With the announcement of Lookin At Lucky's retirement on Friday, and the previous decisions to retire Rachel Alexandra, Blame, Quality Road, and Zenyatta, arguably the five best and most popular North American-based horses of this year will no longer be running in 2011.
Other than the soon-to-be 3-year-olds revving up for the Triple Crown (And might I add, let's hope we have an exciting Triple Crown season), who will be the star horses of 2011? As it looks now, the pickens are slim. Three of the better older horses that could come back--Gio Ponti (I think there is a good chance that he will return), Paddy' O'Prado, and Sidney's Candy have shown main track talent but are better on turf. That leaves a list of handicap horses that are potential stars, but certainly have not proven it yet. Let's take a look:
I think Apart, who is campaigned by the same connections as Breeders' Cup Classic winner Blame, and Fly Down probably have the best chances at staking their claim as the leaders of the handicap division. Apart can get a head start if he wins next week's grade I Clark Handicap and will probably be pointed to a very similar campaign as Blame ran this year if he performs well. Fly Down ran a sneaky good race in the BC Classic and was one of the few horses still making up ground on Blame in the final yards.
In addition to Fly Down, Nick Zito also has Morning Line coming back. He defeated a solid lineup in the Pennsylvania Derby to prove he was for real and confirmed that status with a very game runner-up in the BC Dirt Mile.
Another returning 3-year-old is First Dude, who has to get a win early next year for Dale Romans. I don't care if it's in an entry-level allowance, he needs a win. If he gets it, I still think he can be a star.
Shipping over to England for the St. James Palace set Noble's Promise back a while, but the Ken McPeek trainee made a rousing return from five-month layoff in the Jimmy V Stakes during BC week. That was a sprint and he's only one once going two turns, but Noble's Promise will still be an older horse to watch.
Another Kentucky-based horse that got very good late in the season is Successful Dan, romping winner of the Fayette Stakes at Keeneland over Exhi and Stately Victor. He's not just a synthetic freak either--Successful Dan won the Northern Dancer at Churchill as a 3-year-old.
Speaking of the Northern Dancer, this year's winner, Colizeo, might be the best of Todd Pletcher's returning older horses. He was overtaken late by Apart in the Ack Ack and still hasn't put it all together, but he looks the part of one that can be a force in 2011.
Two other horses coming out of the BC Classic that must be mentioned are Musket Man and Haynesfield. Musket Man didn't fire his best shot in the Classic but it was his only time not hitting the board in his entire career. Without Blame and Quality Road around in 2011, he could finally stop being a bridesmaid. Haynesfield showed his ability by easily beating Blame in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. He should have his sights set high in New York next year.
Also to keep an eye on in New York is Admiral Alex. You remember him, the maiden winner who was over-ambitiously run in the Travers off a maiden debut win. He turned in a huge effort in the Arts and Letters Stakes last month at Belmont after a failed effort on turf. He set very fast fractions in that 1 1/8-mile event and still ran away from the field.
In California, Richard's Kid will be sent to Dubai which will wipe out most of his season over here, leaving things wide open. Rail Trip and Crown of Thorns are pointing toward 2011 campaigns but injuries leave questions marks hanging over both of them. That leaves Misrembered, who Bob Baffert is very high on, Twirling Candy and Caracortado, who will meet in the Malibu and hope to make a mark in the Strub Series, and Dakota Phone, so impressive in the BC Dirt Mile but who also placed in both the Pacific Classic and Goodwood.
Who am I forgetting here, there has to be more?