Top 10 Performances Of 2011


With the first half of 2011 in the rearview mirror, it’s time to rank the Top 10 performances by a Thoroughbred in this country from Jan. 1 through June 30. Here are my choices:

10. TRAPPE SHOT in Belmont Park’s Grade II True North Handicap at six furlongs on June 11. (Owned by Mill House; trained by Kiaran McLaughlin; 4-year-old Florida-bred colt by Tapit.)

Trappe Shot zipped six furlongs in 1:08.86 on a muddy track to win the True North by 8 1/2 widening lengths while remaining undefeated on Belmont’s main track intact (three for three). He recorded a career-best 112 Beyer Speed Figure.

“That’s a wow!” McLaughlin was quoted as saying after Trappe Shot’s True North tour de force. “He loves Belmont.”

9. PADDY O’PRADO in Pimlico’s Grade II Dixie Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on the turf May 21. (Owned by Donegal Racing; trained by Dale Romans; 4-year-old Kentucky-bred colt by El Prado.)

Despite not having raced since Nov. 6, Paddy O’Prado generated a powerful late kick to win the May 21 Dixie by 1 1/2 lengths after being 13 lengths behind. With this victory, Paddy O’Prado looked like he would be a force in the turf division in 2011.

Unfortunately, Paddy O’Prado emerged from the Dixie with an injury. The colt was retired from racing after it was found that he had a fractured sesamoid bone in his right front ankle.

“We are very disappointed to see Paddy’s career end so suddenly,” Jerry Crawford, the managing partner of the Donegal Racing syndicate, said in a press release.

8. R HEAT LIGHTNING in the Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks at 1 1/8 miles on April 2. (Owned by E. Paul Robsham Stables; trained by Todd Pletcher; 3-year-old Florida-bred filly by Trippi.)

After R Heat Lightning won Gulfstream Park’s Grade II Davona Dale by 7 1/4 lengths at 1 1/16 miles on Feb. 26, “Lightning” struck again when she took the Gulfstream Park Oaks by 8 1/4 lengths while earning a career-best 100 Beyer Speed Figure.

Following R Heat Lightning’s two resounding triumphs at Gulfstream, she was expected to be the favorite in the Grade I Kentucky Oaks on May 6. However, on May 2, it was announced that R Heat Lightning would not run in the Kentucky Oaks due to an issue with her right knee.

7. DUKE OF MISCHIEF in the Grade III Charles Town Classic at 1 1/8 miles on April 16. Owned by Marilyn McMaster, Alex and JoAnn Lieblong and David Fawkes; trained by David Fawkes; 5-year-old Florida-bred horse by Graeme Hall.)

How strong was the field for this year’s $1 million Charles Town Classic? All 10 starters were graded stakes winners. The last non-Breeders’ Cup race in the United States that had 10 or more starters who were all graded stakes winners was the 2006 Arlington Million.

Ninth early, Duke of Mischief rallied to prevail by 2 1/4 lengths on a sloppy track. Game On Dude finished second, with Tizway third. Game On Dude was coming off a win in the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap. Tizway subsequently won the Grade I Metropolitan Handicap.

6. HAVRE DE GRACE in Oaklawn Park’s Grade III Azeri Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on March 19. (Owned by Larry Porter’s Fox Hills Farms; trained by Larry Jones; 4-year-old Kentucky-bred filly by Saint Liam.)

In her 2011 debut, Havre de Grace prevailed by an emphatic 3 1/2 lengths. This was particularly impressive in that Havre de Grace had not competed since Nov. 5, whereas runner-up Blind Luck, voted an Eclipse Award in 2010 as champion 3-year-old filly, came into the Azeri with two 2011 races under her belt at Santa Anita.

Havre de Grace and Blind Luck have quite a rivalry going. The Azeri was the fifth time they had met:

--2011 Azeri on March 19 (Havre de Grace won, Blind Luck second).

--2010 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic on Nov. 5 (Blind Luck second, Havre de Grace third).

--2010 Cotillion on Oct. 2 (Havre de Grace won, Blind Luck second).

--2010 Alabama on Aug. 21 (Blind Luck won, Havre de Grace second).

--2010 Delaware Oaks on July 10 (Blind Luck won, Havre de Grace second).

5. HAVRE DE GRACE in Oaklawn Park’s Grade I Apple Blossom Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on April 15. (Owned by Larry Porter’s Fox Hills Farms; trained by Larry Jones; 4-year-old Kentucky-bred filly by Saint Liam.)

In Havre de Grace’s initial start of 2011, she defeated Southern California-based Blind Luck by 3 1/2 lengths in the March 19 Azeri at Oaklawn. Havre de Grace then took the April 15 Apple Blossom at that same track by a half-length over another SoCal-based filly, Switch.

“To win the Apple Blossom is sweet,” said owner Larry Porter. “This filly certainly deserves it.”

