Well folks it's December, which means Christmas time is fast approaching, with the New Year right on it's heels. For the whole world this is just the another year ending and another unfolding, but for horse racing the conclusion of the year 2009 is not merely the end of one year and the start of another, but the ending of another ten year chapter in the history of horse racing. Many would tell you that this decade pales in comparison to the rest. They will tell you it lacked the talent and brilliance of past decades, that it lacked the quality of champions that are sprinkled throughout every ten years.
Perhaps these people are right, for when I look back on this year I see horses that left our sport all to soon due to injury or the power of the almighty dollar. Some of our champions' true ability is even questionable when you see how many trainers these days have rap sheets for drug violations over 1000 feet long. It also seems that when ever we have a year when two champion come along in the same year that they refuse to give the fans what they want most, a match up on the track to see who is really the better horse. At first glance some would say this decade compared to more recent decades, well, sucked.
I, however wonder how anybody could possible actually look at this year and say that the level of talent and the amount of things accomplished could not stand up and hold it's own against recent years. When actually looking at the year over, really looking at the whole decade, no we did not see many match ups, and yes we had our bad points, but the overall talent and accomplishment of this decade cannot be overlooked.
In 2000 we saw Lemon Drop kid string together wins in the Brooklyn Handicap, Suburban Handicap, Whitney Handicap, and Woodward to become the leading older male. Normally those types of win would virtually lock up Horse of the Year, but 2000 was also the year Tiznow beat the European Champion Giant's Causeway in a gut wrenching, heart stopping stretch battle that landed him as the 2000 Horse of the Year. 2000 was also the year we got to watch the old sprinting warrior, Kona Gold, who made 2000 perhaps his best year on the track, capping it off with a win in the Breeder Cup Sprint.
The roll started in 2000 continued straight on into the next year, where we saw Point Given streak to victories along the triple crown trail, dominating the competition out west. We saw him avenge his derby loss with an easy Preakness win and a crushing 12 length demolition in the Belmont. In his subsequent starts he ran in and won both the Haskell Invitational and Travers Stakes, sweeping all the major summer three year old races, earning himself two eclipse awards, one of which being Horse of the Year. We also saw Tiznow, return yet again, to reestablish his class and quality and he again had us holding our breath as he narrowly beat Sakhee, the Arc de Triumphe winner.
in 2002 Azeri, a filly was name horse of the year, which, before her had only been accomplished five times, and we saw the unbeaten brilliance of two year old Vindication. In 2003 we had Mineshaft, who list of races includes the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Suburban, Pimlico Special, and Woodward. In 2004 we perhaps saw one of the most brilliant and talented horses since Spectacular Bid when we saw Ghostzapper, run away with the Breeders Cup Classic setting a new track record of 1.59 flat
In the remaining years we saw Curlin go from an unknown maiden to Classic glory, Street Sense became the horse to ever complete the Breeders Cup Juvenile and Kentucky Derby combo, and Rags To Riches became the first filly in 102 years to win the Belmont Stakes. 2006 had champions like the California sensation Lava Man, Derby winner Barbaro, three year old champion Bernardini, and the super horse Invasor. 2008 may have not have been the best year overall, but with the dynamic Big Brown and defending Horse of the Year Curlin leading the way it was far from boring.
2009 possibly gave us more thrills and more history than any other year, for this year will always be know as the Year of the Filly. This year we saw the brilliance and dominance of Rachel Alexandra as she dealt out crushing wins against her own sex, but both brilliant and gritty wins against males, three times, becoming the first female to ever win the Wooward. During the second half of the year we saw the unbeaten amazon Zenyatta take on the males for the first time in the Breeders Cup Classic. In that race she humbled eight grade one winners, streaking her way into the record book along with Rachel Alexandra as one of the greatest fillies of all time.
Now, looking back, does anyone, anymore, question the quality of this decade? Does anyone think that the champions of this decade could not beat those of the eighties or nineties? This decade started with a bang and ended with one of the most historical years in the history of horse racing. So, when we look back upon the first decade with in a new century, let us remember the quality, class, talent, and brilliance that these sensational horses continually showed us, year after year.