Reasons to Cheer the Arrival of 2015

By the time these thoughts are before your eyes it will be New Year’s Eve, so let’s begin by offering a fervent wish that 2015 will be a spectacular 12-month run, and a wonderful addition to your body of work on our planet.

And Happy Birthday to every Thoroughbred in existence, as New Year’s Day is the date each turns one year older for purposes of competition.

Participation in the horse industry brings with it a ratio of disappointment-to-joy that is unbalanced toward the former. It has been that way since day. But, as an adage goes, no one with a 2-year-old in their barn ever contemplated suicide. Which brings us to 2015, a year that offers a feeling of optimism that might be a bit more robust than usual.

First off, let us celebrate the return of the Breeders’ Cup Championships to Kentucky as the event makes its first stop at Keeneland on Oct. 30-31.

The unbeaten Dortmund counts a win at Churchill Downs and the Grade I Los Alamitos Derby among his three victories for 3-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert.

The unbeaten Dortmund counts a win at Churchill Downs and the Grade I Los Alamitos Derby among his three victories for 3-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert.

Keeneland has wonderful tradition, a great team and one of the most picturesque settings in American racing.

For those who care about what happens in competition on racetracks across the land, the year ahead offers incredible promise because of the large number of proven stars of 2014 being pointed toward campaigns in the New Year and, of course, the youngsters will officially become 3-year-olds on the first day of that year.  The latter are the candidates for the Kentucky Derby and the Longines Kentucky Oaks that will be run at Churchill Downs on the first weekend in May.

It is encouraging that we head into the New Year with an unsettled debate over which member of last year’s outstanding crop of 3-year-olds will earn the honors of 2014’s champion of that age group and, most likely, “Horse of the Year.” The top three in a talented group are Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome, once-beaten Pacific Classic winner and 2013 juvenile champion Shared Belief and Bayern, who traveled a controversial path to victory in $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic in his final start of 2014.

Bayenr’s Classic, where members of the current crop of 3-year-olds finished in the first six positions, remains a good measure of the quality of the stars of that age group.

Shared Belief, who suffered his lone loss of the year when he was wiped out by Bayern at the start of the Classic, ended his season last Saturday with a victory in the seven-furlong Malibu at Santa Anita. California Chrome completed the year a bit earlier in a romp on grass in the Hollywood Derby, joining Secretariat as the only Derby winners to also score Grade I wins on turf.

Another exciting prospect is the possible return of two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan.

Mort Fink’s star gelding will turn eight on New Year’s Day. Wise Dan was perfect in four starts, and the possible return of the champ will be one of the major stories to watch in 2015.

The 79-year-old Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas has a major Kentucky Oaks contender in Take Charge Brandi.

The 79-year-old Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas has a major Kentucky Oaks contender in Take Charge Brandi.

Main Sequence, another talented turf star and Horse of the Year candidate after he made the Breeders’ Cup Turf his fourth consecutive Grade I grass win, also has a 2015 racing schedule in the works.

Also training toward a return in 2015 is Kentucky Oaks and Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Untapable, who will be named champion 3-year-old filly of 2014. She should improve on her stellar 2014 season.

This writer, for one, would love to see Untapable get at least one more honest shot against the talented boys in her generation. She will, however, need a new jockey as regular rider Rosie Napravnik is retired and expecting a baby around Derby and Oaks time.

Which brings us to the Derby and Oaks horses, about 120 days away from their respective goals. In racing, that stretch can be ample time to develop if your horse is doing well, or if you’re already off schedule because of illness or injury, no time at all.

Since the conclusion of the Churchill Downs meet, a victory – albeit a narrow one – by unbeaten Dortmund in a fast running of the Los Alamitos Futurity places him in the upper ranks of soon-to-be 3-year-olds looking toward the Kentucky Derby. The D. Wayne Lukas trained Take Charge Brandi, the 61-1 upset winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, won the Grade I Starlet over the same track for her third straight Grade I win and likely sewed up the honor of champion 2-year-old filly of 2014.

Here are my top 10’s in the Derby and Oaks divisions for those 3-year-olds that are about to celebrate birthdays:

Kentucky Derby: 1. American Pharoah 2. Dortmund 3. Imperia 4. Eagle 5. Texas Red 6. Carpe Diem 7. Mawthooq 8. Competitive Edge 9. The Great War 10. El Kabier.

Kentucky Oaks: 1. Top Decile 2. No Fault of Mine   3. Puca 4. Take Charge Brandi 5. West Coast Belle 5. Enchanting Lady 6. Feathered 7. By the Moon 8. Paige Wonder Gal 9. Peace and War 10. Condo Commando.

A happy New Year to all!  VT

  • Bayern is the best horse in training right now.