October 17, 2018

5 Fantastic Finishes in 2017

Spartianos (blue hat) held for a narrow win after repelling multiple challenges in the Maryland Million Turf (c) Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club

The following races delivered a fantastic finish in 2017:

SHAM STAKES

The first Kentucky Derby qualifier of the New Year in California, the January 7 Sham (G3) was headlined by Grade 1 juvenile winner Gormley but favoritism went to American Anthem, a well-regarded debut maiden victor for Bob Baffert. Neither made a serious impact in Triple Crown races, but their Sham will be remembered as an exciting battle filled with momentum shifts. Gormely rallies to overhaul his pacesetting rival leaving the far turn, appearing to seize the upper-hand as he takes a neck lead into the stretch. American Anthem battles back to regain control but alas, he gets nailed late.

LEXINGTON STAKES

Nobody could envision West Coast developing into a leading contender for champion 3-year-old male honors following a tough setback in the April 15 Lexington (G3) – I still can’t believe Senior Investment gets up, one rarely see a horse lose after rallying to a clear lead in the short stretch of 1 1/16-mile races at Keeneland like West Coast did. Senior Investment followed with a non-threatening third in the Preakness (G1) but is winless in five starts since the 11-1 Lexington upset. West Coast proceeded to move forward significantly, stringing together five straight wins including the Travers (G1) and Pennsylvania Derby (G1), and was last seen finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).

I thought it was too close to call but kudos to Kurt Becker for announcing the winner right away.

ECLIPSE STAKES

I’m watching more international stakes races than ever before and the July 8 Eclipse (G1) at Sandown proved to be a real treat – I didn’t give the top two a serious chance for the longest time during the compelling stretch drive. Ulysses provided Sir Michael Stoute with a record-tying sixth win in the prestigious 1 ¼-mile race, knocking off a host of well-regarded sophomore rivals including Barney Roy, a Grade 1-winning miler who hooked up with his 4-year-old foe in an epic battle to the wire. Ulysses followed with a runner-up effort to superstar Enable in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (G1) and captured the Juddmonte International (G1) prior to a third in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1). He was installed as the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) favorite but had to be withdrawn due to injury the day before.

COACHING CLUB AMERICAN OAKS

Abel Tasman concluded 2017 with an excellent second to Forever Unbridled in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and will be named champion 3-year-old filly at January’s Eclipse Award ceremonies. Winner of the Kentucky Oaks and Acorn, she notched her third consecutive Grade 1 victory in the July 23 Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga but it came with plenty of drama as she made a premature move to the front and crowded Elate along the rail as they engaged in a head-and-head stretch duel to the wire, surviving a stewards’ inquiry afterward. An interesting race to say the least, check out the space between the fillies in upper stretch before Abel Tasman heads toward to the inside.

MARYLAND MILLION TURF

Supporters of Spartianos had serious reason to worry entering the stretch of the October 21 Maryland Million Turf at Laurel Park. The pacesetter came under serious pressure nearing the completion of the far turn from Somekindofmagician, who surged to stick a neck in front and was threatening to dispose of Spartianos as they turned for home. Spartianos displayed all kind of fight to inch his way back to the lead as they entered deep stretch, but Somekindofmagician still had a shot and a trio of late runners were waiting to pounce upon the softened up early runners. But they could not get there as Spartianos just kept finding more, prevailing in a three-horse photo.

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