It was a year of dominating performances in thoroughbred horse racing.
You could even call it a tale of two seasons, with Arrogate dominating the first half of the year with two captivating victories and Gun Runner solidifying his claim to Horse of the Year in the second half.
The 3-year-old season did not provide us with a Triple Crown chance with three different winners of the classics.
San Diego delivered in a big way at the inaugural Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar as Gun Runner proved the best in the Breeders’ Cup Classic which should assure him Horse of the Year honors next month.
Let’s take a look at the year in review by month.
January: California Chrome was selected as the 2016 Horse of the Year at the Annual Eclipse Awards held at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Florida. The inaugural $12 million Pegasus Stakes was won emphatically by Arrogate in Chrome’s final race at Gulfstream. It was Arrogate’s third straight major victory after his Travers and Classic wins in the latter half of 2016.
February: Irish War Cry, a Curlin-sired colt, wins the Holy Bull at Gulfstream. A Venezuelan-born trainer named Antonio Sano leads Gunnevera into the winner’s circle at the Fountain of Youth to enter the Derby picture. Girvin captures the Risen Star in Louisiana and February delivers three top notch horses pointed to the First Saturday in May.
March: The Derby prep season goes into full swing and Tapwrit emerges in the Tampa Bay Derby for super trainer Todd Pletcher and Hence starts his march to Louisville with a victory in the Sunland Derby. Arrogate miraculously overcomes a stumble at the start to come from behind to overtake Gun Runner in the $10 million Dubai World Cup. He completes one of the best four race win streaks of all time.
April: The Florida Derby is billed as a matchup between Gunnevera and Always Dreaming, a son of Bodemeister, trained by Pletcher. Always Dreaming comes out on top and punches his Derby ticket, while Gunnevera finishes a disappointing third. The winners of the five biggest Derby preps in April are Girvin (Louisiana Derby), Gormley (Santa Anita Derby), Irish War Cry (Wood Memorial), McCraken (Bluegrass) and Classic Empire (Arkansas Derby). Imperative wins the Charles Town Classic.
May: Abel Tasman captures the Kentucky Oaks going last to first under Mike Smith. In the 143rd Kentucky Derby, post time favorite Always Dreaming easily holds off a late closing Lookin at Lee to win the Run for the Roses on a sloppy track. It was Pletcher’s second career Derby win as well as jockey John Velazquez’s second, but his first with Pletcher. Cloud Computing ends the Triple Crown hopes with an upset win in the Preakness, overcoming Classic Empire in the stretch. It was trainer Chad Brown’s first classic win.
June: Bob Baffert (four wins) and Mike Smith (five wins) dominate the Belmont Stakes undercard. Pletcher claims the main event when Tapwrit, with Jose Ortiz aboard, wins the mile-and-a-half Test of a Champion reeling in Irish War Cry in the final furlong.
July: With the American Triple Crown series in the books, the focus shifts back to our neck of the woods and Southern Ontario for the Canadian Triple Crown. The third filly in seven years, Holy Helena, churns to victory in the 158th Queen’s Plate at Woodbine in Toronto for Stronach Stables. Fort Erie’s biggest race, the Prince of Wales, has an upset winner when Cool Catomine is victorious at juicy odds of 14-1. Saratoga Race Course opens and Good Samaritan pulls an upset in the Jim Dandy defeating both the Derby and Preakness winners at the Spa. The month ends with Girvin winning the Haskell over McCraken and Irap at Monmouth.
August: Gun Runner romps in the Whitney winning by open lengths. Elate dials up a win at the Spa with a victory in the Alabama. Forever Unbridled beats Songbird in the Personal Ensign on the Travers undercard. West Coast emerges onto the 3-year-old scene and wires a quality field in the Travers. Arrogate is upset in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar by Collected and continues to struggle to regain his early season form. Three jockeys, Javier Castellano, Garret Gomez and Victor Espinoza highlight the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame inductions. Voodoo Song wins her fourth race during the Spa meet for trainer Linda Rice.
September: Parx stages a big day of racing with two $1 million races on the card. It Tiz Well upsets Abel Tasman in the Cotillion and West Coast makes a case for 3-year-old honors with a win the Pennsylvania Derby. World Approval emerges as a world class miler catapulting trainer Mark Casse to his second straight Woodbine Mile.
October: Firenze Fire wins the Champagne Stakes, and Diversify defeats an uninspiring field in the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Super Saturday at Belmont. Bullards Alley draws off to win by 10 3/4 lengths over Oscar Nominated for an upset win the Canadian International at Woodbine.
November: The Breeders’ Cup is held at Del Mar for the first time in spectacular weather. Forever Unbridled caps off a solid year in winning the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Woodbine Mile winner World Approval wins the Mile as the only favorite to win all weekend.
The $6 million Classic comes down to a duel between Pacific Classic winner Collected and Gun Runner, the latter putting his challenger away in the stretch. Post time favorite Arrogate was never a factor and ultimately is retired to stud. Impressive divisional wins over the two-day Cup weekend by Roy H (Sprint), Battle of Midway (Dirt Mile), and Good Magic (Juvenile) culminate an entertaining Breeders’ Cup. Seeking the Soul adds a Grade 1 to his resume, winning the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs.
December: Sharp Azteca wins the Cigar Mile over Mind Your Biscuits and Practical Joke at Aqueduct. NYRA announces that the New York Islanders will build a new arena in the backyard at Belmont Park. The Gulfstream Championship meeting commences with the Claiming Crown and starts building momentum towards next January’s second annual Pegasus World Cup, with a new record purse of $16 million.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.