Derby is never only about one trainer, and the list of horses who could become a household name by the time early May rolls around is a long one. Colts like Instagrand, Maximus Mischief, Code of Honor, Mucho, Vekoma and Signalman, just to name a few, will all be part of the trail in hopes of knocking Baffert off his perch.

Before we get to Louisville, though, American race fans should cast a gaze to Dubai to see if our side can return to the winner's circle in late March. No nation has better dirt racing than the U.S., so it's time to regain the
Dubai World Cup mantle after watching Thunder Snow run away with the proceedings last year. Perhaps Gunnevera can finally win his first race at the highest level, and do it overseas. You'll remember that the lover of 10 furlongs exited last year's edition with an injury.

Speaking of that huge evening at Meydan, look for America's top sprinters, Roy H and Imperial Hint, to extend the U.S. winning streak in the Dubai Golden Shaheen. Last year's running was a thriller, when Mind Your Biscuits came from nowhere to get up in defense of his title.

Dubai will not be the only foreign land to keep an eye on in 2019 -- not when we have the likes of
Enable and Winx to root on. The former will return to European racing in hopes of an unprecedented third straight win in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, as well as a defense of her immensely popular triumph in the Breeders' Cup Turf. And down under, there is Winx. The amazing daughter of Street Cry will be back in 2019, and with 29 straight wins, including four consecutive victories in the Cox Plate, the entire world will be watching. 

Back on American soil, a potential female rivalry could begin at the highest level with the respective returns of
Monomoy Girl and Elate. The former dazzled us in 2018, hitting the finish line first in all seven starts for trainer Brad Cox. The winner of the Kentucky Oaks and the Breeders' Cup Distaff will need to come back at her very best to be the best older mare in the country. That's because a healthy Elate is a handful. She only made two starts this year, but look out for the 5-year-old version in 2019.

Then we have the young fillies. Can Jaywalk parlay her Breeders' Cup success into another big win at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Oaks? Will the unbeaten Newspaperofrecord be as good as she looked in 2018 when the competition level is raised for her at 3? That answer could unfold both domestically and abroad, as a trip to Royal Ascot may well be in her cards.

Finally, we have Santa Anita again to look forward to. Yes, for Wednesday's opening day, but also a return to "the Great Race Place" for the Breeders' Cup. As much as I like to see the championships at a different venue each year, it can be easily said that there is no finer host for the Breeders' Cup than beautiful Santa Anita. 

Yes, 2019 begins with plenty to look forward to.


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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, American Pharoah and Justify. 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. His new racing partnership venture, Derby Day Racing, invites more fans to experience the thrill of racehorse ownership.

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, created the popular racing show, HorseCenter 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 hosting 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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