Monday, November 15, 2010

Horse of Last Decade...

Last year ended a spectacular decade for racing. We saw raw brilliance on display, outstanding power, blinding speed, and sometimes all of those qualities put together in one horse. Horses like Ghostzapper, Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, Curlin, Point Given, Smarty Jones, Rags to Riches, and many many others dazzled us with their complete dominance over the track, capturing our hearts with their magnificence.

Last year I found it hard to rank my top three of the decade. Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, and Curlin were my top three. Yes, they were the most recent, but they all were some of the most brilliant, most dominant, and most captivating horses the nation had seen. Two of those three had yet to retire from racing, and that fact makes it extremely hard to compare merits side by side. After this year, I find it much easier. The horse of last decade was Curlin. Next Zenyatta, then Rachel Alexandra.

Why Curlin over Zenyatta you may ask? For one he simply did more and faced better. Over the course of February of 2007 to November of 2008, Curlin race 16 times. That is only four times less than Zenyatta, who has raced 20 times from November of 2007 to November of 2010. He raced in seven states and two countries over that time period and nine different track. He was only a winner over dirt, but ran over turf and synthetics, registering a second place finish in his only start over turf. The only track he did not register a win over was Santa Anita.

After running in what was, at the time, the grade two Arkansas Derby, he race exclusively in grade ones. His most remembered for his gritty head win, after re-rallying to beat Street Sense, in the Preakness. His stirring stretch duel with Rags to Riches in the Belmont, where he came up a head short. The "stylish performance" in the '07 Classic, where he came "power housing home" by four and one half lengths. And lastly his near eight length romp in the Dubai World Cup, in 2008.

We got to see Curlin's best on many occasions, and when we did it left us breathless. While Zenyatta was brilliant, magnificent, and stole the hearts of many in America, there was only one time we saw her best, and that was this year's Classic. For me, it will be her most memorable race. However, I would ask my readers, who do you think was the better horse? Blame or Curlin? Blame is a monster, no doubt, but not Curlin. She was the best horse in the Classic, no doubt, but her running style would've left her at even more of a disadvantage against Curlin, who could close, run mid-pack, stalk, or even lead.

Zenyatta was great, but her light schedule, lack of travel, and light competition for the majority over her career, leaves her just short of Curlin. Rachel Alexandra was one of the most brilliant and stunning fillies we will ever see. Her '09 season was historic and will not be duplicate in my lifetime. However, her inability to return to that same form leaves her just shy of top honors.


  1. I can only go back to 2003, because that's when I started following Thoroughbred horse racing. I have my own personal top eleven, and the best I've seen is Invasor(Arg), a Triple Crown winner in one country, a Horse of the Year on two continents, and winner of the sport's richest race on a third continent. Invasor is also only one of four horses, after Cigar and Plesantly Perfect, and before Curlin, to win the Cup-Double (Breeders' Cup Classic/Dubai World Cup). He was truly a 'Horse of the World.' He wasn't flashy, but more workmanlike, relentless in getting the job done, and only lost once.

    If Invasor is the best horse I've ever seen, the horse just a nose behind him on my list is Ghostzapper, the most brilliant runner in my elite group. With Beyer figures in triple digits in eight of his eleven starts, including four in the 120s, Ghostzapper was unbelievably fast, winning from six furlongs to 1 1/4 miles, and holds the fastest time ever in the BC Classic, when he beat a former Horse of the Year, the previous Breeders' Cup Classic/Dubai World Cup winner, a Kentucky Derby/Preakness/Jockey Club Gold Cup winner, a future Dubai World Cup winner, and another horse who earned $4M.

    I don't know where I'd put Zenyatta, but she's bound to move up on my own ranking after her BC Classic effort; however, she won't surpass these two and probably won't surpass Curlin, who's my number 3.

  2. John,

    Good list. My only thing with Invasor is that he wasn't here that long. Not by his own fault, but after the 07 World Cup he retired. Zapper was undeniably fast, but, like Zenyatta he hardly raced. In the year he won the Classic he only ran 4 times. I can't remember all of my top 10, but I would have Curlin, Invasor, Zapper, RA, Zen, Lava Man, Bernardini, Afleet, Smarty, and Point Given. That is not in any particular order.

  3. You have a good list to. Mine would be Invasor, Ghostzapper, Curlin, Barbaro, Bernardini, Smarty Jones, Rachel Alexandra, Afleet Alex, Big Brown, Zenyatta, Lost in the Fog, and Lava Man. I forgot all about Lava Man, so I guess I have twelve. The reason so many is because these horses stood out more than most of the others, although on an honorable mention list I might have War Pass and St. Liam.

    My top five or six are pretty solid, then the second group is ranked more loosely. And as I said, Zenyatta would probably move up this ladder, atlhough I'm not sure where I'd put her.

    Some of these horses raced less but deserve consideration. Invasor raced 12 times, I believe it was and only lost once. I think that was a fourth place finish in the UAE Derby when he was three. He was in the U.S. long enough to win many of the biggest races, grade 1s, plus the BC Classic and earn Horse of the Year. And of course, as I said, he returned to Dubai and won the big one. As far as Ghostzapper he needed spacing between his races, but when he ran, he was absolutely breathtaking and I've never seen a more brilliant runner than Ghostzapper, while being an active fan. I've heard him spoken in the same breath as Spectacular Bid, although GZ's total body of work obviously doesn't compare.

  4. Well you already know I'm in COMPLETE agreement on the Curlin Horse of the Decade! :) As a side note: I don't think the Jaguar Trophy Handicap was a Grade 1 race, and that's the only time after the Arkansas Derby that Curlin competed in anything less than a Grade 1 race.

    My top 12 horses of the decade would probably be in order: Curlin, Goldikova (even though she's only raced here 3 times), Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, Invasor, Ghostzapper, Afleet Alex, Smarty Jones, Street Sense, Hard Spun, Barbaro and Rags To Riches.

    My honorable mentions could go on forever: Indian Blessing, Bernardini, Big Brown, Lava Man, Blind Luck, Azeri, Ouji Board, Lawyer Ron, Midnight Lute and Saint Liam.