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2013 Year In Review - Part I

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The 2013 racing season is a couple of weeks away from conclusion, offering us a moment to reflect back on the year that was both on and off the track.

Patrick Smith

Really? It's Christmas time already? Then New Year's? Then 2014? I seem to write this a lot lately (perhaps it's a sign of getting older) but, man, time flies.

Since we're coming to the conclusion of another year together here on And Down The Stretch They Come, I suppose it's only fitting to trot out the venerable Year In Review, albeit with a slight twist this year. Instead of just reciting and reviewing the results we're already familiar with, I'm going to highlight some of top moments on the track, along with the corresponding commentary from the site. With that in mind, let's start at the beginning...

January 2013

The year began with a couple of big off-the-track stories - the Richard Dutrow suspension in New York, and the retirement of Frankel (GB) in England.

The Dutrow Saga followed a path through the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, the New York State Court of Appeals and, ultimately, the Federal Court system. Dutrow's 10-year ban from racing took effect on Thursday, January 17th; he hasn't had a starter race under his name since that date and there has been little to no news regarding his Federal suit.

In what can only be described as relatively more uplifting news, Frankel, the undefeated and pretty much untested English champion, was retried by his connections following his victory on British Champions Day over Cirrus Del Aigles (FR) at Ascot. Our pedigree guru, TFTribe, took a look at Frankel's stud prospects with his usual excellent take on the bloodstock industry, inbreeding, and factors that may limit Frankel's success in the breeding shed. From the linked piece:

So yes, maybe the cross keeps breeders away with some of their high end mares. But in the end, each mare must have the individual decision made that Frankel is the right stallion for them. If after examining the mare herself and her pedigree you think it works, cool. Lost in a notable amount of pedigree analysis (and I'm as much at fault as any) is the fact that each mare is different. How she looks, what kind of babies she's produced (by look, potential, and/or performance), her medical history, is it her first foal, etc, all play a large role in determining the choice of stallion. If after all that, you still think the 3x3, 2x4, or 4x2 inbreed is the right choice, do it. Just know there are no guarantees and the inbreed just puts you right in line with average prices and performances but probably means you either get the 1 in 1000 superstar (not likely) or the well bred underachiever (likely).

Good stuff, as usual, from Tribe.

The end of January saw the beginning of the Kentucky Derby prep races with both Gulfstream Park (Holy Bull) and the Fair Grounds (Lecomte) kicking things off. In the Holy Bull, Itsmyluckyday upset juvenile champion Shanghai Bobby, while down in the Big Easy a colt named Oxbow rolled to the front and made every yard a winning one en route to an easy victory for D. Wayne Lukas.

The defeat of Shanghai Bobby, in my opinion, was just another piece of data indicating that the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (and, really, all of the Breeders' Cup races for two-year-olds) do little to suggest future success on the track. Those races certainly tell us which are the most precocious juveniles at that point of the year, but that has rarely translated into future success as older horses.

February 2013

As the Derby trail slowly picked up steam, Tribe took a look at the pedigree of one of the top three-year-olds in the country: Verrazano. We had to use that damn bridge picture for months before we were able to get one in the approved photo tool of the actual horse.

The start of the year brings with it the beginning of some great winter meets for gambling - the Fair Grounds and Gulfstream to name a couple - but last season saw the Fair Grounds meet take a ton of races off the grass due to wet conditions in New Orleans and a particularly troublesome turf course. I took a look at the all the races run at Belmont, Fair Grounds, Gulfstream and Santa Anita over the last year, highlighting how bad things have been on the grass in New Orleans. I will add this note: if you've watched any of the FG meet so far his month, the turf course looks really, really nice. I hope it holds up.

Gulfstream's Rainbow Six was hit on December 28th for $41,000 and then saw an string of carryovers take the pool up to $3.6 million for the $0.10 minimum wager. The pool fell on February 22nd when a player at the Meadowlands took down a sequence featuring a $114 winner in leg one, a $37 winning in leg, and a pair of $23 winners to close out the final two races. No word on whether the winning player churned the $3.6 prior to Derby day.

