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With everyone celebrating the holidays, it is time to bid farewell to 2008 and the exciting racing 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's a look back at the best and worst of the 2008 racing season.
The continued debate on synthetic surfaces reared its ugly head in January, as the Cushion Track surface at Santa Anita failed to drain properly during unusually heavy rains in Southern California. Synthetics, or "all-weather" tracks, are advertised as being impervious to rain as water is supposed to drain vertically through it to a drainage system below. However, the manufacturers of the Cushion Track used a different mix meant to handle the hot weather but in exchange, absorbed water and also left large puddles on the surface. With the Breeders' Cup awarded to the track for 2008 and 2009, the surface needed to be repaired immediately. Track management brought in experts from Pro-Ride in Australia who added some of their material to the mix, allowing racing to continue after numerous cancellations.
One day of racing that wasn't cancelled at Santa Anita was the fifth running of the Sunshine Millions, the brainchild of Frank Stronach set up as a Florida vs California breeding war, with four races at Santa Anita and the other four at Gulfstream Park. The waterlogged Cushion Track at Santa Anita was scraped off to the side to allow for racing on a very hard subsurface, leading to Bob Black Jack's world record time of 1:06.53 in the 6-furlong Dash. Benny the Bull won the Sprint, War Monger won the Turf, Ginger Punch won the Distaff, and Go Between won the Classic. Shortly after the Sunshine Millions, The Green Monkey, who made headlines in 2006 when he sold for $16 million, was retired from racing with a record of 1 third place finish in 3 starts and earnings of $10,440.
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. Reigning U.S. Horse of the Year Curlin did not disappoint, shipping halfway around the world to win by an easy 7 3/4 lengths over Asiatic Boy, Well Armed, and A.P. Arrow in 2:00.15 for the 1 1/4 mile trip. On the undercard, Jay Peg won the Duty Free, Sun Classique won the Sheema Classic, Benny the Bull won the Golden Shaheen, Honour Devil won the UAE Derby, and Diamond Stripes won the Godolphin Mile.
The Triple Crown was memorable but for all the wrong reasons. Florida Derby winner Big Brown and jockey Kent Desormeaux made it look easy in the Kentucky Derby, staying on the
Breeders' Cup Ltd. made headlines late in the year, when it was announced that they would eliminate the National Stakes program. Howls of protest from owners and breeders, who threatened to not nominate their foals, resulted in that decision to be reversed for at least one year. They also announced that the 2010 edition would be at Churchill Downs in Louisville, for a record 7th time. 2008 also saw an expansion of their Win and You're In program, with 53 races involved after just 24 races in 2007.
The New York Racing Association continued to make headlines, as the state government selected Delaware North to operate the new casino at Aqueduct after paying a $370 million franchise fee. Governor David Paterson proposed that the state also authorize slots at Belmont Park as one of the ways to raise state revenue. The Aqueduct casino, in the works but stalled for years, is expected to finally open in the first quarter of 2010. Another state with slots issues, Maryland, finally got the answer it was looking for when voters approved slots at the state's racetracks. It remains to be seen if the anti-slots forces will again be successful in stopping their introduction.
As the adage goes, "records were made to be broken", and 2008 is no exception. Peppers Pride, the queen of New Mexico racing, ended her career undefeated with win number 19 in the $125,000 New Mexico State Racing Commission Handicap. At the other end of the spectrum, Curlin's victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup made him the first American-trained horse to break $10 million in earnings, surpassing the record set by Cigar in 1996. His trainer Steve Asmussen broke his own record for single-season wins by a trainer when he scored his 556th on November 23, and notched career win 5000, a milestone also reached by Jerry Hollendorfer this year. Jockey Edgar Prado reached 6000 wins, Kent Desormeaux reached the 5000-win plateau, Pat Valenzuela and John Velazquez recorded 4000 wins, while Garrett Gomez and Mike Luzzi reached 3000.
Of course, with all the excitement and joy the sport brings, there are always losses each year. Along with Eight Belles in the Kentucky Derby, once again many horses lost their lives due to injury while others succumbed to illness or old age. Here are some of the notable losses in 2008, both human and equine, with links to articles about each. If I missed someone, please let me know.
Trainers, Jockeys, & Horsemen
Owners, Breeders, & Bloodstock Agents
Harry Aleo with his wife
Elizabeth Samuel and Tammy Samuel-Balaz
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