Last year at this time, we were buzzing about the Eclipse Awards and looking forward to a great winter of racing that would lead us to the Kentucky Derby. There was an exciting class of two-year-old thoroughbreds that was emerging and many people had Union Rags, Hansen, Creative Cause, and Dullahan as their early favorites for winning the Derby. Now we know that the late emerging colt I’ll Have Another would win the Kentucky Derby and then the Preakness Stakes, only to succumb to injury before taking his shot at a Triple Crown.
Before the Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs in 2011, Union Rags, trained by Michael Matz, was looking like the super horse of the year, as he started his career at 3-0 with wins in the Saratoga Special and Grade I Champagne Stakes. It was Dr. Kendall Hansen’s speedy Hansen who led wire to wire to take the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and shot him into the forefront of the minds of racing enthusiasts. Like Union Rags, Hansen never finished out of the money on his way to the Kentucky Derby. Both of these early favorites struggled in the “Run for the Roses”, though Union Rags won the Belmont Stakes, and eventually the two wound up retiring due to injury before the summer ended.
Other top horses who came on strong last spring were Alpha, Bodemeister, and I’ll Have Another. Kiaran McLaughlin’s Alpha finished 11th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but burst into 2012 with two straight victories, including a win in the Withers Stakes at Aqueduct and a second place finish in the Wood Memorial. This solidified him as a horse to be reckoned with as Derby Day approached. Despite a disappointing 12th place run in the Derby, he rebounded to take the Jim Dandy and Travers Stakes cementing a very solid year for the colt. Bodemeister didn’t race as a two-year-old, but Bob Baffert’s speed merchant exploded on to the Derby contender scene by finishing second in the San Felipe Stakes and then turning around and winning the Grade I Arkansas Derby. Bodemeister eventually finished second in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, holding the lead, but being run down at the wire both times by I’ll Have Another.
I’ll Have Another wasn’t really on anyone’s radar as a serious Triple Crown Series contender as the New Year rang in for 2012. That soon changed as the west coast colt, trained by Doug O’Neill, rolled to victory in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes and Santa Anita Derby. The trip east didn’t faze him as he made a tremendous run in the Derby and Preakness, to take both races and set the racing world up for possibly its’ first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. It wasn’t to be though, as the day before the Belmont Stakes, he was retired with a leg injury, much to the disappointment of racing fans all over the world.
The promise of 2012 gave way to the reality of injury and illness that often take place in horse racing. Horses such as Paynter, Take Charge Indy, Algorithms, and Gemologist, as well as the colts mentioned previously, lost time on the track or are now retired due to bad fortune. Hopefully 2014 will yield another competitive Derby Prep Season and that will roll over into a great summer of racing with top notch rivalries and consistent performances!