With nearly all of the important races completed in 2011, this is usually about the time that my attention begins to shift toward 2-year-olds. That will happen in the very near future, but before getting into that I think it is worth taking a quick peak ahead to the older horses returning next year.
Listed at the bottom of this blog are 20 of the top older horses expected to return in 2012. For fun, I also went back and compared it to a blog I did this time last year with the top returning horses of 2011. And in doing so, I think you'll agree that 2012 looks much more appetizing that this year did.
As you will recall, by the end of 2010 five of the top-ranked horses were being retired--Blame, Quality Road, Lookin At Lucky, Rachel Alexandra, and Zenyatta. It didn't leave a lot of star power heading into this season. Here was the list I came up with at this time last year:
Admiral Alex; Apart; Caracortado; Colizeo; Crown of Thorns; Dakota Phone; First Dude; Fly Down; Gio Ponti; Haynesfield; Misremembered; Morning Line; Musket Man; Noble's Promise; Paddy O'Prado; Rail Trip; Richard's Kid; Successful Dan; Sidney's Candy; and Twirling Candy.
I don't know about you, but that list didn't get me too excited then, and as it turned out those 20 horses won a grand total of 12 graded races in 2011. Granted, some good ones like Misremembered and Paddy O'Prado were injured early in the year, and others like Drosselmeyer and Tizway didn't make my list, but I don't think it's a stretch to say that this year was one of the most uneventful that American racing has seen in many years. To put it frankly, it was a predictably below average year all around.
Let's compare it to what we have to look forward to in 2012. As maligned as this year's crop of 3-year-old was most of the year, it looks like many of them--including all three of the Triple Crown race winners--will be back, as will Caleb's Posse and To Honor and Serve, who were peaking at year's end. Also pointing toward a return are almost all of the top 3-year-old fillies--Awesome Feather, It's Tricky, Plum Pretty, Turbulent Descent, Royal Delta, and Zazu. Plus, 3-year-old turf standouts Brilliant Speed and Winter Memories are set to return.
When you combine this with the returning older horses, including probable Horse of the Year Havre de Grace, 2012 seems very promising indeed. Compare this group of 20 to the aforementioned group from above:
Game On Dude
Havre de Grace
Mucho Macho Man
Ruler On Ice
To Honor and Serve
As you can see, there are some very talented horses coming back next year, and I'm sure I even missed a couple. Plus, this doesn't even take into consideration the good-looking class of 2-year-olds that is developing.
So while 2011 was largely a bust, there is much to look forward to in 2012.