Over the next little while I'll be posting a series of Top 10 lists. These lists will be my attempts at ranking the past greats of the game. Some people think it's impossible to properly compare and rank horses from different era's but it's a game of opinions. I happen to think that opinions on this subject are interesting at the very least.
One of the problems with arbitrary Top 10 lists is differing criteria. I try to base my rankings on a combination of accomplishments, consistency, brilliance, versatility, strength of competition and speed. I think most people would use the same criteria but they may give more weight to brilliance as opposed to consistency. Sometimes it comes down to the "it" factor as one commenter described it. It's just that intangible feeling that a certain horse was something special.
I will post all sorts of different categories like Top 10 Fillies, Top 10 Sprinters, Top 10 horses of the 80's etc.... I'll even get into to European rankings. You aren't likely to completely agree with the way I rank the horses but remember this is just my opinion. I would encourage everyone to post a comment with their own top 10 list and the reasons why they rank certain horses above others.
This week's Top 10 list will feature the best North American 3yo's since the Triple Crown was last won. So every 3 year old from 1979 to the present is eligible to be ranked. I am ranking them based solely upon their 3yo season. Their entire career is not taken into consideration.
1. Spectacular Bid
2. Sunday Silence
3. Easy Goer
4. Holy Bull
6. Thunder Gulch
7. A.P. Indy
8. Point Given
10. Dance Smartly
1. Spectacular Bid: 12-10-1-1
I think he has to be #1 on this list, he was simply a superstar in 1979 and possibly the best horse to fail winning the Triple Crown. One of the most impressive things about his campaign was that no horse got anywhere near him in his 10 victories. He won races like the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Blue Grass, Florida Derby and Marlboro Cup. He faced older older three time and won twice. His lone defeats came in the Belmont where he ran third and a second place finish behind Affirmed in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. He won from 7f-10f on 8 different tracks. Clearly a cut above everyone else on the list.
2. Sunday Silence: 9-7-2-0
Simply fantastic as a 3yo. He is really best known for his rivalry with Easy Goer and in my opinion he gets ranked ahead of his rival. There is no question that Easy Goer had a more brilliant campaign but Sunday Silence beat him in 3 of 4 meetings and he managed to win the big races. He lost twice as a 3yo, once to Easy Goer in the Belmont and the other time to Prized in the Swaps. Prized went on to win the Breeders Cup Turf. He won on 5 tracks from 6.5f-10f, for his day he had a relatively light campaign which is a slight mark against him but he was good enough to best Easy Goer in their rivalry and that alone is enough to get him in this spot.
3. Easy Goer: 11-8-3-0
I consider Easy Goer's 1989 campaign to be one of the best single seasons by any horse. He did lose three time to Sunday Silence, but we all know the quality of that rival and some would suggest that Easy Goer could have bested Sunday Silence if he had just gotten the rub of the green. Whether you believe that or not it does not detract from the campaign he had. In his second start of the year he equalled Dr. Fager's record for a flat mile. He won the 12f Belmont in 2:26 flat making it the second fastest running ever. I think the most impressive part of his campaign was after the Triple Crown. 3yo's who run in all three Triple Crown races these days either usually get rested and have a light campaign up to the Breeders Cup if they return to racing at all. Easy Goer ran in the Whitney, Travers, Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup before the BC Classic and he won them all in dominating fashion. He won races from 7f-12f on 4 different tracks. He and his arch rival were true greats and they were at their best as 3yo's.
4. Holy Bull: 10-8-0-0
In my mind there is an imaginary line separating Spectacular Bid, Sunday Silence and Easy Goer from the rest of the 3yo's on this list. Holy Bull was noteworthy for his fantastic and brilliant speed he was nearly a modern day Dr. Fager and like the Tartan Stable supremo he failed to win a Triple Crown race. Most lists of this type will be dominated by horses who won Triple Crown races, and why not, they are the championship races for the division. But I give near equal consideration to how 3yo's do against older horses. It's a major hurdle for 3yo's, especially if they go into open company in the first half of the year. Holy Bull had disastrous races in the Fountain of Youth and the Kentucky Derby but aside from that he was flawless. His demolition of Cherokee Run and Devil His Due in the Met Mile was breathtaking. He simply laughed off challenges from good horses in the Woodward. The courage and determination he showed in the Travers was likely his defining moment. 10f was really too far for this speedster and opponents had rabbits entered to ensure a faster pace than normal. Holy Bull took on all challengers and stubbornly held of eventual BC Classic winner Concern. When the Bull is remembered that is the race that comes to mind.
