Eyeing a Four-peat - By Eric Mitchell

nbsp;(Originally published in the January 21, 2012 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.

By Eric Mitchell - @EJMitchellKy on Twitter

By Eric Mitchell The lure in watching any sport is the always-present opportunity to witness something never before achieved. It’s the reason we keep records and the reason we are instantly enamored whenever a horse begins stringing together consecutive victories.

The word “undefeated” is magnetic in itself.

Heading into the 2010 TVG Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. IT), Goldikova held us captive as she sought to become the first horse to win a Breeders’ Cup race three consecutive years. Watching her unwind at the top of the Churchill Downs stretch and decisively pass the front-runners was one of the most electrifying moments of the day.

The adrenaline rush had only begun to fade when we started asking the question—could she make it four? Alas, the remarkable mare who had already set the bar so high could not nudge it another notch higher last fall.

A similar anticipation will be building throughout 2012 within the 3-year-old filly and older female divisions. We will be looking for that runner who will rise above all others and give us the hope of seeing something we’ve never seen before—a fourth female honored consecutively as Horse of the Year.

Granted, we just saw history made when Havre de Grace became the third consecutive female winner of the golden Horse of the Year Eclipse trophy (in addition to being named champion older female). The now 5-year-old daughter of Saint Liam took the baton from 2010 Horse of the Year Zenyatta, who assumed the title from 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra.

This latest broken record is an old one, which makes it all the more enticing. The last time females won consecutive Horse of the Year titles was in 1944 and 1945, when Calumet Farm’s Twilight Tear and Louis B. Mayer’s Busher were honored as America’s best.

But we’re impatient and always looking down the road for the next feat to make us gasp and cheer.

What makes a female Horse of the Year four-peat most intriguing is that it’s entirely possible. Racing is fortunate to see Havre de Grace, champion 3-year-old filly Royal Delta, and champion 2-year-old filly My Miss Aurelia all returning to the track.

Most remarkable are the returns of Havre de Grace and Royal Delta. Their owners certainly could have justifiably announced their retirements and began planning the matings. No one would have blinked an eye.

Havre de Grace won five graded stakes in 2011, including beating the boys in the grade I Woodward Stakes—only the second female in history to win this race besides Rachel Alexandra. The mare has earned nearly $2.5 million. It could be argued she has nothing left to prove. So we admire the sportsmanship of owner Rick Porter, who simply loves to watch this mare run.

“She puts fire in my belly every time she races,” Porter said Jan. 16 during the 41st Eclipse Awards ceremony. “She’s just an amazing force that fits the name ‘harbor of grace.’”

And we salute the attitude of trainer Larry Jones, who obviously appreciates what her return to his barn means for the sport overall.

“She’s a racing star and racing needs stars,” Jones said.

Royal Delta won two grade Is, including the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic and then was sold as part of the dispersal of the late Saud bin Khaled’s Palides Investments. The daughter of Empire Maker was purchased by Florida-based owner Benjamin Leon Jr. for an eye-popping $8.5 million. Most owners don’t turn around and send a filly such as her back to the track, but Leon has his eyes on a bigger prize—the $10 million Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) March 31.

“If all the stars align themselves for that, then we intend to run there, yes,” Leon said. No female has won the World Cup in its 16-year history, though six have tried. The best finish has been a second-place finish in 2001 by To the Victory, a Japanese-bred daughter of Sunday Silence.

We’ll be keeping an eye, too, on the brilliant and undefeated My Miss Aurelia. Stonestreet Stable and George Bolton’s daughter of Smart Strike won the grade I Frizette by 5 1/2 lengths. In the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I), rider Corey Nakatani hand-rode her to a three-length victory.

So, in the words of Leon, we’re hoping for the stars to align this year, for racing’s stars to remain healthy, and for the athletes we admire to show us something we’ve never seen before.

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