Part II of a four-part series looking back at the top action on the track during 2012. This installment reviews the action from April, May and June.
As winter slowly gives way to spring, the Fair Grounds features the 99th running of the G2-Louisiana Derby on April 1st with a field of 13 three-year-old colts lining up in the starting gate. Hero of Order, sent to post at astronomical odds of 109/1, stalks the early pace and then holds off co-favorite Mark Valeski to win by a half-length at the wire. Hero of Order pays $220.80 for the win, $79.20 for the place, and a fat $25.40 to show. He keys off a one ticket payout in the $.50 Pick Four to the tune of $203,358.00. Cha-ching!
Earlier on the card, Nates Mineshaft puts up what would turn out to be one of the top performances of the season when he wins the G2-New Orleans Handicap by 7 1/4 lengths over favorite Mission Impazzible. Nates Mineshaft earns a 113 Beyer, a 107 Bris and a 129 Equibase figure for the effort.
Keenenland opened its 2012 Spring Meet on Friday, April 6th, with Silver Max winning the G3-Transylvania in gate-to-wire fashion.
Saturday, April 7th is a jam-packed day of stakes action across the country, as well as Wood Memorial and Santa Anita Derby day. Out in New York, Gemologist nips Alpha by a neck at the wire to win the Wood, while out in California, I'll Have Another just keeps on winning after nosing out 4/5 favorite Creative Cause at the finish of the Santa Anita Derby. A lightly raced Paynter finishes fourth.
On the Wood undercard, Trinniberg keeps racking up sprint victories as he dusts the field in the G3-Bay Shore by three lengths.
Groupie Doll quickly establishes herself as the best female sprinter on the continent with an easy three-length victory in the G1-Vinery Madison at Keeneland on April 12th. 2011 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint winner Musical Romance is a well-beaten fourth at odds of 9/5.
Groupie Doll is sent to the post at odd of almost 4/1, some of the best odds anyone would see on this filly all year long. The filly would go on to win three Grade 1 races in 2012 (two on dirt; one on Poly) and two Grade 2s (boy on Poly).
Bob Baffert's Bodemeister stamps himself as a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender after he destroys the field in the G1-Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park on April 14th. Bodemesiter set the early pace through moderate splits and pulled away impressively in the stretch to win by 9 1/2 lengths over Secret Circle. His victory at Oaklawn earns him a 108 Beyer, 106 Bris and 112 Equibase speed figure - one of the top two-turn races by any three-year-old in 2012.
Dullahan, a colt that would turn out to be a synthetic monster, rolls down the middle of the Keeneland main track, passing the tiring Hansen in the final furlong, to win the G1-Blue Grass Stakes. Louisiana Derby winner Hero of Order finishes last of 13.
The ever versatile Wise Dan begins his 2012 season with a 10 1/2 length victory in the nine furlong G3-Ben Ali at Keeneland on April 22nd. Wise Dan would go on to dominate the turf mile division throughout 2012, but his Ben Ali victory proves he's anything but a one-trick pony.
On April 23rd, 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace is retired after suffering an ankle injury during a workout.
The month of April closes with wagering on U.S. races suffering a decline of -7.02% as compared to April of 2011. Overall, wagering is up 2.11%, with purses up 6.96%.
I'll Have Another runs down 4/1 post time favorite Bodemeister in the final furlong to win the 138th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on Saturday, May 5th. Bodemesiter and jockey Mike Smith set an incredibly fast early pace, clicking off opening splits of 22.32, 45.39 and 1:09.80, before finally growing a tad leg-weary in deep stretch. I'll Have Another, the beneficiary of a smooth and calculating ride by Mario Gutierrez, closes hard in the final quarter mile, making up a little over three lengths on his way to the winner's circle.
Dullahan closes from the back of the pack to finish 3rd, making his two races at Churchill Downs the best dirt performances of his career.
