Reflections Of 2009: Part 1
Posted by Brian Appleton on December 4, 2009
Recently I’ve been wrapped up in a web of negative thoughts regarding horse racing, especially toward the end of this year. Whenever the end of the year rolls by, it seems that all I see are retirement announcements left and right. It really isn’t fair to focus on the negative when this year became one of the greatest, record breaking seasons in history. So I’ve decided it’s time I grow up and stop whining about everything that doesn’t go my way. This doesn’t mean that I’m happy about groups of good horses being retired, I’ve just come to accept that this is the way it is, so I’d better make the best of it for now. This year started with a very dynamic group of young three year olds all stomping down the Triple Crown trail. Then came a certain three year old filly sensation that tore down all previously set boundaries and waltzed into the history books and hearts of people all across the nation. Next came one of the most intriguing Triple Crown runs fans have witnessed in many years resulting in three separate and unique winners garnering one jewel each. Lastly the 2008 undefeated Champion Older Female returned to produce a stunning finale to her career in a history-defying Breeders’ Cup. I’m going to go over as many performances from earlier in the year as I can possibly remember and hopefully spark some life into the corners of our musings. Let’s revive the best moments of this year and relive the glory from some of the most incredible performances racing fans have had the honor to witness in decades.
January represents the chance for all things to start anew with fresh beginnings. It’s also the month that lights the fuse that leads to the explosion known as; the Triple Crown and namely the Kentucky Derby. On January 10 Larry Jones sent out Friesan Fire to an impressive victory in the Lecomte Stakes in Louisiana. This was the first step in a journey that culminated in a clean sweep of the Louisiana 3-year-old series and favoritism in the most illustrious race in
history. On January 17 a gorgeous three year old colt with the strangest name, and visually awkward running style captured the San Rafael Stakes in California. The Pamplemousse was his name and he was commencing a terrific west coast campaign. One that would ultimately end in tremendous disappointment for all his fans and the connections. On January 18 Life is Sweet stormed to victory in the El Encino Stakes for trainer John Shirreffs. With the win in the El Encino Stakes Life is Sweet brought to light the fact that John Shirreffs now had one of the most powerful older female duo’s in history. The undefeated 2008 Champion Older Female Zenyatta and Life is Sweet in one barn.
Come February the trail to the Triple Crown becomes peppered with eager young horses, each being guided by enthusiastic trainers, jockeys and owners, all hoping for their shot at racing immortality. Bob Baffert has become a racing legend, his Triple Crown crusades are among the most exciting and entertaining in this history of the great event. On February 7 Pioneerof The Nile won the Robert B. Lewis Stakes en rout to becoming Baffert’s newest star Triple Crown performer. Eight days later, Friesan Fire was back to win the Risen Star Stakes in Louisiana. With the win he launched himself to the top of many Derby watch lists and proved himself a serious threat. Another star was born that day, this one would go super-nova and beyond. We all know and love her, oh boy do we love her! Rachel
Alexandra didn’t just explode onto the racing scene in 2009, she won the Martha Washington stakes by 8 effortless lengths and propelled herself to the top of the 3 year old filly ranks and stayed there. The very next day the undefeated 2008 two year old male Eclipe Award finalist Old Fashioned, made his three year old debut in spectacular
fashion. Running away with the Southwest Stakes, he immediately joined Friesan Fire at the top of the Derby watch lists. Many fans, including myself had him as their early pick to win the Kentucky Derby. It’s always hard to find a reason not to like an undefeated runner, and Old Fashioned was particularly enthralling, being a striking gray colt with a streamlined tail that flew free in his wake. On the 28 The Pamplemousse continued his ascent in the California ranks with a dominant win in the Sham Stakes. At the same time a stunning bay on the east coast exploded onto the Kentucky Derby scene with a powerful performance in the Fountain of Youth Stakes. When I viewed Quality Road for the first time I was struck by the depth of his chest. He looked like a three year old firecracker in a four year olds mature body. Watching him run was pure heaven, flawless strides, tactical speed and heart to spare. Add another one to the top three of most all lists.
