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2016 Racing in North America Could be One for the Ages

Songbird remains unbeaten in Summertime OaksWhat Songbird (Medaglia d’Oro) did in Saturday’s GII Summertime Oaks at Santa Anita was spectacular. She remained unbeaten in eight career starts and so thoroughly dominated her competition that she was eased up by jockey Mike Smith at the three-sixteenth-pole. She looked like the horse of the century, yet she may not even be the Horse of the Year. That’s the way it is when the sport has been blessed with what may well be the deepest and most talented group of superstar horses ever assembled on the racetrack in one year.

Think about it: California Chrome (Lucky Pulpit), Tepin (Bernstein), Beholder (Henny Hughes), Songbird, Frosted (Tapit), Nyquist (Uncle Mo). There is a list of six horses and every one of them are at least “special,” if not something more.

The seventies are generally regarded as the last “golden age” for horse racing. We had three Triple Crown winners in Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed, plus superstars like Spectacular Bid, Ruffian and Forego. John Henry wasn’t John Henry until the eighties, but he did begin his career in 1977.

Yet, the careers of many of these horses never intersected. Probably the very best year of that decade was 1978, the only time when Spectacular Bid, Affirmed and Seattle Slew were all racing. Forego also ran that year, but failed to win.

Perhaps time will prove that none of the modern stars stack up to horses like Seattle Slew and Affirmed. Most will have limited careers compared to how often the horses from the seventies raced, none will ever carry real weight and Lasix is there to complicate the equation. Then again, these are some very, very good race horses.

Though she’s only about halfway through her 3-year-old career, Songbird already belongs in the discussion with any filly when it comes to the greatest ever among her sex. Horses just don’t do what she does, which is make her competition look foolish for bothering to show up every time she goes out there.

For a while after the 2014 GI Preakness, it looked like California Chrome was going to go down as just another good horse. Not anymore. He has been sensational in a year that has included a dominant victory in the GI Dubai World Cup, and his career earnings are $12.5 million and growing.

With Beholder having lost five times in her lifetime, some may not want to put her in the Zenyatta (Street Cry {Ire}) or Rachel Alexandra (Medaglia d’Oro) category as far as careers go, but, this year, she has been every bit as dominant as those two great fillies ever were. She hasn’t lost in two years, has beaten males in the GI Pacific Classic and looks better than ever this year.

Tepin is still another mare putting together an historic career. Coming off a win over males in the 2015 GI Breeders’ Cup Mile, she’s 5-for-5 this year and her win at Ascot in the GI Queen Anne S. was another performance for the ages.

Frosted is nowhere near as consistent as the quartet of California Chrome, Songbird, Tepin and Beholder, who are a combined 14-for-14 this year, but he very well could turn out to be the best of them all. His performance in the GI Metropolitan H. was quite simply one of the greatest efforts in the history of the sport. He won by 14 1/4 lengths and his Thoro-Graph number (-8 ½) was the fastest ever awarded by that speed figure service.

Nyquist’s star has dimmed since he lost the Preakness, but let’s not forget that many were ready to hand him the Triple Crown before a suicidal speed duel cost him the middle jewel of the Triple Crown. He’s back on the work tab and primed to have a sensational second half.

All of this comes on the heels of the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years in American Pharoah (Pioneerof the Nile) and a near miss the year before by California Chrome. Maybe it’s the smaller foal crop, maybe it’s that owners like B. Wayne Hughes, Beholder’s owner, are keeping their horses in training longer because there are so many huge purses out there, maybe it’s just a coincidence, but it could be that this is not a one-year phenomenon. It could be that we are embarking on a new era, one where great horses are more the norm.

We’ve already been treated to so much, but the best may be yet to come.

Tepin is the only one certain to go her on way as a return to the dirt seems highly unlikely. Her path to another win in the Breeders’ Cup Mile seems fairly clear. As for the rest, it looks like they’re going to have the chance to sort themselves out. Already California Chrome and Beholder both seem to have their sights set on the GI Pacific Classic. The Nyquist camp has also mentioned that race, but it would seem more likely that he will stick with 3-year-olds for now.

Songbird doesn’t have any competition among 3-year-old fillies and will likely add another Grade I win or two on to her record this summer at Saratoga. But owner Rick Porter has dared to run fillies against boys in the past and has mentioned that he might try it with Songbird one day, as well.

Does that mean a GI Breeders’ Cup Classic with Songbird, California Chrome, Nyquist, Frosted and Beholder, not to mention horses like Exaggerator (Curlin) and Creator (Tapit)? The sport will never get that lucky, but a good number of those horses are likely to meet up in the Classic and, who knows, maybe once again in the GI Pegasus World Cup early next year.

It’s a great time to be a horse racing fan.

by Bill Finley/



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