Welcome to the New Year’s edition of America’s Best Racing’s Main Track.
Each week in this space we spotlight the most meaningful story of the past seven days, detailing a story that stands out because of its importance or perhaps the emotional response it generates.
Looking ahead, if you believe there’s a story this week that should be featured in next week’s edition of the Main Track, let us know by tweeting it to @ABRLive using the hashtag #ABRMainTrack.
In this week’s story we’ll offer our wish list for what will hopefully be a spectacular 2018.
For anyone in horse racing there’s always one gift at the top of a list, aside from a safe, healthy year for horses and riders.
We’re now three years removed from the singular sensation of a Triple Crown winner, and while we have 34 years to go before matching the last drought that was snapped by American Pharoah, why let another generation endure decades without that exhilarating and unforgettable thrill of a magnificent Thoroughbred marching to glory through the stretch run at Belmont Park?
Certainly, there’s an intriguing cast of 3-year-old Triple Crown hopefuls with their eyes on the Kentucky Derby and beyond.
In Good Magic, you have a well-bred colt talented enough to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and finish second in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes as a maiden.
There’s also Bolt d’Oro, who carried a perfect 3-for-3 record into the Juvenile and was sent off as a 3-5 favorite at the World Championships. He did not have the best of the trips while finishing third behind Good Magic at Del Mar and time will tell if that was just a glitch or if he peaked in the early fall of his 2-year-old campaign.
Then there's Solomini. He was second in the Juvenile, splitting Good Magic and Bolt d’Oro, and then finished first in the Los Alamitos Futurity but was disqualified to third in a controversial decision by the stewards. If you don’t know much about him, here are the pertinent facts: He’s trained by Bob Baffert and owned by Ahmed Zayat's Zayat Stables.
If that doesn’t ring a bell, how about this: 2015? Thirty-seven-year drought? Twelfth Triple Crown winner?
Yep, the good folks who gave us American Pharoah.
If that’s not an omen of something special on the horizon, then let’s take it down a notch.
After having six Triple Crown races and six different winners since American Pharoah’s grand sweep, simply getting a horse who can win both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness would pump up the level of excitement in the spring immeasurably.
Now if the 3-year-olds come up short, how about wishing for a star? Make that, a superstar.
Horse racing has been blessed in the last few years by having a returning superstar.
Heading into both 2015 and 2016 Horse of the Year California Chrome was coming back. Last year, racing had Arrogate to enjoy. Those years also featured fillies and mares with multiple Eclipse Awards in Beholder and Songbird. Oh, and we also had a Triple Crown winner pop up in the middle of that.
In this new year, there could be a vacuum after Gun Runner competes in the $16 million Pegasus World Cup. With the favorite for the 2017 Horse of the Year award heading to a life at stud after the world’s richest race, the spot will lose one of its most charismatic stars.
Maybe someone will upset Gun Runner at Gulfstream Park and become the sport’s biggest star, but if not the remaining 11 months will be an audition for someone to take center stage and call it their own.
Here’s a wish that happens sooner rather than later.
Speaking of the World Championships, there’s talk that Breeders’ Cup sites for the upcoming years could be released by the end of this month, and let’s hope it’s a home run for fans. Santa Anita Park in 2019 and then the two newest sites, Keeneland and Del Mar, both of which did an outstanding job in hosting the event for the first time, would be welcome.
After that, I’ll keep my fingers crossed that 2022 is left open, giving time for the New York Islanders to call Belmont Park home and for the New York Racing Association to winterize Belmont Park so that the Breeders’ Cup can make its first trip to the Big Apple since 2005.
With international racing enjoying a growing level of popularity, how about an encore of last year when an American, Lady Aurelia, shipped overseas and beat the Europeans at their own game at Royal Ascot? How about two wins this year?
On another front, how about an oft-voiced hope that the industry can come together on key issues to make the sport better?
Or how about a hope that the merits of quality over quantity wins out. The example of Kentucky Downs packing its dates into a narrow time frame and running a fabulously successful five-date meet over the span of eight days surely seems a better path to follow than meets which extend over three months, offer racing three days a week and are awash in red ink.
Finally, a wish that Mother Nature takes it easier on the sport and all of us in general in 2018.
The devastation of floods in Houston, a hurricane that wrecked Florida and the Caribbean, and wildfires that destroyed the San Luis Rey training center were natural disasters that are sadly a part of life that we cannot avoid.
Yet at times like this, with a new year ahead of us, we can only wish that they spend the next 12 months in the background.
The Also-Eligible List
Here are some of the other noteworthy stories that made for a lively week in the U.S. Thoroughbred racing industry: