A Triple Crown winner highlighted this year’s racing campaign.
For the second time in the last four years, a horse joined racing’s most exclusive club when Justify pulled off the final leg in the Belmont Stakes in early June.
Accelerate had a season to remember in the older male horse division capping it off with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He became the third horse in history to sweep the big three California races, the Santa Anita Handicap, the Gold Cup and the Pacific Classic. The latter he won in August by a wide 12 ½ length margin over his closest competitor.
The Canadian Triple Crown had a dual-winner in the filly Wonder Gadot, but unfortunately didn’t compliment Justify’s American triple when her connections skipped the final leg for a Grade 1 in Saratoga.
Enable, a European filly, pulled off the first Arc-Breeders’ Cup Turf double and wowed the Churchill Downs crowd in Louisville, the site of this year’s annual Breeders’ Cup world championships.
Let’s take a look at the year in review by month.
January: Gun Runner was selected as the 2017 Horse of the Year at the Annual Eclipse Awards held at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Florida. He followed up his Eclipse victory with a win in the second annual Pegasus Stakes in his swan song at Gulfstream.
February: Audible, an Into Mischief-sired colt trained by Todd Pletcher, wins the Holy Bull at Gulfstream. Flameaway, an Ontario-bred colt wins the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs for Mark Casse. An unassuming 3-year-old colt named Justify wins a maiden special weight at Santa Anita on Feb. 18 for Bob Baffert. Bigger things are to come for this son of Scat Daddy.
March: The Derby prep season goes into full swing with the speedy Promises Fulfilled winning on the front end in the Fountain of Youth for trainer Dale Romans. Bolt d’Oro starts his march to Louisville with a controversial DQ win in the San Felipe over McKinzie, who goes off the Derby trail with an injury. Thunder Snow wins the $10 million Dubai World Cup over favored West Coast at Meydan. Mind Your Biscuits win the Golden Shaheen on the World Cup undercard for the second straight year overcoming a wicked speed bias to come from behind to win. Audible follows up his Holy Bull win with a victory in the Florida Derby.
April: Vino Rosso, another Pletcher runner, comes out on top at Aqueduct and punches his Derby ticket winning the Wood Memorial. The 2017 Juvenile winner Good Magic claims his Derby gate with a win in the Bluegrass. Justify, in his third career race, captures the Santa Anita Derby over Bolt d’Oro and earns a ticket to Louisville. Something Awesome wins the Charles Town Classic.
May: Monomoy Girl takes the Kentucky Oaks under Florent Geroux surviving a stretch dual with Wonder Gadot. In the 144th Kentucky Derby, post time favorite Justify easily holds off the late closing duo of Good Magic and Audible to win the Run for the Roses on a sloppy track. The Apollo Curse is broken as the first colt won the Derby without running as a 2-year-old since 1882. The son of Scat Daddy runs over his second straight off track when rain deluges Baltimore during Preakness week. Justify gets the last jump over quick closing Bravazo and Tenfold, hitting the wire first and capturing the first two legs of racing’s Triple Crown.
June: Bob Baffert wins his second Triple Crown in four years when Mike Smith pilots Justify to victory in the Belmont Stakes, joining the likes of Secretariat, Seattle Slew and American Pharoah as Triple Crown winners. It ends up being his final race retiring undefeated after a 111-day career. The Queen’s Plate, the first leg of Canada’s Triple Crown is run on the last day of the month and Wonder Gadot wins the mile-and-a-quarter Canadian classic at Woodbine becoming the fourth filly in eight years to win Canada’s Most Famous Race.
July: Wonder Gadot follows up her Plate win with a victory in the slop in Fort Erie’s biggest race, the Prince of Wales Stakes. Saratoga Race Course opens where Hofburg wins the Curlin and Tenfold pulls an upset in the Jim Dandy at the Spa. The month ends with Good Magic winning the Haskell returning to the winner’s circle for the first time since April.
August: Diversify defeats Mind Your Biscuits in the Whitney winning by 3 1/2 lengths. Monomoy Girl continues her excellent season by dialing up a win at the Spa with a victory in the Alabama. Abel Tasman beats Elate by a neck in the Personal Ensign on the Travers undercard. Catholic Boy emerges onto the 3-year-old scene and wires a quality field in the Travers going turf-to-dirt for trainer Jonathan Thomas. Wonder Gadot finishes last. Accelerate romps in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar winning by open lengths.
September: Parx stages its annual big day of racing with two $1 million races on the card. Monomoy Girl is put up over Midnight Bisou in the Cotillion and McKinzie returns to the races with a win the Pennsylvania Derby. Oscar Performance emerges as a classy miler beating a quality field in the Woodbine Mile.
October: Complexity wins the Champagne Stakes, and Discreet Lover upsets a field that includes Thunder Snow and Mendelssohn in the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Super Saturday at Belmont.
November: The Breeders’ Cup is held at Churchill Downs for a record-tying ninth time. Monomoy Girl caps off a superb year in winning the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Game Winner wins the Juvenile for trainer Bob Baffert taking the first step in returning back to Louisville next May for the 145th Kentucky Derby. The $6 million Classic ends up being a runaway by Accelerate, who vaulted himself into the Horse of the Year conversation. Impressive divisional wins over the two-day Cup weekend by two-time winner Roy H (Sprint), City of Light (Dirt Mile), and Enable (Turf) culminate an entertaining Breeders’ Cup. Leofric adds a Grade 1 to his resume, winning the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs.
December: Patternrecognition wins the Cigar Mile over 31-1 shot Ture Timber for trainer Chad Brown at Aqueduct. The Gulfstream Championship meeting commences with the Claiming Crown and starts building momentum towards next January’s third annual Pegasus World Cup, with a super competitive field expected.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.