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Dec 28, 2012

Up the Backstretch: The biggest names of 2012

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

(Sports Network) - Here we are at the end of 2012 with a new year directly ahead of us, so let's take a quick, I mean a very quick, look at the biggest names in thoroughbred racing from the past year.

In a year when a lot of horses suffered season or career ending injuries, the best known of these horses and all thoroughbreds in 2012 is I'll Have Another. The 3-year-old zoomed to the top of horse racing with wins in the first two legs of the Triple Crown. Trained by Doug O'Neill, I'll Have Another won the Kentucky Derby from off the pace as a 15-1 outsider although he had won the Santa Anita Derby. He came back to win the Preakness, again catching favored Bodemeister right before the wire. However, the colt was scratched the day prior to the Belmont Stakes and never raced again.

Bodemeister won the Arkansas Derby by an unbelievable margin and was the Kentucky Derby favorite. He set the pace, but was overtaken late by I'll Have Another. The scene was repeated two weeks later in the Preakness. The colt, trained by Bob Baffert, got sick, recovered but never raced again.

Bob Baffert had horses that finished second in all three Triple Crown races. Bodemeister in the first two and Paynter in the Belmont Stakes to Union Rags. Paynter won the Haskell and never raced again after various ailments which nearly cost the colt his life.

Union Rags came into the 2012 Triple Crown season as an early favorite. He won the Fountain of Youth, was third in the Florida Derby and as the second pick in the Run for the Roses finished seventh. He got some redemption by winning the Belmont Stakes. However, like his fellow top 3-year-olds, never raced again.

Hansen, 2011 Juvenile champ, had his ups and downs going into the Kentucky Derby. The speed horse failed at Churchill Downs at 14-1 in the 20-horse field. The colt continued to race in 2012. The nearly all white 3-year-old, trained by Mike Maker, came back to win the Iowa Derby but was fourth as the odds-on favorite in the West Virginia Derby. He was subsequently retired.

Trainer Dale Romans is probably on his way to winning the Eclipse Award as 2012 champion trainer. During the year he won major stakes races with Dullahan, Wise Dan, Little Mike and Shackleford,

The leading female thoroughbred of 2012 was Royal Delta. The 4-year-old, trained by Bill Mott, closed the year by winning her second straight Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic. Before that she was a little up and down with wins in the Fleur de Lis and Delaware Handicap followed by a loss to Love and Pride in the Personal Ensign. Her victory in the Beldame hinted at her victory in the Ladies' Classic.

Bob Baffert had the early favorite for Horse of the Year in 5-year-old gelding Game On Dude. After winning the San Antonio, Game On Dude was sent to Dubai for the $10 million World Cup. The gelding finished 12th, but more importantly Baffert suffered a heart attack days before the race and was hospitalized. Thankfully the Hall of Fame trainer was able to be sent home to California and appears as spry as ever.

Game on Dude came home to post wins in the Californian and Hollywood Gold Cup but was caught in the stretch by Dullahan in the Pacific Classic. Favored in the Breeders' Cup Classic, the gelding finished seventh. He ended 2012 by winning the Native Diver and is headed back to the San Antonio to begin his 2013 campaign.

Trainer Todd Pletcher has the early Kentucky Derby favorite in Breeders' Cup Juvenile champ Shanghai Bobby. The colt is undefeated in five starts and will race at Gulfstream Park on the road to the Triple Crown.

Fort Larned stole the Breeders' Cup Classic at 9-1 and will continue racing in 2013 for trainer by Ian Wilkes.

The year began with Havre de Grace defending her Horse of the Year title. She won her first start in the New Orleans Ladies Stakes, however, never ran again and was eventually sold for $10 million as a brood mare.

We close out our look back at 2012 with the jockeys who risk their lives to ride those magnificent beasts.

Leading the way was Ramon Dominguez along with Javier Castellano, Hall of Famer John Velazquez, Rafael Bejarano and Joel Rosario. Rosie Napravnik established herself as the top female rider around and became the first lady to ride to victory in the Kentucky Oaks. We saw Chantal Sutherland ride Game On Dude in the Hollywood Gold Cup lose the mount after finishing second in the Pacific Classic and then soon retire.

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