Havre de Grace was assigned a 108 Beyer Speed Figure for her Apple Blossom victory. It was the highest Beyer recorded during the first half of 2011 in races longer than one mile on dirt, turf or synthetic.

Larry Jones took over as Havre de Grace’s conditioner for her 2011 campaign. Tony Dutrow had trained by filly in 2009 and 2010.

“She’s a top-quality filly,” Jones said after the Apple Blossom, a race won in 2008 and 2010 by Zenyatta. “Switch didn’t quit. I respect her.”

Jones mentioned that his respect for Switch stemmed mainly from seeing Switch nearly beat Zenyatta in the Lady’s Secret last year. Switch lost the Lady’s Secret at the Oak Tree at Hollywood Park meet by only a half-length to Zenyatta.

4. BIG DRAMA in Gulfstream Park’s Grade III Mr. Prospector at six furlongs on Jan. 15. (Owned by Harold Queen; trained by David Fawkes; 5-year-old Florida-bred horse by Montbrook.)

Big Drama drew away in the final furlong to win the six-furlong Mr. Prospector by four lengths in 1:08.12. He broke the track record of 1:08.46 set by Tiger in 2006.

In terms of Beyer Speed Figures, Big Drama’s 120 for his Mr. Prospector triumph was the highest during the first half of 2011. In my view, Big Drama’s Mr. Prospector victory was the best performance by a sprinter during the first half of the year.

3. SHACKLEFORD in Pimlico’s Grade I Preakness at 1 3/16 miles on May May 21. (Owned by Mike Lauffer and Bill Cubbedge; trained by Dale Romans; 3-year-old Kentucky-bred colt by Forestry.)

Shackleford set the pace before finishing fourth in the May 7 Kentucky Derby. A fortnight later, he won the Preakness.

In the Preakness, Shackleford, who was visibly washy prior to the race, bobbled at the start and recovered quickly to press the pace through the early stages while outside Flashpoint. Shackleford took the lead midway on the far turn. After Shackleford briefly had a 1 1/2-length advantage with a little less than a sixteenth of a mile to go, he responded gamely to stave off Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom’s strong late charge.

If Shackleford had not held on to win the Preakness, Animal Kingdom would have headed to the Belmont Stakes with a chance to sweep the Triple Crown. But Shackleford did hold on to prove best by a half-length while registering the first stakes victory of his career.

2. TIZWAY in Belmont Park’s Grade I Metropolitan Handicap at one mile on May 30. (Owned by William Clifton Jr.; trained by H. James Bond; 6-year-old Kentucky-bred horse by Tiznow.)

Tizway stepped one mile in a blistering 1:32.90 to win by 2 3/4 lengths, the second-fastest Met Mile in history. The stakes record of 1:32.81 was set by Honour and Glory in 1996.

Not even Ghostzapper, the 2004 Horse of the Year, could post a faster winning time in the Met Mile than Tizway. Ghostzapper was clocked in 1:33.29 when he won the 2005 Met Mile in the final start of his career.

1. ANIMAL KINGDOM in Churchill Downs’ Grade I Kentucky Derby at 1 1/4 miles on May 7. (Owned by Team Valor International; trained by Graham Motion; 3-year-old Kentucky-bred colt by Leroidesanimaux.)

Twelfth early, Animal Kingdom closed with a rush to win going away by 2 3/4 lengths, leaving 18 foes in his wake.

Animal Kingdom became the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby without having previously raced on dirt. He was the first horse to win the Run for the Roses off a six-week layoff since Needles in 1956. Animal Kingdom was the first winner of Turfway Park’s Spiral Stakes to take the Kentucky Derby. He also was only the second horse since 1919 to win the roses with four or fewer starts.

There have been only five horses in the history of the Kentucky Derby to win it with four or fewer career starts:

2011 Animal Kingdom (4 starts)
2008 Big Brown (3 starts)
1918 Exterminator (4 starts)
1915 Regret (3 starts)
1902 Alan-a-Dale (4 starts)

Animal Kingdom returned $43.80 to those who wagered $2 to win on him in the Kentucky Derby. He proved his Derby triumph was not a fluke by his subsequent performances in the Preakness and Belmont.

In the Preakness, Animal Kingdom came from 18 1/2 lengths off the pace to lose by only a half-length to Shackleford. The farthest he had ever been behind in the Derby was 6 1/4 lengths.

In the Belmont, Animal Kingdom clipped heels and stumbled badly not long after the start, nearly unseating jockey John Velazquez, whose left foot came out of the left stirrup. Velazquez did not get the foot back into the stirrup until about a sixteenth of a mile later. By then, Animal Kingdom was last, 14 1/2 lengths off the pace. He made an electrifying move on the far turn to loom a threat coming into the stretch. But he could not sustain his rally and finished sixth, which certainly was understandable given the circumstances.

While Animal Kingdom was not able to win the Preakness or Belmont, his come-from-behind victory in the Kentucky Derby is my choice as the top performance by a Thoroughbred in this country during the first half of 2011.

by Jon White


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