With everyone celebrating the holidays, it is time to bid farewell to 2011 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 2011 racing season.
Havre de Grace beats the boys in the Woodward Stakes at Saratoga
The "girls beating the boys" theme continued in 2011, with several high-profile examples throughout the year. German-bred Danedream pulled off a shocking upset in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, followed by fellow distaffers Shareta and Snow Fairy, completing an all-female trifecta. Havre de Grace followed in the footsteps of Rachel Alexandra, as the second filly to win the Woodward Stakes. Buena Vista won the Japan Cup, after finishing first but disqualified to second last year. And in Canada, Inglorious won the Queen's Plate and Sarah Lynx won the Canadian International.
The first "big day" of racing of the year was the 7th annual Sunshine Millions, Frank Stronach's Florida vs. California breeder war. Tackleberry won the Classic, Caracortado won the Turf, Evening Jewel won the Distaff, Trip for A.J. won the Filly and Mare Turf, Amazombie won the Sprint, and Aegean won the Filly and Mare Sprint. This was the final Sunshine Millions card under this format, with Cal-breds and Florida-breds competing in separate races starting in 2012. In March, the eyes of the racing world were on Dubai for the $10 million Dubai World Cup, the world's richest horse race, run for the second time at Meydan Racecourse. Victoire Pisa finished in front of Transcend completing an all-Japan exacta, just 2 weeks after the tragic earthquake and tsunami. On the undercard, Rewilding won the Sheema Classic, Presvis won the Duty Free, Rocket Man won the Golden Shaheen, J J The Jet Plane won the Al Quoz Sprint, Khawlah won the UAE Derby. and Skysurfers won the Godolphin Mile.
Animal Kingdom wins the Kentucky Derby
The Triple Crown was disappointing for many as once again there were three different winners. 21-1 shot Animal Kingdom won the Kentucky Derby under jockey John Velazquez, the first Derby win for rider, trainer Graham Motion, and owner Team Valor. Two weeks later in the Preakness, 13-1 Shackleford pressed the pace to win at Pimlico under Jesus Castanon, with Animal Kingdom second. Three weeks later in New York at the Belmont Stakes, 25-1 Ruler on Ice stalked Shackleford's quick fractions to win by 3/4 length over Stay Thirsty. Velazquez aboard Animal Kingdom lost his left iron breaking from the gate, spotting the field 14 lengths and losing all chance. Animal Kingdom did not race the rest of the year and is being targeted for the 2012 Dubai World Cup, Shackleford finished second in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, while Ruler on Ice went on to finish third in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Unlike past years, all three winners are expected to race as 4-year-olds.
Inglorious wins the Queen's Plate
With the American Triple Crown completed, our focus moved north of the border for the Canadian Triple Crown, with the Queen's Plate celebrating its 152nd running as the oldest continuously-run stakes race in North America. Woodbine Oaks winner Inglorious came back to beat the boys in the Queen's Plate under jockey Luis Contreras, but her connections opted to skip the rest of the Triple Crown. Contreras picked up the ride on Pender Harbour and won the Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie and then the Breeders' Stakes on the Woodbine turf, being the first jockey to win all three Canadian Triple Crown races aboard different horses. Turallure, a son of 2003 Canadian Triple Crown winner Wando, won the Ricoh Woodbine Mile, while filly Sarah Lynx won the Pattison Canadian International. Turralure would go on to finish a close second in the Breeders' Cup Mile, defeated by 2010 Woodbine Mile winner Court Vision.
Court Vision (center) upsets Goldikova (rail) in the Breeders' Cup Mile
The Breeders' Cup World Championships, back at Churchill Downs for the second year in a row, determine most of the Eclipse Awards. Goldikova made her final career start in the Mile, looking to win an unprecedented fourth win in the race, but after gaining the lead late, was passed by Court Vision and Turralure and finished third. Drosselmeyer, the 2010 Belmont Stakes winner, pulled off an upset in the Classic over Game On Dude and Ruler On Ice. St Nicholas Abbey won the Turf, Caleb's Posse won the Dirt Mile, Hansen won the Juvenile, Amazombie won the Sprint, Regally Ready won the Turf Sprint, Wrote won the Juvenile Turf, and Afleet Again won the Marathon. On Friday, favorite Royal Delta romped in the Ladies' Classic over It's Tricky and Pachattack in her final start for the late Prince Saud bin Khaled. She was sold days after the race for $8.5 million at Keeneland to Besilu Stables, who promptly returned her to trainer Bill Mott to prepare for the Dubai World Cup. Canadian-trained and owned Perfect Shirl pulled off a 28-1 upset in the Filly and Mare Turf giving veteran trainer Roger Attfield his first Cup win. Musical Romance won the Filly and Mare Sprint, My Miss Aurelia won the Juvenile Fillies, Stephanie's Kitten won the Juvenile Fillies Turf, and Secret Circle won the inaugural Juvenile Sprint. In 2012, the Championships return to Santa Anita in Arcadia, California, where they were last held in 2009.
