Question: Does anyone miss Gun Runner? What about Arrogate, Songbird, or even California Chrome? Has anyone really recovered from the retirement of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah after his record-setting sophomore year? Honestly, has anyone else noticed that, right now, in this game we all love, we are suffering from a significant void of equine stars?
The good news is that’s the bad news. The best thing about the game being without any stars is that there are now several spots atop the ladder in just about every division waiting to be claimed — and a plethora of talented runners lining up to do just that.
After the Breeders’ Cup every year it’s always fun to anticipate the new year returns of our favorites, map out the Road to the Kentucky Derby, enjoy the exciting summer racing from coast to coast and, eventually, the Breeders’ Cup once again. Because, well, they’re our horses too, right?
It’s been said the Triple Crown trail these days gets underway in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and it could be fair to say the path to the Breeders’ Cup never ends. Part of the fun is playing armchair trainer and deciding where we’d run, if they were our horses.
So, with the Gun Runners and Arrogates and California Chromes and Songbirds carefully tucked away at various farms in Kentucky, second careers well underway, who do we have left and what can we expect?
I think it’s safe to say the biggest star still running is a mare — a good mare, a champion mare, but a mare nonetheless. Last year’s Kentucky Derby winner hasn’t won a race since and hasn’t started since beating just three rivals in the Travers Stakes nearly six months ago. And the top two juveniles from last year have yet to start as 3-year-olds, while perhaps the most promising one of the entire bunch we’ve seen just once.
Who are the top runners for fans to follow now and who can we expect to rise to the top?
Last year’s champion older female and the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI) heroine has been tucked away at Fair Grounds prepping for her big date against boys in the March 24 Dubai World Cup at Meydan. No filly or mare has started in the Dubai World Cup since Royal Delta in 2012 and 2013 and no female has finished better than To The Victory’s second in 2001.
The Charles Fipke homebred has been working well for Dallas Stewart at Fair Grounds all month and will have a few more workouts before shipping to the Middle East. She’s got a big fan following and, while it may be hard to get too excited when she’s yet to make a start this year, the concept of her entire year is something to look forward to.
This 4-year-old daughter of Tapit, who was last year’s champion female sprinter, has had a nice beginning to the year. She won the La Brea Stakes handily on Santa Anita’s opening day then came back to romp in the Santa Maria a couple weeks ago and has been working well enough for local clockers to give her the coveted “breezing” tag in the mornings.
Though honored as a sprinter, she’s bred for routing, has won around two turns and will probably be pointed toward a lot of the same races as Songbird was last year before she retired. After the Santa Margarita on March 17, she would likely travel for the Ogden Phipps, Delaware Handicap and Personal Ensign. Regardless, The Don Alberto Stable-owned daughter of Tapit and Unrivaled Bell (Unbridled’s Song) is with a trainer in Jerry Hollendorfer who isn’t afraid to take risks.
He spent much of the second half of 2017 as the division’s standout until that very rough and very wide trip in the Breeders’ Cup cost him not only the race, but also the division championship, despite a pair of Grade 1 wins, which is a head-scratcher.
His owner/trainer Mick Ruis had hoped to bring him back earlier this year after a winter freshening, but a pulled muscle curtailed plans and he’s only been back working for a month. A rider kerfuffle with Corey Nakatani produced a switch to Hall of Famer Javier Castellano and the pair are expected to return to action in the March 10 San Felipe Stakes. The best thing about this colt is that he’s been training at Santa Anita during a live meet with a lot of cameras and live workouts on XBTV.
This $1 million Curlin colt used racing’s biggest stage to break his maiden, taking the Nov. 5 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile over a very good field by more than four lengths. His connections, eFive Racing and Stonestreet Stables, collected the Eclipse Award a week after he returned to the work tab after a little winter break, but he’s been mostly training for Chad Brown with no fanfare and not much attention at Palm Meadows Training Center in South Florida.
He’s set to be the headliner this weekend in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park and his return to action could not come at a better time.
Beat the declining Arrogate last summer and, after a bumpy Breeders’ Cup, came back to win the San Pasqual. He may be California’s best shot at the Big ‘Cap in two weeks.
Sprinter-turned-router won the San Antonio Stakes in early January, then tanked in the Pegasus World Cup. Hard to say whether he’ll sprint or route for Pete Eurton, but he’s kind of a fun horse to follow and seems to rise to most challenges thrown his way.
Undefeated in three starts, this son of 2007 Derby winner Street Sense, named for a late beloved Calfornia racing executive, hasn’t made a wrong move, winning the Los Alamitos Futurity and the Sham Stakes. He’s been training exceptionally well for Bob Baffert and is likely to face Bolt D’Oro and some others in the San Felipe.
The most successful maiden winner in a while, he was runner-up to Good Magic in the Breeders’ Cup then was disqualified from a win in the Los Alamitos Futurity in favor of Stablemate McKinzie. He’s been back on the work tab all month and trainer Baffert has said he could sent this talented son of Curlin just about anywhere.
The standout and undefeated sophomore filly has three stakes wins, including a Grade 1 and a Grade 2. Another from the powerful Baffert brigade, she’s set for the Santa Ysabel next week after a nice work this weekend. Her owners, Phoenix Thoroughbreds, paid a lot of money for her ($750,000), which she’s probably already made up in value as a broodmare when this career is over.
Potential star honorable mention (in no particular order):
Audible – Impressive Holy Bull winner likes the Florida winter.
World Approval – Champion turfer back in Calfornia for a second run at Eclipse glory.
Kanthaka – Impressive San Vicente Stakes winner.
My Boy Jack – Southwest Stakes winner.
Mourinho – Smarty Jones Stakes winner who is better than his last.
Instilled Regard – LeComte Stakes winner, who is also better than his last.
Bravazo – Purists will love that D. Wayne Lukas trains this one.
Snapper Sinclair – Ran too good to lose in the Risen Star.
West Coast – Second in the Pegasus makes him the male to beat in the Dubai World Cup.
Lombo – Humble horse wins Robert B. Lewis, trains like a boss every day.
Gunnevera – Fan fave still giving it his best.
Collected – Recent bad performance earned this Pacific Classic hero a break.
Free Drop Billy – Grade 1-winning Holy Bull Stakes runner-up.
Who are your potential stars?