As we prepare to flip the calendar to 2018 and I finalize my Eclipse Award ballot, what better time to look back at some of the most noteworthy horse racing happenings from the past year.
My top five for 2017:
1) Arrogate’s victory in the Dubai World Cup in March. Of his 11 races, this was the one to lead the highlight reel. It’s sad that his last three races before his retirement weren’t up to his high standards, but that shouldn’t detract from the greatness he showed at 3 and early in his 4-year-old season. It did mean that I couldn’t rank him better than third among older dirt males on my Eclipse ballot though.
2) Gun Runner’s emergence as best older dirt horse. While the son of Candy Ride showed talent at 2 and 3, 2017 will go down as the year he established himself as a dominating presence among older males. He won four Grade 1 stakes, including the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and a Grade 3 during the year, his only setback coming in the aforementioned Dubai World Cup. That earned him my vote as best older male and Horse of the Year. We should get one more chance to see him in action on Jan. 27, when he is expected to go in the $16 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park.
3) The development of the brothers Ortiz as top jockeys. Despite missing most of December with a knee injury, Jose Ortiz appears poised to dethrone Javier Castellano as the Eclipse Award winner, with 266 victories and $27.2 million in earnings – tops in North America. Brother Irad’s 2017 was nearly as stellar, with 314 victories, most of any rider through Wednesday, and $22.81 million in earnings. The bros from Puerto Rico also gave the sport some mainstream media exposure through a recent profile in the New Yorker.
4) The first Breeders’ Cup hosted by Del Mar. The Del Mar Turf Club put its best foot forward in hosting the thoroughbred world championships for the first time. The decision to limit the crowd to 37,538 was a good one, as the stands were full but not oppressively crowded. And the weather was lovely. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the series return within five years.
5) Changes in reporting and withholding regulations on parimutuel wagers. The decision by the U.S. Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service in September to change how multihorse and multirace wagers are calculated had an immediate impact on horseplayers and racetracks. Nationwide, total wagering in November was up 6.4 percent year over year, despite a 1.3 percent decline in the number of races run.
#RJhorseracing featured races
The #RJhorseracing handicappers aren’t about to let 2017 slip away without trying to wring a few more dollars out of the parimutuel pools. This week’s prey: The American Oaks (Gr 1) and the Midnight Lute Stakes (Gr. 3) on Saturday at Santa Anita.
In the Oaks, for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/4 miles on the turf, the ‘cappers are narrowly backing New Money Honey, the 7-2 third choice on the morning line, over Rymska (5-2) and Daddys Lil Darling (3-1). I like their line of thinking, too.
“Freshened, like her to stalk in early position. (Will) get jump turning home,” writes regular contributor Mas Yoshinaga.
In the Midnight Lute Stakes, they have a dead heat between Masochistic (5-2) and Americanize (2-1) in the top spot, with Calculator (4-1) holding down third. I’ll take a stab here with defending champ Solid Wager (10-1), who should get a good pace to run at.
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Ellis Starr’s American Oaks analysis
Coachwhip will be my top choice in a very deep field. She is the most lightly raced filly in the group with just three races under her belt, but she has improved markedly in both the second and third starts of her career. Moved to the barn of Hall-of-Fame trainer Richard Mandella, Coachwhip can take another step forward.
Rymska (FR) and New Money Honey both ship in from New York for Chad Brown, this year’s North American leading trainer with more than $26 million in earnings. Rymska is a perfect three-for-three in 2017, with her best effort coming in a victory in the Commonwealth Oaks at nine furlongs in September. New Money Honey is one of only two fillies in the field to have won at this distance (the other being Daddys Lil Darling) – that win having come in the Belmont Oaks Invitational in July with a career best 109 figure. She has run poorly in her two races since, but there is hope she can return to the form shown at the distance in the spring to win her second grade 1 stakes of the year.
Others for exotics: Madam Dancealot (IRE), Daddys Lil Darling, Beau Recall and Kathy’s Song.
Ellis Starr is the national racing analyst for Equibase. Visit the Equibase website for more on the race or to purchase handicapping products.