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Dec 09, 2011

Thoroughbred racing in 2011

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Thoroughbred racing in North America will be remembered as the first year since 2007 that Zenyatta was not a featured horse. The champion mare was retired after her courageous race in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic, falling just short of catching Blame at the wire.

The void left by Zenyatta was not completely filled by any one horse. In fact, you could say that even all the top horses in 2011 were unable to fill the space left by the great lady.

However, thoroughbred racing did not stop because of the retirement of Zenyatta or any of the other horses sent to the farm. A full year of racing proceeded to take place in 2011 with many horses stepping forward into the spotlight,

As always the first part of the year was focused on Kentucky Derby prospects.

Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Uncle Mo was the consensus favorite for the Run for the Roses. After an undefeated two-year-old season in 2010 the colt, trained by Todd Pletcher, looked impressive in winning the Timely Writer Stakes at Gulfstream Park in March. However, a third-place finish in the Wood Memorial made Uncle Mo look vulnerable.

Meanwhile, Dialed In won the Florida Derby and was the favorite for the Kentucky Derby. Uncle Mo was entered in the race and made the 9-2 second choice, but veterinary tests showed something wrong and he was scratched the day before the Derby.

The 137th running of the Kentucky Derby went to 20-1 longshot Animal Kingdom who won the Vinery Spiral Stakes five weeks before the Derby. Animal Kingdom, trained by Graham Motion for Team Valor, then finished second to Shackleford in the Preakness Stakes, but could do no better than sixth in the Belmont Stakes. Still the Kentucky Derby champ was regarded as the best three-year-old in training.

After the Triple Crown excitement, the older thoroughbreds gained the focus of the racing world. Older male horses needed to establish themselves quickly as some fillies were taking the next step forward as four-year-olds.

Most of the top older male horses were coming off three-year-old seasons that were promising, but with many questions. The only Triple Crown race winner from last year to still be training was Belmont champ Drosselmeyer. Kentucky Derby runner-up Ice Box was back as was Preakness runner-up First Dude. Also back was Santa Anita Derby winner Sidney's Candy and Blue Grass champ Stately Victor.

Eclipse Award winner Gio Ponti was easily the best older horse in training and in Europe Goldikova was preparing for another try in the Breeders' Cup Mile.

As the year wore on the horses beat each other up with no older male truly taking control. Tizway won two of four starts and didn't race after winning the Whitney. The speedy Game On Dude won the Santa Anita Handicap and the Goodwood with several solid showings in between and he may have secured a title with a strong showing in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Four-year-old fillies Blind Luck and Havre de Grace resumed their rivalry from last year. Havre de Grace defeated Blind Luck in the Azeri at Oaklawn Park and the former posted a nose victory in the Delaware Handicap, the same result as the 2010 Delaware Oaks.

Havre de Grace took on all challengers during the year and put herself in the Horse of the Year picture with a win over males in the Woodward at Saratoga. Blind Luck was also heading towards a Breeders' Cup showdown with her rival until a last-place finish in the Lady's Secret that eventually led to retirement.

The three-year-old filly group proved to be a deep one. Royal Delta won the Black-Eyed Susan and Alabama Stakes, Plum Pretty took the Kentucky Oaks and Cotillion, It's Tricky captured the Acorn and Coaching Club American Oaks and Zazu was the best filly in California with wins in the Hollywood Oaks and Lady's Secret.

Coming in from Europe to race on the turf was Cape Blanco. The four-year-old colt won all three starts in the U.S. defeating Gio Ponti in both the Man o'War and Arlington Million. He also won the Turf Classic at Belmont Park, but an injury prevented him from going in the Breeders' Cup Turf and was retired.

Uncle Mo eventually came back to racing with a second to Caleb's Posse in the King's Bishop and a win in the Kelso. Stay Thirsty won the Jim Dandy and Travers to get involved in the Eclipse talk and Animal Kingdom was injured and sidelined until 2012.

The 2011 Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs was headlined by the Ladies' Classic on the first day and the Classic and Mile on the second day.

Three-year-old fillies dominated in the Ladies' Classic. Plum Pretty set the pace, but gave way to Royal Delta who defeated It's Tricky by 2 1/2-lengths. The win by Royal Delta gave trainer Bill Mott his fourth Ladies' Classic win and a chance to pull off the double with Saturday's Classic.

The second day of the 28th World Championships was going to decide the early favorite for the 2012 Kentucky Derby. Union Rags was the 11-10 favorite in the 13-horse field. However, the two-year-old raced wide most of the race and fell a head short of catching Hansen.

Goldikova was after a fourth straight win in the Mile. The mare's magic ended in a third-place result behind Court Vision. Caleb's Posse won the Dirt Mile and Amazombie captured the Sprint.

It all came down to the $5 million Classic at 1 1/4-miles on dirt at historic Churchill Downs. The filly Havre de Grace was going to try to duplicate Zenyatta's 2009 Classic victory. She was the 4-1 second pick behind 7-2 favorite Flat Out. Uncle Mo, the 5-2 morning-line favorite, went off at 5-1 in the 12-horse field.

Game On Dude set the pace while Havre de Grace was running sixth, Flat Out was in eighth and Uncle Mo pressed the leader after starting from the outside. Game On Dude was a determined pacesetter, nearly pulling off a gate to wire victory.

Drosselmeyer, 2010 Belmont Stakes winner, went off at 14-1 as did Game On Dude. Drosselmeyer was racing in ninth through the early going. The four-year- old was six wide coming into the stretch under jockey Mike Smith, Zenyatta's rider.

Drosselmeyer caught Game On Dude in late stretch and was able to better the pacesetter by 1 1/2-lengths. This year's Belmont Stakes champ Ruler On Ice finished third with Havre de Grace getting fourth just a head before Flat Out. Uncle Mo tired badly to finish 10th.

The big winner was trainer Bill Mott who pulled off the Ladies' Classic- Breeders' Cup Classic double.

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