One word can sum up the 2011 thoroughbred racing year in a nutshell, and that word is parity. No one horse took control of any major division or is a shoe-in for top laurels this year. The Triple Crown campaign saw a different horse win each of the three races, and the Breeders' Cup Classic gave us a horse who last won a big race 17 months prior. Let's take a look at how the year unfolded, month by month, via our year-end review.
January: Gulfstream Park unveils a brand new multirace betting menu wherein you can end the day with five different types of wagers, including a Daily Double, Pick-3, Pick-4 and Pick-5 all the way to a newfangled 10-cent Pick-Six wager, called the Rainbow Six. Zenyatta is voted 2010 Horse of the Year at the Annual Eclipse Awards held in Miami.
February: The Derby prep races start to dominate the racing scene this month. Archarcharch wins the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn, Soldat the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream and Brethren, the Davis at Tampa. The Donn Handicap, typically a strong Grade 1 for older horses, is won by Giant Oak. No other horse in the race does much the rest of the racing calendar. Twirling Candy starts making some noise out west winning the Grade 2 Strub at Santa Anita.
March: The Derby preps continue as 44-1 longshot Watch Me Go wins the Tampa Bay Derby over the favored Brethren, Pants On Fire wins the Louisiana Derby, giving female jockey Rosie Napravnik a chance at being the first to win a Derby. A horse named Animal Kingdom wins the Vinery Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park on the polytrack. Bob Baffert takes his 3-year old filly, Plum Pretty, to New Mexico and trounces the field by 25 lengths to win the Sunland Oaks. The world's richest race, the Dubai World Cup, ends up in a 1-2 finish for Japan, with Victoire Pisa claiming the top prize. Chantal Sutherland becomes the first female rider to win the Big Cap aboard Game On Dude at Santa Anita amid a long inquiry and controversial steward ruling.
April: Daily Racing Form editor and blogger Steven Crist visits Finger Lakes on opening day to a flurry of 4- 1/2 furlong races in the slop. Nick Zito's Dialed In wins the Florida Derby and ends up being the morning line favorite on Derby day. Uncle Mo falters in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, finishing a weak third behind winner Toby's Corner. Baffert's Midnight Interlude wins the Santa Anita Derby and will attempt to break a long-standing jinx by winning the Derby. Archarcharch wins the Arkansas Derby over Baffert's The Factor and begins to gain support as a potential Derby contender.
May: Jockey John Velazquez loses his mount on Uncle Mo, who is diagnosed with a gastronomical infection and scratches on the eve of the 137th Derby, but is later named to ride Animal Kingdom. Velazquez steers home Animal Kingdom at 21-1 to win his first Derby, along with trainer Graham Motion. Plum Pretty wins the Kentucky Oaks for Baffert, who is having a decent spring. Shackleford, fourth place finisher in the Derby, wins the Preakness over Animal Kingdom, denying a Triple Crown winner for the 33rd consecutive year. Royal Delta wins the Black-Eyed Susan on her way to a 3-year old filly championship season.
June: The Belmont Stakes provides yet another double digit winner as 25-1 long shot Ruler On Ice wins in the slop over second-place finisher Stay Thirsty. Animal Kingdom, bounced around at the start, finishes out of the money and is sidelined for the year due to the injury suffered in the race. Jose Valdivia, Jr. becomes the third straight jockey to win a classic for the first time in this year's Triple Crown series. It's Tricky wins the Acorn over the highly touted Turbulent Descent. Inglorious becomes the first filly since Dancethruthedawn in 2001 and Dance Smartly in 1991 to win the first leg of Canada's Triple Crown, the Queen's Plate. Red-hot jockey Luis Contreras rides the filly to victory over the 17-horse field. A tornado touches down at venerable Churchill Downs, damaging seven barns, but no horses or humans are hurt.
July: Fort Erie's biggest race, the Prince of Wales, is won by Contreras, aboard Pender Harbour. Inglorious' connections skip the second leg of the Canadian triple to ride instead at Saratoga in the Alabama in August. Saratoga opens its 143rd season to a gamut of stakes racing and terrific weather. It's Tricky wins the Coaching Club American Oaks for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin over Oaks winner Plum Pretty and Black-Eyed Susan champ Royal Delta. Baffert's Coil upsets Shackleford in the Haskell at Monmouth. This writer's race of the year is won by the 4-year old filly Havre de Grace by a nostril over rival Blind Luck in the Delaware Handicap.
August: Stay Thirsty sweeps the key Saratoga stakes for 3-year-olds, winning both the Jim Dandy and Travers for trainer Todd Pletcher. In his comeback race, Uncle Mo is nipped at the wire in the King's Bishop by up-and-coming Caleb's Posse. Acclamation wins the Pacific Classic over Twirling Candy at Del Mar. Contreras wins the Breeders Stakes at Woodbine on Pender Harbour and sweeps all three Canadian Triple Crown races. West Coast trainer Jerry Hollendorfer leads a group of horses and jockeys inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame.
September: Saratoga ends with Havre de Grace winning the Woodward Stakes, the second filly in three years to win the historic race. To Honor and Serve comes back from an injury suffered on the Derby trail to win the Pennsylvania Derby over Ruler On Ice. The Keeneland September yearling sale showed some promising results over both 2010 and 2009.
October: Super Saturday kicks off the month and Flat Out wins the Jockey Club Gold Cup, hopefully some fans took notice of the late running second-place finisher, Drosselmeyer. Stay Thirsty finishes a respectable third in his first outing against older horses. Sarah Lynx, a 22-1 shot, wins the Pattison International at Woodbine, becoming the first filly since 1988 to win the $1.5 million race.
November: The Breeders' Cup is run for the sixth time at Churchill Downs and draws 105,820 fans over the two-day event, and 2010 Belmont Stakes champion Drosselmeyer upsets the Classic field at 14-1 and sends the Horse of the Year race into a tailspin. Caleb's Posse has a most impressive victory in the Dirt Mile and could steal the 3-year-old division with the victory. Union Rags, the Juvenile favorite, drifts out in the stretch and can't catch the front running undefeated Hansen. Royal Delta takes the Ladies' Classic on Friday under the lights. To Honor and Serve wins one of my favorite races of the year, the Cigar Mile, to finish a solid campaign.
December: Gulfstream Park opens in December for the first time. NYRA discovers it inadvertently forgot to lower takeout by one percent, 15 months ago, fleecing over $7.9 million from bettors. It lowers takeout by two points effective immediately to attempt to remedy the situation. The Governor's office is none too happy with NYRA or the State's regulator, the New York Racing and Wagering Board. Santa Anita opens to a crowd of more than 44,000, who see The Factor romp in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes.
Gene Kershner is a Buffalo-based turf writer and handicapper who blogs at equispace.blogspot.com. He handicaps and blogs every Friday at the Sports, Ink blog and can be found on Twitter (@EquiSpace).