One of the most impressive Two Year Old Champion Females of the decade made her much anticipated seasonal debut
on March 7. Whoever named Stardom Bound should win an award for the most prophetic naming of an athlete. She stormed to victory that day in the Santa Anita Oaks
and posted her 5th consecutive grade 1 score. Astonishing for such a young filly. Later that same day another new star emerged in the form of I Want Revenge winning the Gotham Stakes. He had previously finished behind Pioneerof The Nile on two occasions but emerged as a force to be reckoned with after his first victory on traditional dirt. Gio Ponti won the Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile Handicap over 2008 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint champion Ventura also on the same day, and began one of the most impressive grade 1 winning streaks in recent history. On March 9, Einstein proved to be one of the most versatile older horses in thoroughbred horse racing history by winning the Santa Anita Handicap on Santa Anita’s Pro Ride synthetic track. With the win, he became only the second horse in history to win graded stakes on dirt, turf and synthetic tracks. Pioneerof The Nile returned on the 14th to capture the San Felipe Stakes while Freisan Fire burned up the track by winning his third graded stakes score in a row, the Louisiana Derby. Rachel Alexandra captured the Fair Ground Oaks the same day and cemented her role as leading 3 year old filly. Life is Sweet also extended her repertoire that day by making it two graded stakes in a row in winning the Santa Margarita Intitational, capturing her first grade 1 race in the process. On the 27 Justwhistledixie stormed onto
the three year old filly scene by trumping the field in the Bonnie Miss Stakes, bringing her winning streak to five consecutive. The next day Quality Road out-fought undefeated and favored Dunkirk in the Florida Derby and flew to victory, looking very much the
part of a Kentucky Derby favorite. The same day American dual-champion Indian Blessing took on the boys in the Dubai Golden Shaheen and finished a fast closing 2nd to Big City Man.
On April 4th the ball was back in the court of I Want Revenge, he scored a slam dunk and then some. In the most difficult trip of the entire Triple Crown trail of 2009, I Want Revenge overcame all adversity and streaked to an impressive victory in the Wood Memorial. Say hello to another strongly supported Kentucky Derby favorite. On the 9th older filly Informed Decision faced off against Ventura in the Vinery Madison and prevailed by a head. On the 15th Rachel Alexandra once again showed an unearthly dominance while running away to a more than 8 length victory in the Fantasy Stakes, the largest margin of victory in history.
May is the month we all wait for. The “First Saturday In May”, it heralds one of the biggest days of the year in sports. This year I was anticipating the Kentucky Oaks almost as much as the Kentucky Derby itself. Rachel Alexandra and Justwhistledixe were the two heavy favorites, with Rachel Alexandra getting the most support. Unfortunately
Justwhistledixe had to be scratched from the Kentucky Oaks the morning of the race, leaving Rachel Alexandra the overwhelming favorite. Never has a favorite justified the support of their fans and bettors so adamantly and with such overwhelming confidence as Rachel Alexandra did that day. She ran away from the best fillies in the country while being stoutly restrained the entire length of the stretch, passing under the wire 20 lengths ahead of the pack. Earlier in the day the expected return of Zenyatta was cut short when her connections decided to withdraw the great mare from the Louisville Distaff due to wet conditions. Informed Decision started things out on Derby day by winning the Humana Distaff for her fourth consecutive win. Einstein followed that up by becoming the first horse in history to win two running’s of the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic and also stamped himself as the front-runner for the Eclipse award as champion
older male. The Kentucky Derby lived up to its billing as the greatest horse race in the world when the longest shot in the field, and the second longest shot in history won at odds 50-1 from dead last. Mine That Bird, the forgotten little gelding flew up the rail, splashing through the mud to win going away by more than 6 lengths, the largest margin in over 60 years of Kentucky Derby history. Two weeks later Rachel Alexandra cranked up the excitement in a dramatic renewal of the Preakness Stakes. Under the new ownership of Jess Jackson and Harold T. McCormick, Rachel Alexandra became the first filly in 85 years to win the Preakness Stakes and the first horse ever to win from the 13 hole. A speeding Mine That Bird came from far back to finish second by 1 length. Exactly one week later Zenyatta made her triumphant return to the races with a repeat win in the Milady Hadicap.
It’s taken me much longer to compile a list of the moments and races I enjoyed the most this year so I’m going to have to make this a two-parter. I even discovered some stories I’d forgotten from earlier this year and “reconnected” with some of my favorite horses like Old Fashioned who completely left the limelight along with The Pamlemousse, Quality Road and I Want Revenge due to injuries.