On the Derby day undercard, Little Mike, Shackleford and Groupie Dolll would all win graded stakes races. Groupie Doll's victory in the Humana Distaff produces a 112 Beyer, a 109 Bris and a 114 Equibase speed figures. The race would rank just behind Groupie Doll's victory in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint as the best race in the division in 2012.
The day before the Derby, Believe You Can stalked Broadway's Alibi all the way around the Churchill Downs main track before hitting the front at the top of the stretch en route to winning the G1-Kentucky Oaks. Jockey Rosie Napravnik becomes the first female jockey to win the Kentucky Oaks.
The Believe You Can / I'll Have Another Oaks/Derby Double pays a solid $731.20 for a $2 base.
Two weeks later at Pimlico Racecourse in Maryland, I'll Have Another would once again run down a loose-on-the-lead Bodemeister, securing the first two legs of the elusive Triple Crown in the process. Unlike the Derby two weeks prior, Bodemeister and Mike Smith set a much more reasonable pace of 23.79 and 47.68 through a half mile. By the time Bode had run six furlongs in 1:11.72, the race looked to be all but over. But just as he did in Louisville, I'll Have Another took dead aim on his rival at the top of the stretch, reeling him in with every step and winning by a neck at the wire.
On the Preakness under card, Bob Baffert's Paynter struts his stuff when winning by six lengths while under a hand ride. He would exit the race in good order and head to New York for the Belmont Stakes.
On Memorial Day, Shackleford noses out Caleb's Posse in the G1-Met Mile in a lightening fast 1:33.30. Shack breaks alertly from the gate, sets quick fractions on the lead and then holds of the strong, late run of the 2011 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile winner in the final strides. In addition to the top two, the small but high quality field in the Met Mile features To Honor and Serve, Caixa Electronica, Jackson Bend and Saginaw.
The month of May concludes with wagering on U.S. races declining by a slim -0.34% when compared to 2011, but purses rising 7.55%. Overall, wagering on U.S. racing is up 1.50% for the year, with purses gaining 7.10%.
Just one day before he was to take his place in history and become the first Triple Crown winner in 34 years, I'll Have Another is scratched from the Belmont Stakes and retired due to "developing tendonitis in his left foreleg" (reported by David Grening of the DRF). The news is just another punch to the gut in a long line of gut punches horse racing fans have endured during the Triple Crown drought. Just when the streak seemed to be at its most vulnerable, our hopes and dreams were dashed on the rocks.
The show must go on, and go on it did, with Union Rags, one of the top juveniles of 2011 but a mild disappointment as a three-year-old, running down a lose-on-the-lead Paynter to win the Belmont Stakes.
With their defeat in the Belmont, Bob Baffert and Mike Smith finish second in all three Triple Crown races of 2012.
Dullahan, sent to post as the 5/2 favorite, finishes a well-beaten 7th.
In one of the deepest fields in all of 2012, Ron the Greek makes a big closing run to beat Wise Dan by a head in the G1-Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs on June 16th. Had he been able to hold off Ron the Greek, Wise Dan would have won a graded stakes race on dirt, turf and synthetics during 2012.
Shaking off a rough trip and a poor performance in Dubai, Royal Delta wins the G2-Fleur de Lis Handicap by eight lengths at Churchill Downs. Royal Delta earns a 110 Beyer, 108 Bris and 116 Equibase figures for the race; the Beyer and Bris numbers are the highest for any race in the Distaff division in 2012, while the Equibase figure is the third highest.
The Foster field also included Nate's Mineshaft (3rd), Alternation (5th), Nehro (6th), MIssion Impazzible (7th), and future Breeders' Cup Classic winner Fort Larned, who ran his only true clunker of the season and finished last. Had Fort Larned been able to win the Foster he might have garnered more support for Horse of the Year.
June ends with wagering on U.S. racing rising by 6.99% as compared to 2011, with purses rising 13.10%. Overall, the first half of 2012 concludes with a 2.38% increase in wagering over 2011 and an 8.31% increase in purses (with a 1.89% increase in race days).