It’s been quite a year in thoroughbred racing as we approach the climax to a season that has been full of star power generating tremendous racing around the country.
If you step back and think about the year that has transpired, it’s hard not to think that the 2016 racing season has produced a decent encore to the Triple Crown Season of a year ago.
Think about the future Hall of Famers that have graced the racetrack this year.
Start with California Chrome.
The 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner has been on a roll, ripping off six straight wins since his second place finish in last year’s Dubai World Cup, his last race of a disappointing 4-year-old campaign. He’s in position to blow away career earnings numbers should he sweep the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic and follow that up with a win in January’s inaugural $12 million Pegasus Cup at Gulfstream.
He avenged the 2015 loss at Meydan with a commanding victory in this year’s World Cup and has added four straight graded wins in the States since his return from Dubai. A win at Santa Anita in the Classic would avenge his third-place finish in the controversial race two years ago on the same track.
Next up is Songbird.
She’s destroyed the3-year-old division this year with seven victories, including four Grade 1’s. She’ll certainly be challenged in the Distaff as she’ll face older horses for the first time. If she continues to turn away the competition, the intrigue that will follow her into her 4-year-old campaign will swell to monumental heights.
Her connections have stuck to their guns and stayed within her division all year and have not been tempted to run her against the boys.
That can wait.
A win in the Distaff will turn up the heat for her to face males in 2017, so there’s a lot to hope for on Friday Nov. 4 at the Great Race Place.
She has formidable competition in the Distaff, however. Beholder, a two-time Eclipse winner looms. Stellar Wind, a mare that has defeated Beholder in her last two races, is capable of ending Songbird’s win skein. Curalina and I’m a Chatterbox are both Grade 1 runners with experience in tough races.
In a year where Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta entered the Hall of Fame, the top two stars in racing heading to Santa Anita are ready will likely be sporting plaques in Saratoga sometime down the road.
We’ll also see potential Hall of Famers Tepin (Mile), Lady Eli (Filly and Mare Turf) and Flintshire (Turf) all look to close out a huge 2016 year with a win in their respective divisions.
And what about the colt that saved the 3-year-old crop from disappearing into oblivion? You know, the one who broke a track record at Saratoga in the Travers. A record that has stood since 1979.
Trained by HOF’er Bob Baffert, in case you’re scoring from home. The trainer who just happened to win the last two Classics. Yes, Arrogate, he of the tremendous open length win at Saratoga in his first graded stake race. One hit wonder or star in waiting?
My goodness, it’s been a great year and in two weeks it will only get better.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.