Greatest Hits and Rarities - By Evan Hammonds

Kentucky humorist Irvin S. Cobb famously bragged: “Until you go to Kentucky and with your own eyes behold the Derby, you ain’t never been nowheres and you ain’t never seen nothin’.” Ask any horsemen, however, and they’ll tell you they’ve seen plenty. But just when we think we’ve seen it all, 2017 rolled in. The year certainly showed us some things we ain’t never seen in a long, long time.

January ushered in the inaugural Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes (G1), the purse of which—$12 million—we had yet to witness. Frank Stronach’s vision and ability to get stakeholders to pony up $1 million to enter and take part in the event’s proceeds, were no easy feats. And the fact Stronach’s The Stronach Group was able to pull this off in January—giving the sport a big-time race early in the season, gave the year a jump-start. Pitting champion Arrogate against two-time Horse of the Year California Chrome in a Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) rematch was the icing on the cake.

Not soon after the Pegasus, the juvenile auction marketplace caught fire. The Ocala Breeders’ Sales outfit sold a 2-year-old for $2.45 million, a new record for the company. Agent John Moynihan signed the ticket for M.V. Magnier for a bay son of Tiznow that outstripped the old OBS mark by more than a half-million dollars. The results of the OBS April sale was a portent of things to come in all segments of the Thoroughbred marketplace—there would be plenty of money in 2017 for the right horse.

When Susan Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith’s Mendelssohn galloped home in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1T) Nov. 3 at Del Mar, it marked a rarity not seen since 2003. The 2-year-old had been the previous year’s top-selling yearling in North America, the son of Scat Daddy out of Kentucky Broodmare of the Year Leslie’s Lady bringing $3 million from Magnier for Clarkland Farm’s fine colt. The year’s top-selling yearling rarely pans out later on the racetrack, but Mendelssohn has been able to turn the trick. You have to go back to One Cool Cat, the highest-priced yearling of 2002, to find one who went on to become a grade/group 1 winner, when he landed the Independent Waterford Wedgwood Phoenix Stakes (G1) and Dunnes Stores National Stakes (G1) in 2003 after selling for $3.1 million at the previous year’s Keeneland July yearling sale.

Aidan O’Brien is the trainer of Mendelssohn, and in 2017  the Irishman broke the late Bobby Frankel’s mark for number of grade/group 1 wins in a single year. Frankel’s mark of 25 had stood since 2003, but O’Brien, with his global stable, landed 28, snagging his latest when Highland Reel won the Dec. 10 Longines Hong Kong Vase (G1) at Sha Tin.

Years in the works, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association landed a win for horseplayers, getting the Internal Revenue Service and United States Treasury to update regulations on how they determine the trigger point (300-1) for reporting and withholding. The measure is likely a significant reason handle took a jump in the later months of the year.

As well, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club hosted the Breeders’ Cup for the first time—and, based on the results, that is certainly not a “one-and-done.”

See? There were lots of things that came across our desk for the first time in 2017. We look forward to more in 2018.

Many other things came across our desk, including notes on the loss of horses, horsemen, and horsewomen. The most noted death came, of course, with the passing of Helen “Penny” Chenery.

However, the passing of two other women, and family friends, struck a chord close to home here in Central Kentucky. Patricia Headley Green, the daughter of Hal Price Headley and sister of Alice Chandler who left us in March at 89, offered opinions and commentary as colorful as the silks she designed from her Silks Unlimited company. Her younger brother, Hal Price Headley Jr., died in November.

Lisa Underwood, who suffered a fatal heart attack Dec. 9, was just 57. In her term as executive director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, she helped usher in the “Instant Racing” era in Kentucky and implemented more stringent drug protocols. Every horseman who receives purse money from the Bluegrass State owes her a debt of gratitude.

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