Steve Haskin's Look Back at the Decade
The Blood-Horse challenged senior correspondent Steve Haskin to fill in
the blanks on several “best of” lists for the decade of 2000-2009.
While several of them appear in the Dec. 26/Jan. 2 combined issue of
the magazine (mailing on Dec. 29), there wasn’t space for them all.
the coming days until the end of the year, all of Steve’s lists will be
posted here with readers of BloodHorse.com encouraged to comment.
Goosebump Moments of the
1-- Zenyatta being steered to
the outside in the stretch of the 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic. Trevor Denman's
call reached a glorious crescendo at the exact moment the entire crowd let out
a roar for the ages. That split second when Zenyatta hit her favorite part of
the racetrack and everyone knew she was going to win still brings on the
goosebumps. After nearly two months, they have not subsided in the slightest,
and I am convinced they never will.
2-- Rachel Alexandra returning
after winning the 2009 Woodward Stakes to the deafening cheers from the crowd.
Nothing like that had ever been heard at historic Saratoga, or most likely anywhere for that
matter. To be on the racetrack, engulfed by such a wall of noise, was an
unforgettable moment. And Rachel's return after winning the Haskell is not far
3-- Zenyatta returning after
the 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic. This is getting repetitious, but this moment
and Rachel's Woodward experience are virtually identical and equal on the goosebumps
chart. What made this moment so memorable was the love that came pouring out
for not only the horse, but the connections, as well as the race's historical
significance. But on the noise meter, nothing has ever topped the Woodward, and
for me, Saratoga
has always been the most magical place on Earth.
4-- Tiznow turning certain
defeat into victory in the 2001 Breeders' Cup Classic. His courageous victory
and its impeccable timing have already been discussed on another list, but it
was that instant that you knew he still had fight left in him and was battling
back that stirred the emotions. If ever a horse won a race for America it was
Tiznow in the '01 Classic. Mention must also be made of the previous year's
Classic when Tiznow refused to let Giant's Causeway
5-- The replay of Afleet Alex's
stumble in the 2005 Preakness. It wasn't the actual incident, which was
amazing, yet horrifying to watch, but the constant replays that gives me
chills. Although I still cringe during the seconds leading up to it, watching
Alex nearly go down, knowing he is going to miraculously pull himself up, makes
this an enduring moment that never ceases to amaze me, even after 4 1/2 years.
6-- Listening to and watching
the crowds of over 5,000 and 10,000 at Philadelphia Park cheer wildly for
Smarty Jones as he galloped down the stretch in his two public appearances
during the 2004 Triple Crown. Watching the look of wonderment on the faces of
the young children wearing their Smarty Jones T-shirts and hats as they sat atop
their father's shoulders was something no one had ever seen before and likely
never will. Neither had anyone ever seen hundreds people lined up outside a
racetrack at 5 a.m. to watch a horse gallop...or charging through the doors to
the apron in waves to get a good spot on the rail. These truly were the most
surreal moments I have ever experienced at a racetrack.
7-- Over 100,000 rain-soaked
fans pouring into Belmont Park to see Funny Cide attempt to sweep the 2003
Triple Crown. The one goosebump moment was the deafening (yes, deafening again)
roar that went up when Funny Cide entered the tunnel leading to the racetrack.
It actually hurt my ears.
8-- The heartfelt ovations
given to Big Brown following his victories in the Haskell and Monmouth Stakes.
It was the Monmouth crowd that supported Big Brown and cheered loudly for him
in his first start back following his Belmont Stakes fiasco, when the rest of
the racing world all but deserted him. They cheered again when he returned
following his gutsy victory in the Monmouth Stakes against older horses. Being
there, you had to feel good for the horse.
9-- The farewells to Smarty
Jones (at Philly Park),
Funny Cide, and Commentator (both at Saratoga).
The one indelible image was Smarty's long walk up the stretch after the
ceremony had concluded, knowing his true greatness would never be realized. (I
was not at Zenyatta's Hollywood
and Santa Anita farewells).
Favorite Breeders’ Cup Experiences:
1-- Santa Anita (2009)
– Beautiful weather, invigorating mornings, magnificent backdrop, no fires, excellent hotel, good restaurants, great outdoor auxiliary press box, Rosie's breakfasts at Clocker's Corner, several memorable performances and safe races…and Zenyatta’s unforgettable Classic. The previous year at Santa Anita was almost as good, but Raven's Pass' Classic was not in the same stratosphere as 2009.
2-- Arlington Park (2002)
– This says a lot for the Arlington experience, considering the dreadful weather on race day – well organized, first-rate traffic control, convenient parking, great backstretch layout with easy access to the BC horses, best auxiliary press box ever, easy drive into Chicago, good races…and hitting Volponi didn’t hurt.
3-- Churchill Downs (2000)
– Churchill is Churchill, but excellent weather, good international atmosphere, monster longshots to start the day, and terrific Classic field culminating with epic stretch battle between Tiznow and Giant’s Causeway.
4-- Belmont Park (2001)
– The most surreal Breeders’ Cup ever, coming less than two months after 9/11. Dogs searching cars, snipers on the roof, emotional ceremony prior to the races, the deepest and most talented European contingent ever, and domination by Euros, who won three straight races and nearly made it four when Sakhee was beaten a nose by Tiznow in the Classic in one of the most emotional results in BC history.
5-- Lone Star Park (2004)
– Overall a fun experience; good show put on by the first-time Breeders’ Cup track, despite its smaller size. Not much of a view of training from the backside, and Breeders’ Cup horses were spread out pretty far. Biggest negative was the lack of security at the barns on race day -- virtually no monitoring of the horses. Excellent media hotel, efficient shuttle service, fun party with Willie Nelson performing, and I finally got to Dealey Plaza. Good races and excellent conclusion with Ghostzapper nailing down Horse of the Year in the Classic.
6-- Belmont Park (2005)
– Pretty uneventful, but at least no bad memories, other than the brutally cold weather, which left fans who paid big money for seats huddled up inside. The bars did good business this year.
7-- Santa Anita (2003)
– It was a great day for fans and followers of Dick Mandella, who saddled an unprecedented four winners. But it wasn’t as good if you didn’t like 105-degree temperatures every day and ash falling on you from the fires several miles east of the track. The racing, however, was excellent, with the first BC dead-heat (in the Turf).
8-- Churchill Downs (2006)
– Invasor’s Classic was a tremendous conclusion to the event, in which he defeated one of the deepest Classic fields ever assembled, but the horrific breakdown of Pine Island and the injury to Fleet Indian (the two favorites in the Distaff) put a damper on the afternoon.
9-- Monmouth Park (2007)
– I haven’t looked forward to a Breeders’ Cup more than I did Monmouth Park, which worked feverishly and spent millions in renovations to put on the best show possible. It was the first ever two-day event, the backstretch setup was excellent, and few Classics were as highly anticipated as this one. But the weather could not have been worse, with heavy rains and wind both days. Traffic was abominable, and although the weather finally cleared on Saturday afternoon during the Distaff, the day ended tragically with the fatal injury to George Washington, who had to be euthanized just up the stretch from the winner’s circle.
12/21/09 - Most Physically Impressive Horses
12/22/09 - Most Memorable Triple Crown Performances
12/23/09 - Most Memorable Breeders' Cup Performances
12/26/09 - Greatest Training Achievements
12/27/09 - Best Losing Performance in a Breeders' Cup or Triple Crown Race
12/28/09 - Most Memorable Two-Horse Stretch Battles