2009 certainly was a monumental year in the world of Thoroughbred racing. You have the scalding-hot debate over who should be Horse Of The Year (and neither of the candidates are male). You had the 2nd longest shot in the history of the country's most prestigious race win it. You had repeated instances of great races and great racing all around the country. So, what were the top five races of the year? I submit these choices for your approval:
#5 The Kentucky Oaks (Churchill Downs)- It was not the race so much with the Kentucky Oaks, but the performance of the winner that elicited the superlatives. Rachel Alexandra first stamped her case for greatness in 2009 with a 20-length victory that drew comparisons to the way that Secretariat demolished the field in the 1973 Belmont. Rachel Alexandra was sold shortly thereafter and immediately thrust into the Triple Crown with her win in the Preakness. There will be another of her performances on this list a little later, but it was with the Oaks that racing kind of realized what we were in store for with Rachel Alexandra this year.
If you would like to watch the 2009 Kentucky Oaks, here is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U8b8lmbwVnA
#4 The United Nations (Monmouth Park)- This race was just unique in the way that it was won. Presious Passion built a staggering 20-length lead (by the way, not every race on this list features a 20-length margin) over the Monmouth turf on July 4 and held on to prevail by two lengths at the end, although it wasn't really that close. Presious Passion might have the most amazing running style of any excellent horse of the last decade. He HAS to build up that big lead when he races in order to have a chance of winning. It doesn't always work, as evidenced by the dismal eighth place finish in the Arlington Million in his subsequent race. When it does work, it is dazzling to watch. His race in the Breeders' Cup Turf, where he was caught by the great Conduit, was further evidence that Presious Passion is a very special horse.
If you would like to watch the 2009 United Nations, here is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8kvq-_0rHps
#3 The Kentucky Derby (Churchill Downs)- Where do I start here? The morning-line favorite, I Want Revenge, is scratched the morning of the race. The post-time favorite, Friesan Fire, was severely roughed up in the early stages of the race. The winner was a horse that no one thought had a chance, had to be vanned to Churchill Downs by a trainer with crutches after finishing 4th in a New Mexico prep race, and was so far behind at one point that Tom Durkin almost missed him the first time through the field. What came next was unbelievable to the point of ridiculous. Calvin Borel got Mine That Bird rolling up the rail and re-established contact with the field entering the far turn. Borel stayed glued to the rail with the exception of moving outside to pass a tiring rival and came through a sliver of daylight so thin in the stretch that he actually hit the rail on his way through it. By the way, Mine That Bird was 50-1 and won by the largest margin in the Derby since Assault 63 years ago.
If you would like to watch the 2009 Kentucky Derby, here is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hv8x9x5A49s
#2 The Woodward (Saratoga)- Rachel Alexandra makes a second victorious appearance on this brief list. This time, she faced older males for the first time and again came away the master of her competition. She was pressed on the pace by Da'Tara and Past The Point (neither of whom would stay with her) and when she put them away after a bit of a speed battle, she then held off the closers, Bullsbay and Macho Again. It was a bravura performance and one that everyone thought would have clinched her the Horse Of The Year title. However, that recognition might have gotten some extra debate with the number one race of this list.
If you would like to watch the 2009 Woodward, here is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vrTMpHvew0U
#1 The Breeders' Cup Classic (Santa Anita)- Zenyatta made history by becoming the first female horse to ever win the Breeders' Cup Classic in 2009. She defeated a top-notch field that included the Derby winner, the Belmont and Travers winner, the Arlington Million winner, and other standouts from the 2008 and 2009 seasons. It appeared at the top of the stretch that she had absolutely no way out from her spot on the rail, but jockey Mike Smith never worried and guided her through an opening that finally materialized at the top of the stretch. She just flew past her opponents and looked as if she could have gone around again. It was definitely, in the words of Trevor Denman, "UNBELIEVABLE!!"
If you would like to watch the 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic, here is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ud_XPH6Eix4
Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!