2013's Top Ten Thoroughbreds...in 2012

With the 2012 racing year quickly coming to a close and with the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships fresh in our memory, many people like to discuss and debate about year-end awards, such as Horse of the Year, Champion Older Male, Champion Older Female, etc.. In most of these debates, you only have a few logical choices for which to make a case for. Executiveprivilege or Beholder for Champion Two Year Old Filly? Questing or My Miss Aurelia for Champion Three Year Old Filly? Wise Dan or Little Mike for Champion Turf Male? Wise Dan, Fort Larned or Royal Delta for Horse of the Year? There can be spirited arguments made for each candidate in their respective categories. While these are all deserving contenders for prestigious awards in 2012, I'm already looking ahead to what the racing year of 2013 could have in store for us.

The NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll is a poll which ranks the top ten thoroughbreds in the country. Many of the most respected voices in the industry, including Horse Racing Nation's Editor Brian Zipse, vote for who they believe deserves to be Horse of the Year based on a 1-10 system, with 1 being their choice as Horse of the Year. In the final top ten of the year released just after the Breeders' Cup, Wise Dan finished atop the poll with 45 first place votes, followed by Royal Delta in second with four first place votes.

While I know it's INCREDIBLY early for this kind of a poll, I'd like to entertain the idea of prognosticating what the 2013 final NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll will look like when the season is all said and done. Clearly injuries occur and horses are taken out of training for various reasons, but I'm going to approach this list with the idea that all horses listed will be healthy and sound for the entire racing season. (For obvious reasons, I won't be including the will be two year olds in 2013 in my list.) Without further ado, the final 2013 NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll as I envision it, from 10 to 1:


10) Shanghai Bobby

There really isn't much to knock about Bobby's efforts throughout his two year old campaign in 2012, easily sewing up Champion Two Year Old Male. The best thing he has going for him is the fact that he has won four of his five victories on different tracks (Aqueduct, Belmont, Saratoga, and Santa Anita). If he stays healthy and performs adequately in his prep races in Florida (Fountain of Youth, Florida Derby), Shanghai Bobby will undoubtedly be one of the favorites in the Kentucky Derby. I personally feel like he has huge distance questions, with his sire, Harlan's Holiday, doing his best work between 8-9 furlongs, and being out of a mare by the brilliant sprinter, Orientate. If he runs huge in the Derby, wonderful. If the distance ends up getting the best of him at Churchill Downs, I'd love nothing more than for the connections to get bold and run him in the Met Mile at the end of May. I could see him running competitively in races like the Haskell, Woodward, Kelso and Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.

9) Groupie Doll

I'm not sure that Groupie Doll can accomplish much more than she did during her 2012 campaign. Since adding blinkers, she's been a completely different animal. The fact that her only blemish, post-blinkers, was a nose loss in the Grade III Cigar Mile to Stay Thirsty on three weeks rest from her Breeders' Cup F&M Sprint triumph says wonders about her ability. Six to seven furlongs seem to hit her right between the eyes, and I'd expect trainer Buff Bradley to run a very similar schedule with her in 2013.

8) Nonios

While he may not have visited the winner's circle as frequently as some would prefer, Nonios has all the tools to become one of the top handicap horses on the West Coast. While I've got my doubts about his willingness to stay 10 furlongs, his breeding (Pleasantly Perfect out of a Touch Gold mare) would suggest he's built for stamina. He's done quite a bit of racing this season, especially for a "late" developing, and I feel like with a nice breather, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer will have Nonios primed and ready to roll in the 2013 season. He should be competitive in all the biggest races in California this upcoming season (Santa Anita Handicap, Californian, Pacific Classic, Awesome Again Stakes, and Breeders’ Cup Classic/Dirt Mile).

7) Executiveprivilege

I wouldn't necessarily say Executiveprivilege was compromised by the speed favoring track at Santa Anita in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, but she surely wasn't aided by it. A beautiful daughter of First Samurai, Executiveprivilege has always been highly thought of, as evidenced by her $650,000 price tag at the Ocala Breeders Co. spring sale of two year olds in training. To date, her only blemish is the second in the Juvenile Fillies to Beholder, but I wouldn't be shocked if, when all is said and done, Executiveprivilege turns out to be the better of the two girls. I'd imagine 9 furlongs would be her absolute maximum as far as desired distance goes, with races between 7-8.5 furlongs more up her alley. A 2013 campaign similar to that of the one that Turbulent Descent ran as a three year old (Las Virgenes, Santa Anita Oaks, Acorn, Test, Breeders' Cup F&M Sprint/Ladies' Classic) would seem to make sense.

