With everyone celebrating the holidays, it is time to bid farewell to 2013 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 2013 racing season.
Gary Stevens aboard Oxbow after winning the Preakness
If we had to choose a word to summarize racing in 2013, it would have to be “comeback”, with jockey Gary Stevens as its posterboy. The 50-year-old came out of retirement and picked up where he left off, winning the Preakness Stakes, Breeders’ Cup Classic, Breeders’ Cup Distaff, and numerous other big stakes races. In addition, long time owners and breeders Stuart Janney and Ogden Phipps finally broke their collective jinx to win the Kentucky Derby with Orb, and trainer D. Wayne Lukas campaigned Preakness winner Oxbow.
Animal Kingdom wins the Dubai World Cup
The first "big day" of racing of the year was the 9th 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, but a week later. Ron the Greek won the Classic while Successful Song won the Distaff and Teaks North won the Turf. In Dubai, once again the world's richest purses were up for grabs at Meydan, a track that has proven less friendly to American horses than the original host Nad al Sheba. However, the American jinx came to an end as Animal Kingdom roared to victory for trainer Graham Motion under Joel Rosario. Some might say the jinx continued, as Animal Kingdom had been sold to Australian interests. On the undercard, St Nicholas Abbey won the Sheema Classic, Sajjhaa won the Duty Free, Reynaldothewizard won the Golden Shaheen, and Lines of Battle won the UAE Derby.
Orb wins the Kentucky Derby
Racing again went into the Triple Crown hoping for a horse to pull off the first sweep since Affirmed in 1978, and some already said it was in the bag when favorite Orb won the Derby in sloppy conditions by 2 1/2 lengths over Golden Soul and Revolutionary, giving owners Stuart Janney and Ogden Phipps, trainer Shug McGaughey, and jockey Joel Rosario their first Derby win. Two weeks later in Baltimore, jockey Gary Stevens sent 15-1 longshot Oxbow to the lead and never looked back, winning gate-to-wire over Itsmyluckyday and Mylute, with Orb fourth. With no Triple Crown on the line, New York racing fans at least got the rubber match with both Orb and Oxbow staying to try the Test of a Champion. Palace Malice pulled off the mild upset, with Oxbow second and Orb third.
Midnight Aria 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 154th running as the oldest continuously-run stakes race in North America. Midnight Aria relished the wet Polytrack and heavy rainfall to win the Guineas gate-to-wire, holding off favorite Up With The Birds by 1/2 a length under jockey Jesse Campbell. However, his connections did not feel he would run well on dirt so they decided to skip the Prince of Wales Stakes, which was run on a Tuesday evening for the first time. Uncaptured, Canada’s 2012 champion juvenile, took the Prince of Wales for trainer Mark Casse with jockey Miguel Mena. Midnight Aria was slated to run in the Breeders’ but was retired due to injury, and Uncaptured also stayed out, allowing heavy favorite Up With the Birds to win by 2 3/4 lengths over River Seven, putting owner Sam-Son Farm in a Canadian Triple Crown winner’s circle once again.
Mucho Macho Man and Gary Stevens after winning the Breeders' Cup Classic
The Breeders' Cup World Championships, back at Santa Anita for the second of 3 straight years, determine most of the Eclipse Awards, but the results did not give us a clear winner for Horse of the Year. On Friday, Beholder under Gary Stevens took the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, a then on Saturday, Mucho Macho Man, with Stevens up, held off Will Take Charge in a tight photo to take the Classic for trainer Kathy Ritvo, the first female trainer to win America’s richest race. Secret Circle, one of the few Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint winners (the race was discontinued) won the Sprint, Magician outfinished favorite The Fugue for an all-Euro exacta in the Turf, Triple Crown veteran Goldencents won the Dirt Mile, while Mizdirection and Groupie Doll repeated as Turf Sprint and Filly and Mare Sprint champions respectively. In the most controversial result, She’s a Tiger defeated Ria Antonia by a nose in the Juvenile Fillies but was disqualified to second for interference.
Hollywood Park on closing day
Along with the equine and human losses listed below, racing also lost a piece of its history when Hollywood Park closed its doors to live racing for good at the end of the year. The track opened in 1938 and had hosted greats such as Seabiscuit, Swaps, Citation, Native Diver, Affirmed, Cigar, and most recently was the home track for Zenyatta. Its fate was sealed several years ago when then-owner Churchill Downs sold the track to Bay Meadows Land Company, which had already closed Bay Meadows for redevelopment. Hollywood remained a racing facility longer than expected, when the economic downturn depressed real estate values. But as the market improved, the property proved too valuable and Bay Meadows made their announcement. Churchill Downs and Bay Meadows both had hoped to be allowed to operate alternative gaming at the facility but the powerful native casino lobby in California won out, keeping its casino monopoly and forcing Bay Meadows’ hand. Hollywood’s dates will be distributed between the remaining Southern California tracks, with Santa Anita scheduled to race for more than half the year, from just after Christmas 2013 to the beginning of Del Mar’s summer meeting.
While Hollywood Park is definitely closing, Fort Erie Racetrack in Ontario may have also seen its final race. The provincial government decided to help several tracks including Woodbine and the major harness facilities, but announced that Fort Erie is essentially a lost cause and not worth any investment. The government suggests that Fort Erie run a very short meet in order to host the Prince of Wales Stakes, but track management does not feel this is a workable solution and continues to propose running an almost full season with subsidies, which are unlikely to be approved.
Akeed Mofeed wins the Hong Kong Cup
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", Fiorente and jockey Damien Oliver came from midpack to win, making Gai Waterhouse the first female trainer to win Australia’s race. In Europe, filly Treve beat the boys to win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe under new jockey Thierry Jarnet. Unfortunately, regular rider Frankie Dettori broke his ankle in a spill a week earlier, costing him the ride and possibly the win. The year closed out with the Hong Kong International Races at Sha Tin, with the home team taking 3 of the 4 races. Akeed Mofeed won the Cup, Dominant won the Vase, and Glorious Days won the Mile. Japanese horse Lord Kanaloa won the Sprint.
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 2013, both human and equine, with links to articles about each. If I missed someone, please let me know.