With everyone celebrating the holidays, it is time to bid farewell to 2014 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 2014 racing season.
California Chrome's connections after the Preakness
The 2014 racing year will forever be remembered for one horse, California Chrome. The chestnut California-bred three-year-old was not only was a success on the track, he also carried the human-interest stories of his connections. His owner-breeder duo of Perry Martin and Steve Coburn raced under the stable name "DAP Racing", which stood for "dumb-ass partners", in defiance of those who said they made a dumb choice to get into the racing business. His trainer, Art Sherman, had not returned to Churchill Downs since he was the exercise rider for another California-bred Derby winner, Swaps. Jockey Victor Espinoza had been "under the radar" for a number of years and had not won the Derby since War Emblem in 2002, but was hired by Sherman to ride California Chrome, a move which clearly paid off. We will look into his on-track success below, but at time of writing California Chrome is expected to continue racing through 2015, giving his legions of fans, known as the Chromies, another year to cheer on their hero.
African Story wins the Dubai World Cup
The first "big day" of racing of the year was the 19th renewal of the Dubai World Cup (G1) at Meydan, where once again the world's richest purses were up for grabs at Meydan. In the main event, Godolphin runner African Story romped under jockey Silvestre de Sousa. On the undercard, Japanese filly Gentildonna won the Sheema Classic (G1), Certerach won the Duty Free (G1), Sterling City won the Golden Shaheen (G1), Amber Sky won the Al Quoz Sprint (G1), Toast of New York won the UAE Derby (G2), and Variety Club won the Godolphin Mile (G2). Due to the synthetic Tapeta main track, there were very few American-based horses that shipped over to compete, with their numbers steadily decreasing since the demolition of Nad al Sheba whose dirt surface was quite favorable to the Americans. Meydan management replaced the synthetic with a dirt track during the off-season, in hopes of bringing back the Americans for the 20th renewal. Their decision mirrors that made by several tracks in America, most notably Keeneland, which had been a major investor in Polytrack but ran its last synthetic race during their spring meet and had dirt in place for the fall.
California Chrome wins the Preakness
Racing again went into the Triple Crown hoping for a horse to pull off the first sweep since Affirmed in 1978. When California Chrome, who had already won the San Felipe (G2) and Santa Anita Derby (G1), defeated Commanding Curve by 1 3/4 lenths in the Kentucky Derby (G1) as the 5-2 favorite, there was already a feeling among some that a sweep was imminent. The dream stayed alive two weeks later when California Chrome, geared down in the stretch, won the Preakness (G1) by 1 1/2 lengths over Ride On Curlin. For three weeks the "Chromies" awaited the Belmont (G1), but unfortunately, California Chrome stumbled at the start (sustaining a bloody gash to his right front foot), stalked the pace in fourth, but failed to rally at the end, finishing in a dead-heat for fourth, as 9-1 Tonalist rallied to defeat Commissioner by a head.
Lexie Lou 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 155th running as the oldest continuously-run stakes race in North America. Woodbine Oaks winner Lexie Lou, the only filly in the field, defeated Ami's Holiday by 1 1/2 lengths for trainer Mark Casse and jockey Patrick Husbands as favorite We Miss Artie finished fourth. Her connections opted to skip the rest of the Triple Crown, instead entering her in the Wonder Where against fillies on the turf, the third jewel of the Triple Tiara, which she won easily. Coltimus Prime won the Prince of Wales Stakes for trainer Justin Nixon and jockey Eurico Rosa da Silva, and then three weeks later, Ami's Holiday, the only horse to compete in all three races, won the Breeders' Stakes over Interpol. Lexie Lou later shipped out to California, home of owner Gary Barber, where she won the Autumn Miss (G3) at Santa Anita and then finished second in the Hollywood Derby (G1) at Del Mar, behind California Chrome who was making his turf debut.
Bayern winning the Breeders' Cup Classic over Toast of New York and California Chrome
The Breeders' Cup World Championships, back at Santa Anita for the third of 3 straight years, determine most of the Eclipse Awards, but once again the results did not give us a clear winner for Horse of the Year. On Friday, Untapable under Rosie Napravnik won the Distaff with 2-time winner and favorite Royal Delta fourth, and then on Saturday, the big showdown in the Classic had Bayern going gate-to-wire to defeat Toast of New York and California Chrome, with favorite Shared Belief fourth. With 2-time winner and Horse of the Year Wise Dan out due to injury, the Mile was a wide-open affair won by Karakontie over Anodin and Trade Storm. Chicago-based longshot Work All Week held off defending champion Secret Circle in the Sprint, and Main Sequence won the Turf after defending champ Magician scratched out. 14-1 longshot Texas Red romped by 6 1/2 lengths to win the Juvenile, the race which usually determines the early favorite for the Derby. In addition, Tom Durkin, the original announcer of the Breeders' Cup and the long time voice of New York racing, stepped down from the booth at the conclusion of the Saratoga meeting.
Cigar at the Kentucky Horse Park
Among the equine and human losses listed below, racing also lost a piece of its history when two-time Horse of the Year, and inaugural Dubai World Cup winner Cigar passed away on October 7 due to complications following surgery for severe osteoarthritis. He was donated to the Kentucky Horse Park by his owners, an Italian insurance company, after he was proven to be infertile when he retired to stallion duty. For 15 years he was a fixture at the Hall of Champions where fans could visit him year-round, and became the hall's star attraction when John Henry passed away. As track announcer Tom Durkin announced at the end of the 1995 Breeders' Cup Classic, he was the "Incomparable, Invincible, Unbeatable Cigar." He was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2002, his first year of eligibility. North of the border, Canada mourned the loss of its last Triple Crown winner Wando, who died at his owner's farm in Schomberg, Ontario.
In this space last year we discussed the closing of Hollywood Park and the imminent closure of Fort Erie. Hollywood did shut down for good and has already been razed, but Fort Erie gained a new lease on life with a 5 year plan. It remains to be seen if the historic "border oval" can continue if this plan is not renewed down the line, given its lack of alternative gaming and its very unfavorable geographic location, surrounded by full-service casinos.
Designs on Rome 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", Protectionist and new jockey Ryan Moore rallied from well back to win by 4 lengths over European invader Red Cadeaux and Who Shot Thebarman. In Europe, filly and defending champion Treve, despite a winless season so far, repeated in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, the first two-time Arc winner since Alleged in 1978. The year closed out with the Hong Kong International Races at Sha Tin, with the home team again taking 3 of the 4 races. Designs on Rome won the Cup, Able Friend won the Mile, and Aerovelocity won the Sprint. European invader Flintshire won the Vase.
High Chaparral (inside) and Johar (center)
St. Nicholas Abbey
The Usual Q.T.
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 2014, both human and equine, with links to articles about each. If I missed someone, please let me know.