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2008 Year in Review

Big Brown won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness but was eased in the Belmont Stakes.

Major Races in 2008

  Sunshine Millions
  First Lady Hcp
  San Rafael Stakes
  Donn Hcp/Swale Stake
  Lecomte Stakes
  Fair Grounds Hcp/Colonel Power
  Mineshaft Hcp/Pan Zareta Stakes
  Risen Star/Silverbulletday Stakes
  Fountain of Youth &
    Gulfstream Park Turf Stakes
  John Battaglia Memorial Stakes
  Louisiana Derby &
    Fair Grounds Oaks
  Cheltenham Festival
  Bourbonette Oaks
  Lane's End Stakes
  Florida Derby
  Dubai World Cup
  Wood Memorial/Bay Shore Stakes
  Blue Grass Stakes
  Lexington Stakes
  Kentucky Oaks
  Kentucky Derby
  Peter Pan Stakes
  Black-Eyed Susan
  Pimlico Special
  Preakness Stakes
  Sheepshead Bay Hcp
  Vagrancy Hcp
  Metropolitan Hcp
  Plate Trial
  Brooklyn Hcp/Hill Prince Stakes
  Belmont Stakes
  Royal Ascot
  Stephen Foster Hcp
  Queen's Plate
  King Edward Breeders' Cup
  Suburban Hcp/Mother Goose S.
  Dominion Day/Sweet Briar Too S.
  Tom Fool/First Flight Hcp
  Dwyer Stakes
  United Nations Stakes
  Irish Derby
  Dance Smartly Stakes/Toronto Cup
  Man o' War Stakes
  Prince of Wales Stakes
  Poker Hcp
  Coaching Club American Oaks
  Go For Wand Hcp/Diana Stakes
  Whitney Hcp/Alfred Vanderbilt Hcp
  Jim Dandy/Lake George Stakes
  Test Stakes
  Breeders' Stakes
  Haskell Invitational
  Nijinsky Stakes
  Arlington Million
  Beverly D.
  Secretariat Stakes
  Alabama/Sword Dancer Invitational
  Ballston Spa Hcp
  Personal Ensign Stakes
  Travers Stakes
  Ballerina Stakes
  Forego Stakes
  Woodward Stakes
  Woodbine Mile
  Northern Dancer Turf/Canadian S.
  Natalma/Swynford Stakes
  Matron/Futurity Stakes
  Gazelle Stakes/Noble Damsel Hcp
  Gallant Bloom Hcp
  Jockey Club Gold Cup
  Flower Bowl Invitational
  Vosburgh Stakes
  Joe Hirsch Turf Classic
  Kentucky Cup
  Canadian International
  E.P. Taylor Stakes
  Nearctic/Summer Stakes
  Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe
  Breeders' Cup Friday
  Breeders' Cup Saturday
  Melbourne Cup
  Jammed Lovely/Autumn Stakes
  Stuyvesant Hcp
  Kennedy Road Stakes
  Falls City Hcp
  Clark Hcp
  KY Jockey Club/Golden Rod Stakes
  Cigar Mile
  Hong Kong International Races
  Gravesend Hcp

  Pepsi North America Cup   Yonkers Trot
  Meadowlands Pace
  The Hambletonian
  Canadian Pacing Derby
  Metro Pace
  Breeders Crown Open Races
  Canadian Trotting Classic
  Breeders Crown 2 & 3-year-olds

Date: 12/27/2008

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.

Go Between wins the Sunshine Millions Classic at Santa Anita

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.

Curlin wins the Dubai World Cup

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

Eight Belles at the finish of the Derby
outside and being wide around both turns having drawn the 20 post, but having plenty left in the end to draw off by 4 3/4 lengths over the filly Eight Belles. However, during the gallop-out, Eight Belles broke both front ankles throwing jockey Gabriel Saez to the track. Saez escaped unharmed but Eight Belles had to be euthanized immediately. Big Brown cruised to another easy win at Pimlico for the Preakness, setting the stage for a Triple Crown sweep three weeks later at Belmont Park. 94,476 came out hoping to witness history, but they were treated to temperatures in the 90's and water shortages in the building. Then when the race got underway, Big Brown failed to respond when asked at the 1/2 mile pole, so Kent Desormeaux eased him at the top of the stretch as 38-1 longshot Da'Tara cruised home to win gate-to-wire. Big Brown would go on to win the Haskell but would miss his expected start in the Breeders' Cup Classic, avoiding the much-anticipated showdown with Curlin.

Not Bourbon wins the Queen's Plate over Ginger Brew
With the American Triple Crown completed, our focus moved north of the border for the Canadian Triple Crown. Owner-breeder Charles Fipke and jockey Jono Jones won their first Queen's Plate with Not Bourbon, giving trainer Roger Attfield his record-tying 8th victory in the Gallop for the Guineas in a thrilling stretch drive, holding off Woodbine Oaks winner Ginger Brew. Not Bourbon wasn't on his game three weeks later in the Prince of Wales Stakes, finishing a disappointing 6th, as Withers Stakes winner Harlem Rocker came back to win after running poorly in the Plate Trial. With no Triple Crown possible, a new cast of characters entered the Breeders' Stakes, with Marlang winning on the front end under jockey Richard Dos Ramos. At time of writing, Fort Erie may have seen its last Prince of Wales Stakes, as owner Nordic Gaming announced it will close the 110-year-old racetrack citing mounting losses.

Zenyatta wins the Ladies' Classic
The Breeders' Cup World Championships, hosted this year by Oak Tree at Santa Anita, determine most of the Eclipse Awards, but this year, Horse of the Year isn't as clear as it usually is. This was also the first time the Championships were contested over a synthetic surface, and the first time the sexes were separated, with all the distaff races run on Friday. Curlin, the defending champion, was unbeatable on the dirt but was just not the same when off that surface, culminating in a disappointing fourth place finish to Raven's Pass, Henrythenavigator, and Tiago in the Classic, his worst career result. However, on Friday, Zenyatta put in a powerful performance to win the Ladies Classic (formerly known as the Distaff) to cap off an undefeated season. In some of the other events, Conduit won the Turf, Midnight Lute repeated as the Sprint champion, filly Goldikova defeated defending champ Kip Deville in the Mile, and Midshipman won the Juvenile, making him the early favorite for next year's Kentucky Derby. A record 14 championship races were contested over the two days, giving rise to the debate that the Breeders' Cup is watering down its

Frankie Dettori celebrates aboard Breeders' Cup Classic winner Raven's Pass
product, having doubled the number of races from the original 7. The synthetic surface did give one result everybody was happy with -- unlike the last few runnings of the Breeders' Cup , no horse had to be vanned off or put down. However, horsemen and bettors were not happy with the strong bias, where most main-track winners were late-runners on the outside.

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.

Zarkava wins the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe
Foreign racing, besides the Dubai World Cup, continues to attract more and more attention in North America with increased availability of betting outlets. 3-year-old filly Zarkava retired undefeated with a 2 length win in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe over Youmzain, in the world's second richest horse race after a purse boost by new sponsor Qatar Telecom. 40-1 longshot Viewed held off 20-1 Bauer to win the Melbourne Cup, the "race that stops a nation". Then, in the final big race day of the international calendar, Eagle Mountain captured the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Cup for his globetrotting trainer Mike de Kock. Doctor Dino repeated as the Hong Kong Vase winner, while local horses Good Ba Ba and Inspiration won the Mile and the Sprint respectively.

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


Wanderin Boy

Val Royal


Winning Colors

As other places put their year end recaps online, I will add links to them here.

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