With everyone celebrating the holidays, it is time to bid farewell to 2012 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 2012 racing season.
Black Caviar carried her undefeated streak from Australia to England
The "girls beating the boys" theme was not as prevalent in 2012 as it had been for the last few years, but fans of the distaff side had their share of thrills. Australian supermare Black Caviar shipped to Royal Ascot to win the Diamond Jubilee Stakes over Moonlight Cloud, completing an all-female exacta. Mizdirection won the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, unleashing a Zenyatta-style rally under Mike Smith, and jockey Rosie Napravnik became the first female to win the Kentucky Oaks. Dixie Strike won the Prince of Wales Stakes and Irish Mission won the Breeders' Stakes, the second and third jewels of the Canadian Triple Crown respectively, while Solemia won the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe as a 40-1 longshot. There had been talk of Royal Delta attempting the Breeders' Cup Classic, but instead her connections went the safe route as she easily repeated as the Ladies Classic champion. In addition, 2010 Horse of the Year Zenyatta gave birth to her first foal, a Bernardini colt on March 8, and will give birth to a Tapit foal in 2013.
Monterosso wins the Dubai World Cup
The first "big day" of racing of the year was the 8th annual Sunshine Millions, but unlike the first 7 editions where the races were contested as a Florida vs. California breeder challenge, this year Gulfstream Park hosted it alone, restricting the entire event to Florida-breds, while Santa Anita carded three races for California-breds along with the three graded stakes run that afternoon. In the feature races, Holladay Road won the Crystal Water Stakes at Santa Anita, while Mucho Macho Man captured the Florida Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream. Mucho Macho Man would go on to win the Gulfstream Park and Suburban Handicaps for trainer Kathy Ritvo and was second in the Breeders' Cup Classic. In Dubai, once again the world's richest purses were up for grabs at Meydan, but American connections were completely shut out. Monterosso won the World Cup for the home Godolphin team, Cirrus des Aigles won the Sheema Classic, Cityscape won the Duty Free, Daddy Long Legs won the UAE Derby, African Story won the Godolphin Mile, and Opinion Poll won the Dubai Gold Cup.
I'll Have Another wins the Preakness
The Triple Crown started off very promising but ended with a huge disappointment. Santa Anita Derby winner I'll Have Another, dismissed at 15-1, outfinished favorite Bodemeister to win the Kentucky Derby, giving jockey Mario Gutierrez his first Derby win in his first attempt. In addition it was the first Derby victory for owner J. Paul Reddam and trainer Doug O'Neill. Two weeks later, the script looked the same, with I'll Have Another catching Bodemeister late in the Preakness. For the first time since Big Brown in 2008, the racing world looked to Belmont Park hoping for the 12 Triple Crown winner and an end to the drought that had gone 34 years. Unfortunately, the day before the Belmont Stakes, I'll Have Another came back lame from a morning jog, revealing a tendon injury and thus forcing his retirement from racing. Reddam sold him to Japanese interests and he was shipped overseas for stallion duty. With the heavy favorite out, that left the Test of a Champion wide open, and allowed Union Rags a chance at redemption, as the Derby 7th place finisher passed Paynter along the rail to win for jockey John Velazquez, trainer Michael Matz, and owner-breeder Phyllis Wyeth.
Strait of Dover 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 153rd running as the oldest continuously-run stakes race in North America. Strait of Dover became the the first British Columbia-bred winner of the Gallop for the Guineas, winning in track record time under Justin Stein for trainer Dan Vella and owners Wally and Terry Leong. However, as a synthetic and turf specialist he did not gallop well over dirt so Vella opted to keep him out of the Prince of Wales Stakes, as Dixie Strike won at Fort Erie for trainer Mark Casse and jockey Patrick Husbands. Strait of Dover, like I'll Have Another, came up lame and had to skip the Breeders' Stakes, as Woodbine Oaks winning filly Irish Mission came back to win the 1 1/2 mile turf classic for trainer Mark Frostad and owner Robert Evans.