The new Resorts World Casino at Aqueduct.
The biggest story in racing off the track in 2011 involved Lasix, and race-day medications in general. Responding to pressure from global racing authorities, bettors, and the general public, the Breeders' Cup will not allow Lasix use in the juvenile races, and in addition, the American Graded Stakes Committee will ban race-day medications in graded stakes races for juveniles. The plan is to phase in the ban so that in 2013, Lasix will not be allowed in all Breeders' Cup races. No other major racing jurisdiction in the world allows race-day medications so this is a positive first step for North America, but it remains to be seen if a blanket ban will ever be implemented.
A decade after being approved for construction, Genting Group's Resorts World New York Casino at Aqueduct finally opened its doors on Friday, October 28, giving the New York Racing Association its long-awaited cash infusion. 65,000 visitors packed the place on opening weekend, enjoying the initial 2500 video lottery terminals, with an additional 2500 opening by the end of the year. However, NYRA was found to have charged excessive takeout of 26% on exotic bets over 15 months. NYRA was ordered to give refunds to bettors they can identify (which would consist mostly of account bettors), and will permanently reduce takeout by 2 percentage points on the affected bets (trifectas, superfectas, pick threes, pick fours, and the grand slam).
New Jersey racing again looked to be on the way out as governor Chris Christie continued to favor Atlantic City casino interests over his state's tracks. Meadowlands Racetrack will be leased by Jeff Gural for harness racing, but a deal to lease Monmouth Park to Morris Bailey failed. Instead, the NJSEA and the horsemen struck a deal to run 141 races without subsidies or enhancements. Gural, who owns a number of harness tracks, and Woodbine Entertainment, operators of Woodbine and Mohawk, announced that starting with the foal crop of 2014, only foals from stallions aged 5 or older will be eligible to compete in stakes races. Although this is a Standardbred initiative, the goal is clear, to keep horses on the track rather than sent to stud after their 2 or 3 year old seasons, and perhaps should be considered by Thoroughbred officials.
On the other side of the Atlantic, British racing authorities implemented strict new rules on whip use effective in October, which led to stiff fines and suspensions. Riders were restricted to 7 strikes per race but only 5 in the final furlong. Jockey Richard Hughes briefly retired from riding in protest after being handed a suspension, and on England's biggest raceday, jockey Christophe Soumillon was stripped of his share of the purse when he won the QIPCO Champion Stakes aboard Cirrus des Aigles, having used the whip 6 times in the final furlong. After what was clearly an embarassment for the authorities, the rules were revised to eliminate the final furlong rule, and all fines and forfeited purses were returned to the jockeys affected.
Melbourne Cup winner Dunaden winning the Hong Kong Vase
Foreign racing, besides the Dubai World Cup, continues to attract more and more attention in North America with increased availability of betting outlets and TV coverage. The Melbourne Cup, the "race that stops a nation", was more French than Australian as Dunaden held off Red Cadeaux at Flemington, with defending champion Americain checking in fourth. As mentioned above, fillies completed the trifecta at the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp in Paris and Buena Vista won the Japan Cup. British racing borrowed from the Arc and Breeders' Cup programs, moving their year-end Group 1 races to "QIPCO Champions Day" at Ascot. Frankel completed an undefeated season and European Horse of the Year campaign after winning the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on Champions Day, and is expected to race at 4 with the Breeders' Cup Mile or Classic at Santa Anita for his final career start. Goldikova was followed all year but failed to show the brilliance she has been known for, and thankfully she was retired after the Breeders' Cup. The year closed out with the Hong Kong International Races, with locals taking 3 of the 4 races. California Memory won the Cup, Able One won the Mile, and Lucky Nine won the Sprint, with Melbourne Cup winner Dunaden taking the Vase. Boxing Day in England saw the great Kauto Star win his fifth King George VI Stakes at Kempton Park, which closes out the calendar year but is the beginning of National Hunt season in Europe.
Of course, with all the excitement and joy the sport brings, there are always losses each year. 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 2011, both human and equine, with links to articles about each. If I missed someone, please let me know.