As thoroughbred racing season hits the mid-point of the year, is the glass half empty or half full? The Triple Crown season gave us plenty to cheer about with names such as Phipps, Janney, Lukas, Calumet and Stevens reemerging on the scene. The race for Horse of the Year is wide open, with several horses setting out in the second half of the season to win the sport’s most prominent award next January at the annual Eclipse Award ceremony at Gulfstream Park.
The second half of the season will take us to the summer destinations of Saratoga, Monmouth and Del Mar before returning in the fall to Belmont and Keeneland as we point toward the pinnacle of the season at Santa Anita Racetrack, where the Breeders’ Cup World Championships will be held in early November.
The 3-year-olds took us through a great spring and the older horses and handicap division will start taking center stage leading up to the Breeders’ Cup.
Here are my thoughts on the best and worst moments in racing at the halfway mark of the 2012 season.
1. Animal Kingdom wins the $10 million Dubai World Cup. The 2011 Kentucky Derby champion won racing’s richest race, the Dubai World Cup, in March at Meydan Racecourse on the all-weather Tapeta surface. This race will go far in determining Animal Kingdom’s ultimate legacy. He recently was retired to go off to stud in Australia after a disappointing Queen Anne Stakes during the Royal Ascot meet in the final race of his career.
2. Joel Rosario emerges as a superstar jockey. Rosario became the first jockey to win the Kentucky Derby and the Dubai World Cup in the same year since Jerry Bailey completed the double back in 1996 with Cigar (Dubai) and Grindstone (Derby). His win aboard Orb in the Derby just five weeks after his big win aboard Animal Kingdom served notice on the racing world that he is coming into his own.
3. Lukas, Stevens restore the past glory at the Preakness. Oxbow won this year’s second jewel of the Triple Crown, providing two Hall of Famers with a return to glory in Baltimore. D. Wayne Lukas won his 14th Triple Crown race as Oxbow’s trainer at age 77. Jockey Gary Stevens returned in January after a seven-year retirement only to add his ninth career Classic victory at Old Hilltop.
4. Fort Larned wins Stephen Foster to get jump on handicap division. Two weeks ago, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic winner returned to the winner’s circle with a big performance at Churchill Downs in the Stephen Foster Handicap to set himself up as the leader in the handicap division.
5. Princess of Sylmar upsets Kentucky Oaks at 37-1. After sitting behind a very hot pace and with post-time favorite Dreaming of Julia compromised at the start when she was squeezed out like an accordion, the 37-1 long shot came storming home to upset the Oaks. Jockey Mike Smith had a good first half in winning the Oaks and the Belmont Stakes, teaming with trainer Todd Pletcher in both victories.
1. Ramon Dominguez suffers a career-ending injury. The defending Eclipse Award-winning jockey was injured in a fall at Aqueduct back in January and retired shortly after the Triple Crown season based on advice from his medical team. Dominguez rode in more than 21,000 races over his 18-year career, winning 4,985 of them.
2. Hollywood Park slated to close after fall meet. In May came the somber news that Hollywood Park Race Track will shut down after 75 years of operation after the conclusion of the autumn racing meet on Dec. 22. Del Mar and Santa Anita will likely pick up the additional racing dates, but the loss of 1,800 stable spots is an issue that California horsemen will soon face. Demolition is slated for soon after the final date and will not include the casino located there, as the land will be used for future real estate development.
3. Sudden-death injuries in California. The California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) reported in April that from July 1, 2011, through March 31, 2013, 36 horses died from sudden death. The CHRB defines sudden death as a healthy horse that dies during or within an hour of racing or training as the result of something other than a musculoskeletal injury. Seven of the 36 stricken horses were under the care of trainer Bob Baffert, who has come under heavy media scrutiny over the report.
4. Point of Entry injured in Manhattan. After scratching out of the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on Derby day due to the wet turf at Churchill, he returned to hold off Optimizer in the Manhattan Handicap on Belmont Stakes day in his first race in four months. One of the top turf horses in the U.S. suffered a condylar fracture of his near-hind cannonbone that was discovered the day after the Manhattan. He is recovering after undergoing surgery at Rood and Riddle equine hospital.
5. Triple Crown drought reaches 35 years. With three different winners of the three Classics this year, the Triple Crown drought hit 35, the longest since the 25-year period between Citation (1948) and Secretariat (1973). With seven attempts in the last 16 years, the drought has come close to ending, but winning the final leg in New York has been the most elusive. Afleet Alex won the final two legs in 2005.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.