5. Manila: 10-8-2-0
This is the first really controversial ranking. Many people will be scratching their heads and some will even be asking, who was Manila? In a nutshell Manila was the best Turf horse of 1986. He was trained by Leroy Jolley and from his first start of the year to his last he ascended from the bottom to the very pinnacle of racing. Manila broke his maiden in his first start as a 3yo and Jolley stepped him up methodically. He did not even win his first stakes race until June, but from then on he never lost again. He beat 3yo's in back to back G-2 stakes races then stepped up to win 3 races against older horses, two of them being G-1's. Considering his success he was rather overlooked in the BC Turf. He went postward at 8/1 but he soon set the record straight. Dancing Brave was the huge favorite in the Turf and Theatrical and Estrapade added significant quality. Manila tried to come up the inside entering the straight but Estrapade shut him off and forced him to switch out wide. He closed very quickly to edge past Theatrical late on and won perhaps the best BC Turf ever run.
6. Thunder Gulch: 10-7-0-1
An extremely underrated horse, Thunder Gulch is not usually thought of as one of the best 3yo's of recent times but he won 7 of 10 races, beat older horses, was within 3/4 of a length of winning the Triple Crown and was the first horse since Damascus in 1967 to win two legs of the Triple Crown and the Travers. What he lacked in brilliance he certainly made up for with toughness and accomplishments. It was a shame that he was injured during the running of the Jockey Club Gold Cup. It would have been very interesting to see him fire his best shot against Cigar.
7. A.P. Indy: 7-5-0-1
A.P Indy was a brilliant enigma. Because of his physical frailty he never put very many races together and his two losses were really pathetic performances. He was supposed to win the Kentucky Derby but he had to be scratched when he came up not right. His fans felt more than vindicated when he put in a huge performance in the Belmont. He won it in 2:26 flat giving him the co-second fastest time for the race. But I think his crowning achievement has his BC classic victory. He simply won it with such ease that you could not help but be impressed with him. His accomplishments are rather weak comparatively but it is his brilliance that gets him the #7 spot.
8. Point Given: 7-6-0-0
I think racing fans were all quite disappointed that Point Given failed to run his best race in the Kentucky Derby, because otherwise he was flawless and dominant. He was one horse who had all the tools to be a Triple Crown winner. Point Given became the first horse in history to win four $1 million races in a row. The two knocks against him, his Kentucky Derby debacle, and his failure to face older horses can be forgiven. He was still a vastly superior horse to other TC race winners like Smarty Jones, Silver Charm and Afleet Alex.
9. Tiznow: 9-5-3-0
Tiznow like Manila went from the very bottom to the very top all in one season. His accomplishments may seem a little light when compared to horses who won Triple Crown races but what really gets Tiznow on the list is the strength of his competition and the results he achieved against those fast horses. In his stakes debut he was beating horse like Dixie Union. He attempted to win the Pacific Classic against older horses in just his 6th career start and very nearly completed the task. By the time the BC Classic rolled around he was clearly superior to every other horse in North America. His top competition was a phenomenal European and even Giant's Causeway, the iron horse, could not get past him in the lane.
10. Dance Smartly: 8-8-0-0
Dubbed the "Undisputed Queen of Racing on this Continent" by Tom Durkin during the stretch call of her BC Distaff victory. Dance Smartly had a perfect season, she won a Triple Crown, never lost a single race and capped it off with a win in the Breeders Cup. Some will malign her for making 7 starts in Canada but the competition she was facing was actually quite tough. She beat males 4 races in a row and won on Turf and Dirt from 6f-12f. Some may feel aggrieved that horses like Smarty Jones, Unbridled and Conquistador Cielo did not make the list but I think Dance Smarty is fully deserving. She was extremely versatile and dominant in every race she ran, no 3 year old champion since Dance Smartly has had an undefeated season.