Cindy's Horse Racing Website Index

2004 Year in Review

Smarty Jones was one of the big stories of the year winning the Derby and Preakness and finishing second in the Belmont.

Major Races in 2004

  Santa Anita Handicap
  Florida Derby and Swale Stakes
  Tampa Bay Derby
  Lane's End, Rushaway, Rebel, & San Pedro Stakes
  Dubai World Cup
  Santa Anita Derby, Illinois Derby, & Aventura Stakes
  Wood Memorial, Arkansas Derby, & Blue Grass Stakes
  Kentucky Oaks
  Kentucky Derby
  Pimlico Special
  Black-Eyed Susan Stakes
  Preakness Stakes
  Woodbine Oaks
  Acorn Stakes
  Belmont Stales
  Ogden Phipps Handicap
  North America Cup
  Queen's Plate
  Suburban Handicap
  Hollywood Gold Cup, Swaps Stakes, and more
  Prince of Wales Stakes
  Coaching Club American Oaks
  Breeders' Stakes
  Breeders' Crown older horse events
  Arlington Million and Beverly D.
  Alabama Stakes
  Saratoga Breeders' Cup
  The Travers Stakes
  Atto Mile
  Jockey Club Gold Cup
  Joe Hirsch Turf Classic
  Breeders' Cup preps 14 races including the Arc de Triomphe
  Breeders' Crown younger horse events
  Canadian International
  Breeders' Cup
  Cigar Mile
  Melbourne Cup
  Japan Cup
  Hong Kong Cup

Date: 12/28/04

As 2004 draws to a close, we look back on the year that was one of the most exciting in recent memory. Despite not having a movie like last year's Seabiscuit to draw mainstream attention to the sport, this was more than made up for by the current group of equine superstars.

Ken Ramsey leads Kitten's Joy to the winner's circle after the Turf Classic
On January 1st of 2004, the 2-year-old crop of 2003 turned three, thus making them eligible for Derby competition. The first Derby to be run in North America is the Tropical Park Derby, which, because of its early date and the fact it is run on the turf, usually doesn't draw any potential champions. However, the 2004 edition saw a little-known colt named Kitten's Joy win in dominating fashion. It would be a sign of things to come for the Ken and Sarah Ramsey homebred, as he would go on to be the country's leading turf runner, with an impressive win in the Turf Classic in his first start against older horses, and then a fast-closing second to longshot Better Talk Now in the Breeders' Cup Turf.

The richest race in the world is the $6 million Dubai World Cup, run at Nad al Sheba under floodlights in late March. Many thought that Medaglia d'Oro would avenge his loss to Pleasantly Perfect in the 2003 Breeders' Cup Classic. But Pleasantly Perfect would not be denied, turning away the popular Bobby Frankel trainee one last time, in a thrilling stretch duel.

The big story of the spring was the Triple Crown trail. Smarty Jones, a relatively unknown horse bred in Pennsylvania and based out of Philadelphia Park, with locally based trainer John Servis and jockey Stewart Elliott, quietly made history at Oaklawn Park in the spring. By capturing the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby, he was in position to capture Oaklawn's Centennial bonus of $5 million for owner Roy Chapman of Someday Farm, should he win the Kentucky Derby. Going to Churchill Downs undefeated, he stalked the early pace of Lion Heart and then drew away through the muddy homestretch. The Preakness was all but an afterthought, as he stretched his streak to 8 wins in 8 starts over 8 different distances and at 5 different racetracks. A record crowd of over 120,000 converged on Belmont Park to join the "Smarty Party" as he attempted to sweep the Triple Crown and become racing's all time leading money winner. But Birdstone, trained by Nick Zito, galloped past the tiring Smarty Jones in the final 1/16 of a mile, quieting the once boisterous crowd. Sadly, Smarty Jones was injured in the race and was retired to stud several months after.

A Bit O'Gold winning the Breeders' Stakes
After the U.S. Triple Crown, we look north of the border as Canada conducts its own Triple Crown, starting off with the Queen's Plate. Niigon, a son of Unbridled, turned the tables on Plate Trial winner A Bit O'Gold to win the Plate at Woodbine. The rubber match took place at Fort Erie, where jockey Jono Jones redeemed himself, taking A Bit O'Gold past Niigon over a rain-soaked track. A Bit O'Gold then went on to capture the Breeders' Stakes on the turf, taking 2 of the 3 Triple Crown events and earning him the Sovereign Award for top 3-year-old in Canada.

After the Canadian Triple Crown, Woodbine hosts two very important Grade 1 events on the turf. In the Atto Mile, local horse Soaring Free impressed the crowd with a stakes record performance and, off that tightener, went to the Breeders' Cup where he led most of the way finishing a close fourth. Off this and several other victories in Canada earlier in the year, Soaring Free was named Canada's Horse of the Year. The Canadian International lived up to its name, as European horses swept the first three places, with Godolphin stable star Sulamani taking the winner's share of the purse, in what was his final career start before retiring to stud.

Birdstone heads to the track for the Travers at Saratoga
August means resort season, as the major circuits in New York and Southern California shift to the short meets at Saratoga and Del Mar respectively. Roses In May captured the prestigious Whitney Handicap for older horses, while on the west coast, Dubai World Cup winner Pleasantly Perfect impressed the crowd with another win. The highlight of the Saratoga meet is the Travers Stakes, the "midsummer Derby", and Belmont winner Birdstone won in a rainstorm for locally based owner Marylou Whitney.

The action shifts from the resorts to the traditional year-end "championship meets", Belmont Park in the fall and Oak Tree at Santa Anita, as horses and their connections make their final preparations for the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships. It was in one of these prep races that the battle for sprinting supremacy came to a head. Eugene Melnyk's Speightstown took on Brazilian-bred Pico Central in the Vosburgh, with Pico Central in front at the finish. Pico Central is not Breeders' Cup eligible, so Speightstown was able to win the Breeders' Cup Sprint easily. This will definitely be one of the closest votes in the Eclipse Award polling for 2004.

Ghostzapper winning the Breeders' Cup Classic
Speaking of the Breeders' Cup, for the first time the World Thoroughbred Championships came to the state of Texas, at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie. Besides Speightstown in the Sprint, you had the thrilling late close by English-bred Ouija Board in the Filly and Mare Turf, the gutsy performance by longshot Singletary in the Mile, and the huge upset when European shipper Wilko, with new rider Frankie Dettori aboard, closed well through the lane to take the Juvenile. Closing out the day, jockey Javier Castellano was merely a passenger as Frank Stronach's Ghostzapper went gate to wire in the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic for trainer Bobby Frankel.

Late in the year, the situation over jockey health insurance came to a head with several jockeys walking out at Churchill Downs and being banned from racing at the CDSN tracks. The issue still isn't resolved with the jockeys demanding full insurance covereage along with a share of simulcast money. This will probably take a long time to sort out, so expect to hear more in the new year.

Trainer Steve Asmussen brought some excitement to the end of the year as he set a new record for wins in a single season, passing Jack Van Berg's record of 496 over a month still left to race. It will be interesting to see just how many wins he can rack up before the end of the year.

Of course, with all the excitement and joy the sport brings, there are always losses each year. Here are some of the notable losses in 2004, both human and equine, with links to articles about each.


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