Arrogate, the world’s best race horse, contributed two stunning performances on the track to highlight the first six months on the racing calendar.
The second half of the year will climax with the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club on Nov. 4, north of San Diego. The 4-year-old Arrogate will look to defend his title hoping to win back-to-back Classics for the first time since Tiznow turned the trick in 2001.
While the Triple Crown season did not produce a Triple Crown, with three separate and distinct winners of this year’s classic races, it sets up the summer for a great finish to the 3-year-old division.
Saratoga Race Course is the likely host of several of the top stars at its upcoming meet. Arrogate’s projected rival at Del Mar, Gun Runner, is expected to start in the Whitney and some of the female stars should be heading to the Spa this summer.
Locally, the Queen’s Plate is heating up in Toronto and will kickoff the Canadian Triple Crown Sunday at Woodbine Racetrack. A solid field of 13, including two fillies, will contest in Canada’s Most Famous Race. The Prince of Wales Stakes, Fort Erie’s signature race and the middle jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown, is set for Tuesday evening July 25 at the border oval.
Let’s take a look at the mid-year highs and lows in thoroughbred racing to date.
- The inaugural Pegasus is a resounding success. The $12 million made-for-TV race with a $1 million entry fee came off without a hitch in late January at Gulfstream Park. Arrogate captured the first Pegasus and the $7 million top prize, seizing the reins from California Chrome, who finished ninth in the final race of his storied career. The Pegasus World Cup Invitational was the brainchild of Frank Stronach who convinced 11 other owners to pony up $1 million each to set the purse. Next year’s purse of the world’s richest race has increased to $16 million, with the additional $4 million contributed by the Stronach Group.
- Arrogate’s dramatic win in the Dubai World Cup is second straight for the U.S. The son of Unbridled’s Song overcame a terrible break to come from behind to win the $10 million race in March at Meydan Racecourse. The win completed an incredible three race sweep of the $6 million Classic at Santa Anita, the $12 million Pegasus and the Dubai World Cup. He defeated the front-running Gun Runner to raise his career earnings to over $17 million.
- Royal Ascot televised on NBCSN. One of the world’s most interesting race meetings was televised for last week live from the famous race course 45 minutes west of London. The pageantry of Royal Ascot was captured on U.S. television for the first time and drove U.S. betting pools upward and turned the royal meeting a bucket list item for most American race fans. More U.S. trainers are starting to bring horses over for the boutique meeting following the footsteps of Wesley Ward. American Hall of Famer Johnny Velazquez piloted Lady Aurelia to a win in the King’s Stand to win one for Ward and America.
- Smith, Baffert have monster Belmont Stakes day. Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith and trainer Bob Baffert teamed up for four wins on Belmont Stakes day. Smith added a fifth victory aboard superstar filly Songbird in the Ogden Phipps for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, capping a tremendous day of race riding. Smith and Baffert won with Mor Spirit (Met Mile), American Anthem (Woody Stephens), West Coast (Easy Goer) and Abel Tasman (Acorn).
- Always Dreaming gives Todd Pletcher his second Kentucky Derby win. On a sloppy surface, Always Dreaming was much the best in the 143rd Run for the Roses. The son of Bodemeister provided Pletcher with his second off track Derby win, the first coming in 2010 with Super Saver. He combined to win the Derby with his long time first call rider Velazquez, who also won his second Derby (Animal Kingdom, 2011).
Honorable Mention: Tapwrit’s stalking trip to win the Belmont; Abel Tasman’s Kentucky Oaks victory; and Cloud Computing edges Classic Empire in the Preakness.
- Unique Bella has to skip the Kentucky Oaks due to injury. Possibly the best 3-year-old in training wasn’t able to show her stuff on the big stage due to a shin injury suffered in March causing her to miss the Oaks. It was the second time in the last two year’s that a prohibitive favorite missed the Oaks. Songbird rebounded last year to win the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama at Saratoga after missing the Oaks. Unique Bella is still on the mend and the connections are hoping that the Cotillion in September will serve as her comeback race.
- Mark Casse’s best chance to win a Classic race flames out. With the morning line favorite in both the Derby and Preakness, Classic Empire failed to produce an elusive Triple Crown race win for the long time trainer. A massive collision at the start of the Derby doomed the son of Pioneerof the Nile before the race hit the clubhouse turn. He finished fifth despite the jostling and cuts received in the race’s first 50 yards. Leading around the far turn at Pimlico and looking like an even money winner at the quarter pole, Casse’s colt was caught in the final furlong by Cloud Computing. A foot injury discovered upon Classic Empire’s arrival at Belmont Park quashed any hopes remaining for the talented 3-year-old to capture the final leg.
- Horse policy affects Fort Erie negatively. When Woodbine limited its horsemen from shipping out its horses more than twice a year when running for purses for less than $20,000, alarms started going off at the border oval. As nearly every race is below that threshold at Fort Erie, a horse shortage later in the year could be inevitable. In addition, Woodbine has also announced it will run a number of races at lower purse levels which approximate Fort Erie’s. The current horse shortage north of the border due to government turmoil back in 2013 caused a number of Ontario based breeders heading to Florida or calling it quits. Stay tuned.
Honorable Mention: $1 million Derby Wars court decision
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.