February saw the typically all-too-early retirement of a colt with a lot of potential when Violence, winner of the G2-Nashua and the G1-CashCall Futurity, fractured a right front seasmoid. His defection from the Triple Crown trail helped to shake up Pool 2 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager; the field closed as the 3/1 favorite, with Verrazano (9/1) and Orb (12/1) and the next two betting interests.

The month of February closed with our very own JP Fanshawe traveling to Vegas to play in the Horseplayer World Series. If you've followed this site for any length of time, you're familiar with JP and his contest endeavors. Following his weekend in Vegas, JP shared his experience playing in a big-time championship handicapping tournament in an excellent piece he wrote for the site.

So, here is the hard part. After playing all day, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., barely remembering to eat before they took the excellent lunch buffet down, your 15 plays for that day finally you you know what you have to do? You have to go back to the room and handicap for the next day. Now, this may be harder for some others than it was for me because I have a very specific methodology for picking out which races I will play in contests, and it helps me to ignore a great many. Regardless, it is still hard. And if you have no idea how to select the 15 you want from a pool of 99, you've got trouble. You really have to like handicapping. Thankfully, I do. I made out my list of races and wrote down the post times to see where the collisions might be, handicapped five races, grabbed a few beers and some chicken wings and went to bed.

And that's how we closed out the month of February, with one of our own attacking the Horseplayer World Series in Vegas. Not bad at all.

March 2013

Tribe got the month of March kicked off in fine fashion with a profile on Tapit, the top North American stallion, and a prophetic piece on a Orb. Hmmm, did Orb do anything big in 2013? I can't recall.

Orb has all of the makings of a classic distance horse that can carry his speed 10 furlongs with no issues. In fact, you see that in other GSW horses bred on this cross: Tapit, General Quarters, Stephenoatsee, Super Ninety Nine, and Unbridled Command, to name a few. There may not be a better pedigree to carry a classic distance over dirt than the AP Indy-Unbridled cross possible right now.

I wonder if Tribe had any coin on Orb in the Derby?

Speaking of the Derby, Zach compiled voting from the boys for our weekly Top 10 Derby Power Rankings, rankings that placed Itsmyluckyday at #1 in early March. Also appearing in those ranking was Orb (4th), Preakness winner Oxbow (among "others receiving votes"), and Belmont winner Palace Malice (14th). Eventual three-year-old champion Will Take Charge was no where to be found. The anonymity of the colt that would eventually fall a nose short of winning this year's Breeders' Cup Classic was shed for good following an upset victory over Oxbow in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

I spent an early March weekend in Vegas where I got to experience a different kind of horsepower, and a viewing experience which was quite distinct from my normal Saturday/Sunday afternoon routine.

As a horse racing fan, it's a bit different mindset to sit down prepared to watch a race that will involve the participants going around the track 200 to 250 times in an afternoon. I'm used to a race concluding in something like 90 seconds. It took me a while to put the strategy in perspective but, more importantly, I was required to engage in a little more "long term" focus. Instead of 10 or 12 races on which to focus (or perhaps 20 or 30 if you are playing a simulcast), you focus on one group of participants for the entire day. As "basic" as that sounds, and as much as I was already aware of that key difference prior to going to the races, I still found that to be a big hurdle to cross. Perhaps all of us horse racing fans have serious ADD?

And if a weekend in Vegas wasn't good enough for me, I had the pleasure of spending a week in New Orleans at the end of the month, courtesy of America's Best Racing, to cover the 100th Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds. This wasn't my first trip to the Big Easy but it was my first venture to the Fair Grounds, and the track and the experience did not disappoint.

Turns out, Louisiana Derby weekend was kind of a big day in racing around the world. The second to last day of March began with Animal Kingdom dominating the Dubai World Cup at Meydan, followed by Orb running down Itsmyluckyday in the stretch to win the Florida Derby (with Shanghai Bobby finishing well behind the leaders), and concluding with Revolutionary holding off a game Mylute to win the 100th running of the Louisiana Derby.

Whew! And that was just the first quarter of the season.

Up Next: Part II - Derby Time!