And thus the year 2008 comes to an end.
Alas, in so many ways, it will go down as a colossally disappointing year for horse racing, with an extremely mediocre three-year-old male crop featuring a near-Triple Crown winner Big Brown who suffered not only from bad feet and a mysterious Belmont non-performance, but also from a thoroughly-unlikeable trainer and owner. Curlin too suffered from ownership issues, yet persevered to put together a fine (yet ultimately unsatisfying) campaign. The rest of the older male horse division, save for a few bright moments (like Commentator’s Mass Cap), was rather pathetic. Handle was down, as tracks and horsemen squabbled over signals and ADW money. Fewer people went to the tracks and even less watched horse racing on television. With the economy in the toilet, breeders are having a hard time selling horses, and small-time owners find it increasingly difficult to maintain their stables.
Gloom and doom abound.
But that is most definitely not the entire story. So, rather than linger on the bad, let’s end the year by highlighting what was so very good—racing fillies and mares. If you are a regular reader of this blog and others in the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance (TBA), you know a number of us have lauded this the Year of the Chick based on the superiority of female track performers. While we lost Nashoba’s Key to an unfortunate stable accident, Eight Belles to an inopportune (and very public) breakdown, and the great mares (and Kentucky Derby winners) Winning Colors and Genuine Risk to old age, we also celebrated the achievements of the undefeated Zenyatta, the gutsy Proud Spell, the tough Ginger Punch, the ever-improving Forever Together, the ultra-talented Indian Blessing, and the promising youngster Stardom Bound.
There were so many gifted others—Tough Tiz’s Sis, Cocoa Beach, Lemon Drop Mom, Music Note, Zaftig, Ventura, Intangaroo, Mauralakana, and Little Belle, just to name a few—but those who successfully challenged their male counterparts at the highest level deserve our greatest accolades. So, for those who may have forgotten, here is a round-up of female competitors who won G1 races this year against male company.
It began in March at the Dubai World Cup, when the five-year-old mare Sun Classique won the G1 Dubai Sheema Classic (2,400 meters = 1-1/2 mile). Additionally, in the G1 Dubai Duty Free, five of the sixteen starters were mares—and four of them finished in the top six places: Darjina (2nd), Vodka (4th), Finsceal Beo (5th), and Seachange (6th). Even the G2 UAE Derby saw the two fillies entered perform well, with Cocoa Beach and Light Green finishing third and fourth.
In April, the three races that compose the two-year-old Australian Triple Crown definitely reflected a strong female presence, beginning with the G1 Golden Slipper, with the Red Ransom filly Portillo finishing third behind the colts Sebring and Von Costa de Hero. Sebring also won the G1 Sires Produce Stakes, but the next three finishers were fillies—Samantha Miss, Love and Kisses, and Glowlamp. In the final leg, however, it was the filly Samantha Miss who defeated Sebring in the G1 Champagne Stakes, with the other filly in the eight-horse field, Glowlamp, finishing third.
Just how integrated were the three premier 2-year-old races in Australia this year? In the Golden Slipper, exactly half of the sixteen horses entered were female—Portillo, Anatomica, Sugar Babe, Hips Don’t Lie, Sienna’s Fury, Augusta Proud, She’s Meaner, and Burgeis. In the Sires Produce, in addition to the aforementioned fillies, there was Soho Secret and Delta Girl, so five of the eleven starters were fillies.
It certainly gives one pause when considering how backward American attitudes about mixed gender racing are. If we want to think of innovate ways to not only bring new fans to the sport, but also improve the product, maybe we should consider integrating our races—it works for the rest of the world.
In Australia, mixed-gender racing is prevalent among older horses as well, and again fillies and mares held their own this year. In April, four-year-old Tuesday Joy took the G1 Ranvet Stakes against mixed company—and, then fourteen days later, she won the G1 BMW Stakes. Three-year-old Zarita pulled off the G1 South Australian Oaks and G1 South Australian Derby double fourteen days apart in late March-mid April, while three-year-old Grand Journey did the same in the G3 West Australia Oaks and G1 WATC Derby. In June, three-year-old Riva San became one of only four fillies to sweep the G1 Queensland Oaks and G1 Queensland Derby—only eight days apart to boot! In the Derby, she defeated two other fillies, and seventeen males.
European racing also featured extraordinary performances by females against males. In Germany, three-year-old filly Baila Me conquered a field of nine male competitors, including Aidan O’Brien-trained King of Rome, to win the G1 Preis von Europa in September.
In England, three-year-old filly African Rose won the G1 Sprint Cup less than one month after narrowly losing the G1 Prix Maurice de Gheest to Marchand D’Or—in both races she defeated talented male runners, including subsequent Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint runner-up Diabolical, 2007 G1 Poule d’Essai des Poulains winner Astronomer Royal and US Ranger who finished fifth in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Turf Mile.
In France, three-year-old filly Zarkava became the 17th female winner (and first since 1993) of the G1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe—her first and only race against colts, as she was retired afterwards. Another three-year-old filly, Goldikova, won the G1 Prix du Moulin de Longchamp versus males—and then proceeded to do the same in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Turf Mile.
In Japan, two of the three races that form the Autumn Triple Crown were won by four-year-old fillies. Vodka, which last year became the first filly in 64 years to win the Tokyo Yashun (Japanese Derby), set a new stakes-record time in winning the G1 Tenno Sho Autumn, just a nose in front of runner-up Daiwa Scarlet who, on December 28, won the G1 Arima Kinen (1-9/16 mile)—the first female winner in 37 years, and only the 4th since the race was first run in 1956.
Other mixed-gender G1 races in Japan won by the fairer sex this year includes the G1 Sprinters Stakes (four-year-old Sleepless Night), G1 Yasuda Kinen (Vodka, who also finished third in the G1 Japan Cup), and G1 Mile Championship (five-year-old Blumenblatt).
This is just a list of G1 performers—the crème de la crème. There were, undoubtedly dozens and dozens more who ground out victories every day without nearly so much acclaim. So, as 2008 ends, let’s raise a toast to the fillies and mares that enriched racing this year—thank you!
Female G1 Winners of Mixed Gender Races in 2008
1. Sun Classique (Dubai—G1 Dubai Sheema Classic)
2. Samantha Miss (Australia—G1 Champagne Stakes)
3. Tuesday Joy (Australia—G1 Ranvet Stakes, G1 BMW Stakes)
4. Zarita (Australia—G1 South Australian Derby)
5. Grand Journey (Australia—G1 WATC Derby)
6. Riva San (Australia—G1 Queensland Derby)
7. Baila Me (Germany—G1 Preis von Europa)
8. African Rose (England—G1 Sprint Cup)
9. Zarkava (France—G1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe)
10. Goldikova (France—G1 Prix du Moulin de Longchamp; US—G1 Breeders Cup Turf Mile)
11. Vodka (Japan—G1 Tenno Sho Autumn, G1 Yasuda Kinen)
12. Daiwa Scarlet (Japan—G1 Arima Kinen)
13. Sleepless Night (Japan—G1 Sprinters Stakes)
14. Blumenblatt (Japan—G1 Mile Championship)