By John Mucciolo
I witnessed numerous stellar performances in 2017 in what was one of my favorite years of racing since my obsession with the sport began. While the following handful of races were just a hint of so many electric performances that I saw this past season, they were at the top of my list that left me simply in awe. Note that these are in chronological order and not in order of preference.
Winx Makes it 16 Straight
Living-legend Winx aimed to make it 16 straight when running in the Group 1 George Ryder at Rosehill in March. Daughter of Street Cry had won in nearly every conceivable fashion prior to this contest, though this performance gave me chills.
Ranging up to near the lead at the top of the turn under little-to-no urging, the superstar was given her cue to accelerate and she did just that, leaving a strong field in her wake beneath Hugh Bowman. This was a priceless performance from a priceless mare!
Arrogate Reaches the Pinnacle
Juddmonte Farms’ Arrogate was already the top-rated horse in the U.S. prior to heading overseas for the Dubai World Cup (UAE-G1) at Meydan in late March. The sensational son of Unbridled’s Song romped home in the Travers (G1), recorded a powerful and measured win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) and followed the sublime performances with a tour-de-force in the world’s richest event, the inaugural Pegasus World Cup (G1) at Gulfstream Park.
All the four-year-old colt did in Dubai was break last, get bounced around early and then recover to make an exhilarating move in easing by eventual 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner. As track announcer Terry Spargo stated “…And we’ve seen the anointing of the Man o’ War of the 21st century, Arrogate, a brilliant winner of the Dubai World Cup.”
Spirit Turns Met Mile into a Canter
Trainer Bob Baffert gets a second consecutive mention in this piece as his colt, Mor Spirit, turned in one of the best races of the season on the Belmont Stakes undercard. Tracking the fantastic Grade 1 winner Sharp Azteca every step of the way, the son of Eskendereya took the lead in early stretch and put on a show, thereafter.
Four-year-old colt widened his lead under a few left-handed cracks of the whip from pilot Mike Smith, finishing 6 ¼-lengths clear under the wire while posting a gargantuan, 114 BRIS Speed figure in the process.
Elate Sends a Message
The Bill Mott-trained Elate was supposed to win the Beldame S. (G1) at Belmont when going off at 3-10 odds, but the sophomore filly couldn’t have looked any better in making her initial start against elder foes in late September.
Daughter of Medaglia d’Oro was restrained along the backside, blocked in early stretch and she was only asked to run briefly when bullying her way through a tight opening between runners approaching midstretch. The filly might not have defeated a stellar cast, but the way that she gained separation in the matter of a few jumps was jaw-dropping to me.
Firstmate Overcomes Horrific Start
Daughter of Midshipman made her debut against Minnesota-bred stakes foes in August and was well backed as the favorite in a 10-horse field. $50,000 yearling purchase missed the break completely and was more than 20 lengths behind at first call of this six-furlong race.
Still in eighth-place 13 lengths in arrears at the top of the lane, the chestnut filly found her best stride and pulled off a remarkable rally to win this race….by nine widening lengths! Though she was placed in over her head in a pair of subsequent stakes offerings at Churchill Downs, her debut remains etched in my memory.
Fast forward to race 6