Perfect Tens - By Dan Liebman

(Originally published in the December 26, 2009 / January 2, 2010 combined issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)     

Asked to compile a series of “best of” lists for the first decade of this century, Blood-Horse senior correspondent Steve Haskin eagerly took up the challenge. It may sound easy, but thinking back over a 10-year period, and the people, horses, and races that were part of it, is not a simple task. Haskin’s effort, on pages 42-43 of this issue - and with expanded comments on his blog on where readers may offer their comments - got this writer thinking of the decade that has just passed.

As 2009 ended with the argument over whether Zenyatta or Rachel Alexandra should be Horse of the Year, I recalled the two times I saw the female I would consider the best—Sunline—whose racing career started in the ’90s and ended in the ’00s.

Though I did not see her race in person, I did see Sunline train one morning in January 2001 and visited her again in New Zealand four years later just three months after she had foaled her first offspring.

Sunline (Desert Sun—Songline, by Western Symphony) won 32 times in 48 starts, including 13 group I events, and earned a record amount for a distaffer, $11,351,607 (Australian funds). She is one of only two mares to win the Cox Plate (Aust-I) twice, the only distaffer to take the Doncaster Handicap (Aust-I) twice, and became the only mare to capture the Coolmore Classic (Aust-I) two times. In the latter, both victories came under 60 kilograms (132.28 pounds), equaling the weight-carrying record for the race.

Sunline won two runnings of the Waikato Draught Sprint (NZ-I) and All-Aged Stakes (Aust-I), the Manikato Stakes (Aust-I) and Flight Stakes (Aust-I), and also traveled to Hong Kong, where she won the International Mile (HK-I) over local favorite Fairy King Prawn.

In 1999-2002 Sunline was named Horse of the Year in her native New Zealand, and she earned the same title in Australia from 2000-2002.

At the farm of Trevor McKee, who trained the champion with his son, Stephen, Sunline was led from her stall in January 2005. Trailing behind her was her first foal, a Rock of Gibraltar filly later named Sunstrike. No one was leading or holding the filly, quite different than how the same event would have occurred in this country.

I was fortunate enough to see the male I would put on top of my personal “best of the decade” list. Interestingly, the race came during the first few months of the decade and was never topped. On March 25, 2000, Dubai Millennium won the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) by an easy six lengths, a visibly impressive race by a visibly impressive horse.

Dubai Millennium (Seeking the Gold—Colorado Dancer, by Shareef Dancer) won nine of 10 starts by a combined 47 1/2 lengths. He won races during the Royal Ascot meeting at 3 (Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, Eng-I) and 4 (Prince of Wales’s Stakes, Eng-I), took the Jacques le Marois (Fr-I) at 3, and won the Dubai World Cup at 4. His only loss came in the Vodafone Epsom Derby (Eng-I) when it appeared the 1 1/2-mile distance did not suit him. He was unbeatable at 10 furlongs.

Sheikh Mohammed was desperate to win the World Cup as the new millennium dawned, and impressed by the colt’s work at David Yoder’s yard, he changed his named from Yaazer to Dubai Millennium. That he would actually win the race two years hence made for an incredible story.

Sadly, neither Sunline nor Dubai Millennium lived to see the end of the decade. Dubai Millennium covered mares just part of one season before he died in England of grass sickness, having been sick for some time and having endured several surgeries. Sunline produced four foals before she died of laminitis, having battled the hoof ailment for nine months.

Sunline and Dubai Millennium epitomize the highs and lows so associated with the Thoroughbred. For one writer they head a decade of memories.

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