This year's Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) had it all: a close finish, a thrilling run through the stretch, and a lingering controversy. Having all of those elements, along with the usual ramifications on championships carried by North America's richest race, made Bayern's victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park my top choice for the best race of 2014.
The Blood-Horse editorial staff already has voted on its favorite races of the year and readers can vote for their favorites. The results of both votes will be published in the year-in-review magazine.
My favorites and reasoning are listed below with race name (grade), winner, and the track.
1. Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I), Bayern, Santa Anita Park
Bayern was disqualified from victory once this year, taken down for interference in the stretch of the $176,700 Derby Trial Stakes (gr. III) at Churchill Downs won by Embellishing Bob. After an inquiry examining the start of the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic, no change was made and Bayern remained the winner. If you're going to stay up in one of those two races, the race awarding $2.75 million to the winner would be the way to go.
In the stretch run of the Classic, Kaleem Shah's Bayern somehow found enough to hold off Toast of New York by a nose and California Chrome by a neck. No matter how you feel about the early race controversy, it was impressive to see Bayern dig deep.
2. Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. IT), Wise Dan, Keeneland
Horses like Mort Fink's homebred Wise Dan can seemingly do the impossible and the two-time Horse of the Year pulled it off again in this year's Shadwell Turf Mile, in an instant going from impossibly buried to moving out six wide, finally finding position to make a run after a slow start. At that time, everyone in the Keeneland crowd eyed the deficit and wondered if there'd be enough time for a rally. For Wise Dan, there was plenty. In fact he registered a clear victory, as if to say, "No worries."
All this race needed was former American Idol judge Randy Jackson shouting, "He's 7 years old!"
3. Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), California Chrome, Santa Anita Park
Winning the Santa Anita Derby shouldn't be this easy. As my wife Nikki said as California Chrome was going to the winner's circle after his 5 1/4-length victory, "He's not even breathing hard." This was the most dominating performance in a grade I race this year and signaled the wild Triple Crown ride to come.
4. Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), California Chrome, Churchill Downs
While some noted that the final time registered on the slow side, Steve Coburn and Perry Martin homebred California Chrome appeared in control of this race from start to finish, quite the accomplishment in a 19-horse field.
5. Ogden Phipps Stakes (gr. I), Belmont Park, Close Hatches
Not only did the three most accomplished older females in the country meet in this race, but two of them—Close Hatches and Princess of Sylmar—battled to the wire with Close Hatches prevailing by a head. Reigning champion female Beholder finished fourth but the race did feature a three-horse stretch battle as Antipathy finished a neck behind the winner in third.
Not sure if it affected my judgment either way, but I was in attendance for the races that ranked first, second, and fourth on my list. I watched the Santa Anita Derby at home on television and watched the Ogden Phipps simulcast on the Churchill Downs big board.
My sixth choice this year was Palace Malice's win in the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I). Wise Dan's Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. IT) held down the seventh spot, followed by Game On Dude's Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I). Rounding out my top ten were Main Sequence winning the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) and V. E. Day's upset Travers Stakes (gr. I) win.