Opinions will obviously differ, but for my money the following races stood out among the hundreds of graded stakes run throughout 2017. Enjoy the look back at 10 of the most memorable of the year now winding down.
10. Met Mile (June 10)
Trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Mike Smith, both members of the Hall of Fame, put the finishing touches on a tremendous afternoon for themselves when Mor Spirit rolled to a 6 1/4-length win in the prestigious handicap on the Belmont Stakes undercard. The trainer/jockey duo also won the Easy Goer (West Coast), Acorn (Abel Tasman), and Woody Stephens (American Anthem) that day, while Smith also guided Songbird to a comeback victory in the Ogden Phipps.
9. San Felipe (March 12)
At the time of the San Felipe, the Kentucky Derby picture was somewhat unsettled with no clear leader of the three-year-old division. That changed in the span of 1 1/16 miles, and then again in the span of another furlong, when Mastery won the classic prep in smashing style by nearly seven lengths, but almost immediately was out of the Derby picture after pulling up with a career-ending condylar fracture to his left front ankle. While he exited the stage on top, Mastery was undoubtedly one of the leading “What if…” stories of 2017.
8. Jim Dandy (July 29)
Ostensibly a clash between Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming and Preakness winner Cloud Computing to determine leadership of the three-year-old division, the result of the Jim Dandy instead muddied the waters when Good Samaritan rallied from far off the pace to win as if the others were standing still in his first ever race on dirt. The classic winners, who would also disappoint in the Travers, finished third and fifth (last), respectively.
7. Arkansas Derby (April 15)
A season-opening thrashing in the Holy Bull followed by constant series of foot issues that would eventually result in a premature retirement nearly prevented 2016 juvenile champion Classic Empire from even making the Kentucky Derby, but the talented colt showed he was back in business at Oaklawn Park, overcoming a less-than-ideal trip to punch his ticket while overcoming off a 70-day layoff.
6. Kentucky Oaks (May 5)
On a day when inside speed was a highly favorable path toward the Churchill Downs winner’s circle, Abel Tasman trailed early against 13 rivals before blowing past all of them in the stretch to win over a sloppy track on the coldest Oaks Day in decades. It was the first of three consecutive Grade 1 wins by the presumptive champion filly of the year.
5. Preakness (May 20)
In a case of winning the battle but losing the war, Classic Empire, who had endured a tough trip in Louisville two weeks earlier, browbeat Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming into submission in Baltimore, but the exertion ultimately took its toll as the lightly-raced Cloud Computing eked out a narrow win in an exciting renewal of the Triple Crown’s second jewel.
4. Breeders’ Cup Classic (November 4)
Avenging three previous losses to Arrogate and laying aside any distance concerns, Gun Runner emphatically stamped himself as the best, clinching Horse of the Year honors with a wire-to-wire victory over a tenacious Collected, who had forced the winner into setting a strong pace for 1 1/4 miles.
3. Personal Ensign (August 26)
The finish of this nine-furlong test proved to be a passing of the torch as dual champion Songbird, running her last race, was pipped near the wire by Forever Unbridled under a tactically masterful ride by Joel Rosario. Songbird had everything her own way, but Forever Unbridled proved up to the task and then again a few months later in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
2. San Diego (July 22)
In the biggest upset of the year, Arrogate finished a distant fourth at odds of 1-20 in his first race since the Dubai World Cup. Unfortunately, the lackluster performance was the first sign that the champion, who had reached the stratosphere winning the Travers, Breeders’ Cup Classic, and Pegasus World Cup before his Middle East excursion, would end his career on a whimper rather than on a high.
1. Dubai World Cup (March 25)
In a performance international ratings experts still deem the best of the year, Arrogate overcame a bumpy start, a large deficit to Gun Runner, a wide trip, and a greasy track he wasn’t handling that well to assert his dominance and become North America’s all-time leading money winner. In three subsequent starts, though, he never proved to be the same horse that made such a dazzling impact in the span of a mere four races since the previous August.