6) My Miss Aurelia

All things considered, My Miss Aurelia may have run one of the bigger races on Breeders' Cup weekend that went relatively overlooked. The 2011 Champion Two Year Old Filly missed the vast majority of her three year old campaign due to injury, not returning to the races until August at Saratoga. Following the victory at Saratoga, she came back to win a thrilling edition of the Grade I Cotillion at Parx over Questing. With only two races in her 2012 season under her belt, My Miss Aurelia ran a very nice second to the wonder-mare Royal Delta in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic. The run was very impressive, especially considering the fact that Mike Smith sent Royal Delta directly to the front on a speed favoring track and threw down the gauntlet for the rest of the field. A very strong showing for My Miss Aurelia to end her abbreviated three year old season leads me to believe she'll be ready to put forth a monster 2013 season. Races such as the Azeri, Apple Blossom, La Troienne, Vanity, and Zenyatta should set My Miss Aurelia up nicely for another run at the Ladies' Classic next November.

5) Mucho Macho Man

I've always thought Mucho Macho Man had all the physical attributes needed to be a top handicap horse, and it surely looks like that is what he's become. He concluded his 2012 with a major effort in the Breeders' Cup Classic, losing to Fort Larned by a head while earning a 116 Beyer Speed Figure. It appears that trainer Kathy Ritvo likes to give the big son of Macho Uno plenty of time between his dances, so a relatively light schedule similar to last season's would seem to be likely. If his connections send him out in the Donn in February, I wouldn't mind seeing him give the Pimlico Special a shot in the middle of May. Follow that up with a very comparable Belmont/Saratoga schedule (Suburban, Woodward), and Mucho Macho Man should be primed and ready to roll again at Santa Anita in the fall.

4) Wise Dan

Wise Dan was as steady as they came in 2012, putting forth a great effort each and every time he set foot on the track, regardless of the surface. It would appear as though he will be named Horse of the Year for 2012, and rightfully so. Five wins and a placing in six starts have put Dan at the head of the pack when it comes to year end awards, but what does that mean for 2013? Does he stay at the mile on the grass and continue to toy with his competition, or does Charles Lopresti look for the next group of foes for Wise Dan to tackle? He seems to be best suited at a mile on the turf, and in all honesty, why fix it if it isn't broken? I fully expect to see him back at Santa Anita on the grass in November defending his Breeders' Cup Mile crown.

3) Fort Larned

The 2012 Breeders' Cup Classic winner was fantastic all season. With the exception of an inexplicable poor performance in the Stephen Foster, Fort Larned was as good as they came in 2012. Five stakes wins, four of them graded, over five different tracks at distances from 8.5-10 furlongs is as complete a resume as a race horse can have. Fort Larned has brilliant tactical speed which can make him incredibly dangerous in any sort of race setup. He can sit just off a strong pace like he did in the Whitney, or he can go straight to the lead and take the field gate to wire as he did in the Cornhusker and Breeders' Cup Classic. Being one of the leaders in the handicap division now, I'd be shocked if he again began his season at Tampa Bay Downs. Fort Larned hit many of the big races on the east coast in 2012, and I expect nothing less from him and his connections in 2013. Races like the Donn, possibly Metropolitan Handicap, Whitney, Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup should have him set to attempt to become only the second horse in Breeders' Cup history to repeat as Breeders' Cup Classic champion.

2) Royal Delta

The 2011 Champion Three Year Old Filly will soon be crowned 2012 Champion Older Female, and rightfully so. After a disastrous trip in the Dubai World Cup, Royal Delta returned to the United States and proceeded to pick up right where she left off in 2011. A smashing victory in the Grade II Fleur De Lis was just the beginning for the daughter of Empire Maker. She would go on to score victories in the (now) Grade I Delaware Handicap, as well as the Grade I Beldame prior to her front running victory in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic for the second year in a row. In 2013, the year-end goal has to be running against the boys in the Breeders' Cup Classic, right? She's proven she can handle her own gender, so why not take on a new challenge? I'd imagine trainer Bill Mott will want to give her a chance to redeem herself in the Dubai World Cup, and after that I would suspect he would guide her on a very similar path as this season. Will Royal Delta stamp herself as one of the great mares of all time in 2013? Time will tell, but I've got a sneaking suspicion that she'd do just fine against the gentlemen.

