So far, 2012 has been a record-setting year for horse racing, with record viewership for many of the Grade 1 races throughout the year and millions of dollars in purse winnings.
With the Breeders’ Cup Classic approaching in a few weeks to close out the racing season, this is the perfect opportunity to look back at some of the biggest horse races of the year, with the aid of some summarized/paraphrased opinions from Matt O’Neill of fantasy horse racing game website MyFantasyStable.com.
A record crowd of more than 165,000 race fans watched the 138th Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs, and, O’Neill noted, it provided a great kickoff to the 2012-2013 racing season and the Triple Crown. Heading into the race, Union Rags and the Bob Baffert trained Bodemeister were heavy favorites, only to be run down at the wire by 15-to-1 longshot I’ll Have Another. Coming from the No. 19 post, the spirited colt closed a 5-length gap in the final stretch to run down Bodemeister and win the Kentucky Derby.
The second leg of the Triple Crown at Pimlico in Baltimore was very similar to the Kentucky Derby, O’Neill said, with Derby favorite Bodemeister taking a strong early lead only to be run down in the final stretch by Derby winner I’ll Have Another. Despite a strong break by Bodemeister, I’ll Have Another and jockey Mario Gutierrez were able to stalk the leaders for the first mile before running down Bodemeister at the wire a second time. The win at Preakness set up a potential Triple Crown win for I’ll Have Another going into Belmont.
The first two legs of the Triple Crown saw the unlikely rise of I’ll Have Another, setting the stage for the potential first U.S. Triple Crown winner in 34 years. All eyes turned to this young horse and jockey going into the Belmont Stakes. However, I’ll Have Another was not set to break the longest drought in Triple Crown history, as he suffered a torn tendon the day before the Belmont Stakes. With the presumed winner out of the running, Paynter took an early lead from the No. 9 post and held it into the homestretch. However, O’Neill said, much like Bodemeister in the first two legs of the Crown, Paynter faded in the homestretch and Union Rags pushed past Paynter on the rail for the win.
Pacific Classic Stakes at Del Mar
Third place finisher at the Kentucky Derby and the winner of the Blue Grass Stakes, Dullahan stormed through the Polytrack alongside the Pacific Ocean to win the $1 million purse at Del Mar and set a new record at the storied track. The three-year-old outran fellow Horse of the Year contender Game On Dude to secure the victory and claim his place, O’Neill said, as one of the top three-year-olds racing this year alongside the retired I’ll Have Another.
Travers Stakes at Saratoga
As Dullahan pounded his way to victory in the Pacific surf, the historic Travers Stakes was ending in a photo finish on the other side of the country. At the country’s oldest stakes race, heavy underdog Golden Ticket punched his own ticket to the winner’s circle and a $1 million purse at Saratoga. Golden Ticket had not won a single race in 2012 other than a Maiden Special Weight in February, but finished in a dead heat with the favorite, Alpha. It was the first dead heat in 143 runnings of the Travers, one of the rarest finishes in a G1 stakes race.
Jockey Club Gold Cup
As one of the final G1 races before the Breeders’ Cup Challenge in November, the Jockey Club Gold Cup is still one of the most prestigious races in the U.S., and this year’s race did not disappoint. Another big race at Belmont, six-year-old Flat Out returned to the site of his last victory to become the 11th horse in history to win the race in back-to-back years. The 7-2 favorite edged out Stay Thirsty to take the winner’s prize of $1 million, but more importantly received an automatic, fees-paid berth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in early November, along with a chance to win $5 million.