The fall and winter each year bring a new crop of two-year-old thoroughbreds into the consciousness of the racing world. Usually the heavy analysis of those that are hopefuls for the next year’s Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown season begins just after the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Last year, the talk centered on Hansen and Union Rags, as they were discussed as the top horses to watch during the winter months. Success in the fall and winter don’t always translate into wins in the spring though. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how several highly touted horses at the end of 2011, fared in 2012.
Hansen raced three times in the fall of 2011 and won two of those three races in impressive fashion as he never trailed in any of them. His victory over Union Rags was narrow in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and he was named the Eclipse two-year-old male of the year. In three races leading up to the Kentucky Derby, he placed second twice and won the Gotham Stakes, but concerns about his ability to sustain his speed at long distances against horses of equal ability caused his star to dim among some fans and he wound up being considered a horse with a fair chance in the Kentucky Derby. In the Derby he finished 9th, running well, but fading down the stretch, and did not participate in the Preakness or the Belmont Stakes. Hansen ran next in the Iowa Derby, which he won, but he has to be viewed as a horse that didn’t quite live up to the expectations of many fans.
Union Rags was considered by fans and prognosticators as the horse to watch as Triple Crown season drew near. He is a thoroughbred that seemed to have a lot going for him in regards to size, speed, breeding, and in his highly regarded trainer, Michael Maker. He won four of his first five career starts, just losing by a neck to Hansen in the aforementioned Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He was the favorite as he ran his final Derby prep at the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, but finished a disappointing third. He was still considered one of the horses to watch in the Kentucky Derby, but couldn’t emerge from the field early in the race, getting boxed in before the stretch and finishing seventh. Jockey Julien Leparoux was criticized by some for the way he had handled Union Rags over the last several races and after skipping the Preakness, Union Rags ran in the Belmont with a new jockey; John Velazquez. Union Rags looked to be back in form and won the Belmont Stakes in impressive fashion, leading most to believe that he would be a late bloomer and wind up his three-year old career with a bang. That isn’t to be as he suffered a ligament injury and has been retired.
The Mike Harrington trained Creative Cause was another horse that was expected to have a big impact on the Triple Crown season. He won his first two races, including the Grade II Best Pal Stakes over eventual Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, I’ll Have Another. He seemed poised to be an important horse to watch as he finished behind Hansen and Union Rags at the Breeders’ Cup. He looked fairly strong in his three Derby prep races and despite finishing third at the San Vicente Stakes, he came back to beat Bodemeister in the San Felipe and finished second to I’ll Have Another in the Santa Anita Stakes. While still regarded fairly well, he had slid down the list of top rated horses going into the Derby, but still managed to finish a respectable 5th and in the Preakness Stakes two weeks later, he finished third. Not bad finishes, but hardly the factor that he was considered to be back in the winter.
These horses are proof that fall and winter success don’t always guarantee success in the spring when the Triple Crown series rolls around. Sometimes, it’s the horses that fly just below the radar or that don’t run at all as two-year-olds, who can emerge and make an impact in the spring. That is supported by the great runs of I’ll Have Another and Bodemeister. I’ll Have Another, only won his maiden race in three starts as a two-year-old, but found his legs and reeled off four consecutive wins in 2012, including the first two legs of the Triple Crown, before he retired due to injury. Bodemeister didn’t start his first race until January 16th, where he lost his first attempt at a maiden special weight win and had to settle for getting his first win in his second start. From there, he finished first and second in Derby preps and wound up finishing a very close second in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Keep that in mind as we move towards the fall. Sometimes, the horses that make the biggest impact in the spring don’t emerge until after the start of the New Year.
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