1) Animal Kingdom

When trainer Graham Motion announced that Animal Kingdom would be making his return to the races in the Breeders' Cup Mile, I couldn't help but be skeptical. Everyone knows that Graham Motion is one of the greatest horsemen in the game today...but the Mile? Was he aware that Wise Dan and Excelebration were headed to the Mile? Animal Kingdom had run one race in sixteen months! If he ran in the top five, not only would it be a miraculous training job, but it would take a very special horse. Fast forward to five minutes after the Breeders' Cup Mile was run, and all I could think of was, "If he stays sound, Animal Kingdom will be the horse to beat in 2013." After being pinned on the rail and racing behind horses for the majority of his trip, Animal Kingdom found a seam with a sixteenth of a mile to go and absolutely exploded, finishing two lengths behind Wise Dan. A special horse, indeed. The first major goal of the 2013 season for Animal Kingdom is the Dubai World Cup. Of what would appear to be his three biggest goals of the 2013 season (Dubai, Royal Ascot, Breeders' Cup), I truly think the World Cup will be the most difficult for AK to tackle. Not only will he likely be facing Royal Delta and many of the world's top thoroughbreds, but he'll have to deal with another domestic horse that refuses to win on dirt or turf, but once he hits a synthetic surface, all bets are off. Anyone trying to beat Dullahan on a synthetic surface may be fighting a losing battle, but I digress. Animal Kingdom goes into the 2013 racing season with all eyes on him. He is the great hope. He's won on dirt, grass and synthetic. He's won the Kentucky Derby. He nearly won a Breeders' Cup race over the likely Horse of the Year off of a nine month layoff. Distance isn't an issue for him. Word is he'll prep for Dubai in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap. Following the World Cup, possibly the Prince of Wales' Stakes at Royal Ascot in June, and hopefully end the year at Santa Anita in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Fingers crossed - Animal Kingdom could be in for an historic season in 2013.

Well, there you have it. How I envision 2013's Top 10 Thoroughbreds...in 2012. I'd love to hear the opinions of others, whether it be dissecting my top ten or letting me know who you see in 2013's top ten and why.

Best of luck to all.


Written by Matt Bernier 


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Older Comments about 2013's Top Ten Thoroughbreds...in 2012...

You stated that Groupie Doll lost in the grade 3 Cigar mile....The Cigar mile is a grade 1 event!
Nice read, Matt! Your passing mention of Animal Kingdom's goal @ Royal Ascot has me intrigued. Are they pointing for the Prince of Wales Stakes?
Excellent blog!
AK is the most intriguing story in racing. The only injured high-calibre thoroughbred in the past 10 years that's returned to the winners circle. He then competed so gamely in the BC Mile that anticipation for his 2013 campaign is palpable.
Great selection, glad you put Shanghai Bobby in the 10 spot.
AK #1 and Groupie doll not in the top 5 = Ridiculous
Either AK has a chronic unstable injury or they were being far too conservative with him. Interesting to see which or if these were in play.
Either AK has a chronic unstable injury or they were being far too conservative with him. Interesting to see which or if these were in play.
I think the two horses with the best chance to improve next year are Animal Kingdom and Fort Larned. Wise Dan will probably be the 2012 Horse of the Year but I believe we have seen him at his best. Both Animal Kingdom and Fort Larned could really move up and dominate 2013. Of the two I am a little worried that Animal Kingdom might have soundness issues while Fort Larned reminds me a little of Cigar, a horse that really developed and got stronger with age. I expect Fort Larned to have a great 2013.
I for one agree with AK as your top pick for 2013. I am extremely hopeful that AK continues to be healthy, firing on all cylinders. I would throw Fast Bullet into the mix as a top sprinter candidate for 2013....
Hey Matt, heed the words of "driveon"... he's a very wise, old man (LOL) and is sooo correct about that old journalistic saying. ANY list is no different than being at the track and asking a couple dozen folks "Who do ya like?" Because you are bound to get a variety opinions.
Great first HRN entry, Matt! You know you've done well by the discussion you have ignited and number of response posts that are up already. There is a very old journalistic saying that goes something like this: "The only thing worse than having someone read my story and hate it (or disagree with it) is having him not read it at all!" Clearly. plenty of people are reading and posting responses - that should be exactly what you are looking for. Again, nice job and welcome to "The Nation"! - GB
Agreed with steve...I love AK and still have high hopes for him but this year Wise Dan was the better horse...Lets see what happen next year.
Great list, Matt. These are tough to write, and I really like the plan you have proposed for Shanghai Bobby. If he comes up short in the derby then the plan you suggested should suit him very well.
you can't compare an older horse (Wise Dan) to a 3 yr old Animal Kingdom in the Preakness. How would the 3 yr old Wise Dan have done in the Preakness of his year? YOu have to be fair in your comparisons. Wise Dan is a wonderful animal, but you cannot compare an older gelding's performance to a lightly raced 3 yr olds performance.
Mary, can't say I did. Honestly didn't even think about my name when I sent it in last night ha. Thankfully whoever uploaded it was smarter than I and attached my name to it. I like the debate/questioning/arguments, and that was what I had hoped would come from this.
Thanks, Matt for your Top 10. I sure hope that the journey to Dubai does not derail Animal Kingdom's 2013 campaign. For a horse that had his physical issues in 2012, I worry about the stress and strain of that trip.
Matt B., Did you add your name after my question. Please confess if yes. Thanks.
this order is all crazy, there should be some different horses here to, but still a good article.
Mary, the author's name is given at the very end of the blog. Matt, I really like this Top 10, but I personally would have Groupie Doll closer to the top. I will also admit that Animal Kingdom is finally starting to make a believer out of me.

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