Wise Dan wins the Breeders' Cup Mile
The Breeders' Cup World Championships, back at Santa Anita after 2 years at Churchill, determine most of the Eclipse Awards, but the results did not give us a clear winner for Horse of the Year. On Friday, Royal Delta repeated as Ladies Classic champion, and then on Saturday, Wise Dan romped in the Mile in course record time, and in the Classic, Fort Larned held off late-running Mucho Macho Man. Any of these three have a case for the golden trophy. Calidoscopio became the first South American-trained horse to win a Breeders' Cup race when he won the Marathon. A rare American exacta occurred in the Turf, normally dominated by Europeans, as Little Mike defeated Point of Entry, with defending champ St Nicholas Abbey third. Shanghai Bobby capped off an undefeated career so far in the Juvenile, making him an early favorite for the Kentucky Derby. Among the other winners, Trinniberg won the Sprint, Tapizar took the Dirt Mile, Groupie Doll won the Filly and Mare Sprint, Beholder won the Juvenile Fillies, and Zagora won the Filly and Mare Turf. The issue of race-day medications came to a head at the Breeders' Cup, which had decided to prohibit their use in their juvenile races in 2012 and all races in 2013. In protest, high-profile owner Mike Repole refused to enter any of his horses at Santa Anita, also complaining that New York had been snubbed, having not hosted the Breeders' Cup World Championships since Belmont Park in 2005.
Along with the equine and human losses listed below, racing also lost a longtime media outlet as Thoroughbred Times, which began as the Thoroughbred Record in 1895, declared bankruptcy and closed its doors for good on September 14. 27 full time employees as well as dozens of part timers, contractors, and freelancers were suddenly out of work, many of which were still owed payments for work that was published. Subscribers are also listed as creditors, and would not receive any refunds for the unused portions of their subscriptions. Unfortunately this is reflective of racing media in general, as mainstream media outlets continue to reduce if not eliminate horse racing coverage, with racetrack press boxes increasingly empty.
Chantal Sutherland after riding the final race of her career on October 21st.
Racing did get into the public eye as the setting of the popular HBO series "Luck", starring Dustin Hoffman, Nick Nolte, and retired jockey Gary Stevens. Jockey Chantal Sutherland, who later announced her retirement from riding, made several cameo appearances in the show, filmed on location at Santa Anita Park. The show received positive reviews and respectable ratings, however, public outcry over the euthanization of three horses due to injuries sustained during filming (one during the pilot, the second in the 7th episode, and the third during filming of the second season) caused HBO to suspend all filming and cancel the series.
Woodbine President and CEO Nick Eaves announces that Woodbine may close at the Queen's Plate post position draw.
Politics seems to rear its ugly head every year, and nowhere was this felt worse in 2012 than in the province of Ontario in Canada. The government, feeling a cash crunch, decided to scapegoat the racing industry, calling racing's very small cut of slot machine revenues as a "subsidy" and announced the cancellation of the highly successful slots at racetracks program. The slots had proven beneficial to all parties involved -- purses have skyrocketed, many capital improvements have been made to Ontario's aging tracks, while the government raked in billions, since tracks and horsemen only got to keep 20% of revenues. The government immediately closed the slots facilities at Fort Erie as well as 2 harness tracks on the Michigan border, and is planning to close all the others at the end of March 2013. Fort Erie announced it would close for good at the end of the 2012 racing season, which ended a day early due to the remnants of Hurricane Sandy. Woodbine management threatened to close the historic Toronto oval, announcing to the stunned crowd and media at the post position draw that "this may be the last Queen's Plate". At time of writing, Fort Erie has requested race dates for 2013 but may not use them, while Woodbine has not yet requested dates for a 2013 meet. The ruling Liberal party's leader stepped down, with a leadership convention expected in the spring and an election soon after, and it appears that both opposition parties as well as every Liberal leadership candidate agrees that the previous administration's move was wrong.
California Memory winning the Hong Kong Cup for the second year in a row
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. In the Melbourne Cup, the "race that stops a nation", Green Moon defeated two defending champions, under jockey Brett Prebble for owner Nick Williams and trainer Robert Hickmott. In Europe, Frankel completed his career a perfect 14 for 14, retiring to stud duty with a 1 3/4 length win in the QIPCO Champion Stakes at Ascot under regular rider Tom Queally for trainer Henry Cecil. Unfortunately he never ventured away from England, as American race fans had hoped he would ship to Santa Anita to take on Wise Dan in the Mile or switch to dirt in the Classic at the track where his namesake, trainer Bobby Frankel, had ruled for years. The year closed out with the Hong Kong International Races at Sha Tin. California Memory won the Cup for the second year in a row, Ambitious Dragon won the Mile, Red Cadeaux won the Vase, and Lord Kanaloa won the Sprint. Boxing Day in England saw Long Run win his second King George VI Stakes at Kempton Park, (which he won the first time in 2010), which closes out the calendar year but marks the beginning of National Hunt season in Europe.
Tina Hines (with Chris Antley in 1999)
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 2012, both human and equine, with links to articles about each. If I missed someone, please let me know.