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With everyone celebrating the holidays, it is time to bid farewell to 2006 and the exciting racing that we were treated to. This year had some outstanding horses and great feats by both equine and human athletes, but we also had some sad losses to mourn. Here is a look back at the best and worst of 2006.
The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina continued to be felt in 2006, with a shortened Fair Grounds meet run at Louisiana Downs, and the Delta Downs meet run at Evangeline Downs. Churchill Downs, owners of the Fair Grounds, repaired most of the damage to the grandstand building and the barn area, and the track reopened on schedule on Thanksgiving Day to a record opening-day crowd. The roof had to be repaired, as the storm ripped a hole in it, and the turf course had to be resodded as the salt water from the flooding killed the original turf.
In March, the eyes of the racing world were on Nad al Sheba Racecourse in Dubai for the $6 million Dubai World Cup, the world's richest horse race. Among the U.S. based runners, Brass Hat finished second to Electrocutionist in the main event, but was later disqualified to last for a drug positive, while Thor's Echo finished second in the Golden Shaheen to Proud Tower Too. The UAE Derby saw 3-year-old Discreet Cat defeat several 4-year-old Southern Hemisphere breds, including Invasor, who would go on to win the Breeders' Cup Classic. Discreet Cat did not race again until an allowance at Saratoga, because his owners, the Maktoum family, did not want him facing their other top horses, especially Invasor and Henny Hughes.
With the American Triple Crown completed, our focus moved north of the border for the Canadian Triple Crown. Edenwold pulled off a minor upset in the Queen's Plate under jockey Emile Ramsammy, while highly-touted Bob Baffert trainee Wanna Runner showed nothing and finished well back. Edenwold wasn't on his game at Fort Erie in the Prince of Wales Stakes, as Frank Stronach homebred Malakoff finished first but was disqualified for interference, handing the win to Shillelagh Slew, who would go on to win the Sovereign Award as Champion 3-Year-Old Male. With no Triple Crown on the line, Royal Challenger won the Breeders' Stakes while Shillelagh Slew was third. Shillelagh Slew went on to win the Canadian Derby out west along with the Ontario Derby and was named top 3-year-old in Canada at the Sovereign Awards. Canadian Horse of the Year went to 3-year-old filly Arravale who won the E.P. Taylor Stakes at home as well as the Del Mar Oaks in the US.
The end of the New York Racing Association's 50-year reign on New York racing appears to be a foregone conclusion, as the state's Ad-Hoc Committee recommended Excelsior's bid over Empire's, with NYRA a distant third. NYRA declared bankruptcy as the year came to an end, and in what appeared to be a final, desperate attempt to cling to power, filed a lawsuit against the state claiming that it owns the land on which Saratoga, Belmont, and Aqueduct sit, and thus the government can't just step in and take it away.
This year saw two new innovations gain widespread acceptance in North America. With Polytrack a success both on Keeneland's training track and at Turfway's main track, Woodbine and Keeneland went on and installed it on their main tracks as well. The California Horse Racing Board mandated that all California tracks install a synthetic surface, starting with Hollywood which debuted its Cushion Track for the fall meet. With more and more tracks installing these surfaces, because of statistic showing a drastic drop in the number of breakdowns, we may soon see an end to "off" tracks, as synthetics are always "fast". Woodbine and Keeneland also introduced Trakus to racing fans. The revolutionary system uses radio transmitters hidden in the saddlecloths to allow for accurate mapping of each horse's speed and position during a race, and the television audience saw the horses represented by "chiclets".
Foreign racing, besides the Dubai World Cup, continues to attract more and more attention in North America with increased availability of betting outlets. Rail Link upset the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, holding off the late-charging mare Pride. Then in December, Pride shipped halfway around the world to Hong Kong to capture the Hong Kong Cup. Despite Ouija Board being named Cartier Horse of the Year, Pride's performances late in the year, both against male competition, started the debate as to which was the better racemare. Collier Hill, the 8-year-old globetrotting gelding, took the Hong Kong Vase holding off Kastoria by a nose, after winning the Canadian International at Woodbine, where in similar fashion he held off Go Deputy.
As the adage goes, "records were made to be broken", and 2006 is no exception. Trainer Todd Pletcher rewrote the record books, smashing the single-season marks for stakes wins, graded stakes wins, and earnings, and having completed this task, ended the year by starting his 45-day suspension for a drug positive from two years ago which had been delayed by appeals. Northern California jockey Russell Baze broke Laffit Pincay's record for career wins. Several jockeys hit some key milestones, with Jose Santos notching win number 4000, Cornelio Velaszquez winning his 2000th, while Eddie Martin Jr. and Eddie Castro both hit the 1000-win plateau this year. As well, trainer H. Graham Motion won his 1000th race.
Of course, with all the excitement and joy the sport brings, there are always losses each year. Along with Pine Island in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, once again many horses lost their lives out on the track, including enough at Arlington that track decided to install a synthetic surface next year. Here are some of the notable losses in 2006, both human and equine, with links to articles about each. If I missed someone, please let me know.
Trainers and Jockeys
Horses in Training
Lost in the Fog
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