September 18, 2021

Beyond Frankel and Winx: Reviving memories of five other international superstars of the decade

Lord Kanaloa
Lord Kanaloa literally beat them with his eyes closed in the 2013 Hong Kong Sprint (Hong Kong Jockey Club)

In a decade that witnessed such all-time greats as Frankel, Enable, Black Caviar, and Winx on the international stage, several other exceptional performers perhaps have been overshadowed – at least in the American consciousness.

Here are five, arranged by category, deserving to remain in the historical limelight.

Miler: Canford Cliffs

Victorious in all three appearances at Royal Ascot, Canford Cliffs was a smashing juvenile who graduated to classic success at three and ultimately toppled the great Goldikova during his abbreviated campaign at four. The Richard Hannon trainee won his first two starts by a combined margin of 13 lengths, notably the 2009 Coventry (G2). His score in the 2010 Irish 2000 Guineas (G1) kicked off a five-race winning streak comprising that summer’s St James’s Palace (G1) and Sussex (G1) as well as the following season’s Lockinge (G1) and Queen Anne (G1), where he beat Goldikova.

Such was Canford Cliffs’ stature at the time that his Sussex clash with the 3-year-old Frankel, then coming off a relatively close decision, was billed as the “Duel on the Downs.” In hindsight, Frankel’s 5-length romp strikes us as a foregone conclusion, but the defending champion he unceremoniously dethroned was no slouch.

Sprinter: Lord Kanaloa

Fans of Japanese and Hong Kong racing can’t forget the dazzling Lord Kanaloa. Brilliant and consistent in equal measure, the speedster was never unplaced, missed the exacta only once in 19 starts, and ended his career by winning seven of his last eight. Lord Kanaloa captured both of Japan’s marquee sprints in record time, the 2012 Sprinters (G1) and 2013 Takamatsunomiya Kinen (G1). After stepping up to a mile to add the prestigious Yasuda Kinen (G1) in the summer of 2013, he later repeated in the Sprinters.

Had Lord Kanaloa confined himself to Japan, he’d be regarded as a top-class but parochial figure. It’s his trips to Sha Tin for the Hong Kong International Races, however, that put him in proper perspective. Lord Kanaloa landed the Hong Kong Sprint (G1) twice, emphatically. Indeed, his 2013 title defense was even more compelling than his first. His sheer arrogance in drawing off by five left an indelible memory. The distant runner-up is European mainstay Sole Power, who although a five-furlong straightaway specialist did turn in a representative effort here.

Classic winner: Almanzor

The identity of the 2016 Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) (G1) winner sounds like the answer to an arcane trivia question, all the more so since he was a 20-1 shot at Chantilly that day. But the rest of the season, the unheralded Almanzor proved he was no fluke.

The Jean-Claude Rouget pupil invaded Leopardstown to defeat three Aidan O’Brien celebrities in the Irish Champion (G1). Mowing down Found, he left Minding back in third, and Highland Reel (admittedly not at his best on the yielding ground) wound up seventh. Others in his wake included dual Derby (G1) winner Harzand and Hawkbill. Lest anyone suppose that Almanzor were flattered by his rivals having an off day, he came back to beat Found again in the Champion S. (G1) at Ascot. Found was coming off her heroics in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1), which Almanzor skipped primarily because Rouget didn’t believe he’d be as effective at the trip. As a specialist at about 1 1/4 miles, he was pretty persuasive.

Distaffer: Danedream

With a few female Arc winners following in her wake, Danedream’s scintillating performance at Longchamp in 2011 has tended to recede in the memory. Underestimated at 27-1, she broke the course record in her 5-length rout, trailed by the likes of Snow Fairy, So You Think, St Nicholas Abbey, and Workforce. The German star backed up that effort the next season. By outdueling defending champion Nathaniel in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1), she joined an exclusive club to win both the Arc and Ascot’s midsummer showpiece.

Danedream never got the chance at a second Arc, for she was locked up in quarantine after a swamp fever outbreak at her Cologne base. It’s unknowable whether she would have dismissed longshot Solemia and the wayward Orfevre on heavy going in that 2012 Arc. But she’d trounced the Grosser Preis von Baden (G1) on very soft the year prior, and warmed up with a repeat score in the same feature. If not for her detention, Danedream might have won two Arcs of her own before Treve and Enable arrived on the scene.

Older male: Harbinger

While Sir Michael Stoute has a gift for bringing out the best in his older horses, Harbinger transcends the usual description of “Stoute improver.” The four-year-old rapidly ascended in the first part of the 2010 season, but even his most ardent fans couldn’t foresee the quantum leap from his Hardwicke (G2) to the King George. Harbinger didn’t just establish a course record, which would be lowered eventually by Novellist in the 2014 renewal. What was incredible about this King George was Harbinger’s demolishing a horse the caliber of Cape Blanco by 11 lengths, with perennial Arc runner-up Youmzain third, and Workforce nowhere. Not long after, Harbinger was injured in training and retired.

His rating of 135, however, stood insurmountable for the remainder of the year. His closest pursuer, Blame, was pegged at 129 after famously denying Zenyatta in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).

Harbinger not only reigned atop the world’s Thoroughbred rankings in 2010, but his mark held up for most of the decade. In the ensuing years, only one horse managed to exceed Harbinger – the peerless Frankel, assigned 136 at the conclusion of 2011 and twice racking up a 140 in 2012.