People have a need to contextualize. When they see something great they immediately want to know how great it was in comparison to other events. Racing is experiencing this phenomenon right now as fans reflect on the career of Invasor. How good was he? Was he the best horse we've seen in this young century? My opinion if far from definitive but here is my top 10 list of horses who ran in this century.
This list only includes horses who ran in races from Jan 1st, 2000 to the present date and were based in North America. Also only retired horses are included.
5. Point Given
6. Smarty Jones
8. Pleasantly Perfect
9. Saint Liam
10. Kona Gold
1. Ghostzapper: 11-9-0-1
Ghostzapper was brilliance personified. His wins in the Breeders Cup Classic, Vosburgh, Met Mile and Iselin Handicap were some of the most brilliant races run in the modern era. It was a real shame that he was raced so sparingly. I suppose the price of his brilliance was physical frailty. He had physical issues his entire career and never managed to run more than 4 races in a single season. But in my opinion he is the best horse of this century only because it is hard to imagine any other horse beating him. He showed remarkable brilliance from 7f to 10f. He won on the lead and coming from dead last. In his short career he also managed to beat 3 of the horses who also made it into the top 10.
2. Invasor: 12-11-0-0
Invasor was all class, not as brilliant or versatile as Ghostzapper. He seemed to only do enough to win his races but win he did. He never lost a race in America and he ran exclusively in G-1 races. He won the two richest races in the world, 4 more G-1 stakes and even took the Uruguayan Triple Crown. His lone loss came in the UAE Derby where he mysteriously failed to show up. Although he only ran 12 times he did seem very much like Cigar. He travelled the world and was nearly an automatic every time.
3. Tiznow: 15-8-4-2
If ever a horse was born for the big stage it was Tiznow. His two fantastic wins in the Breeders Cup Classic will endure as some of America's greatest moments against foreign competition. Overall in his career he was not as unbeatable as he seemed at the Breeders Cup. He won just over half of his starts but his real niche was running 10f races. The only horse to beat him at 10f was Skimming in the Pacific Classic and Skimming was a Del Mar specialist who got an uncontested lead. Some of the horses listed below him were more brilliant, some of them more dominant or consistent but none of them achieved what he did in winning the BC Classic twice and none of them showed as much courage in the face of adversity.
4. Mineshaft: 18-10-3-1
Mineshaft's career really needs to be split into two parts. He started off in Europe running on the turf and compiled a modest 7-1-1-1 record but like Cigar, Mineshaft did not come alive until his connections moved him to the dirt. On his favored surface in America he went an impressive 11-9-2-0. He only lost to Balto Star in his graded stakes debut and at Churchill Downs by a head to Perfect Drift. Albarado was roundly criticised that day for getting him beat. Mineshaft's 2003 campaign was stellar. He ran 9 times on 5 different tracks winning 4 G-1's and recording an incredible 7 straight Beyer Speed Figures that were 114 or more. The lone blight on his record is that he never ran in a Breeders Cup race. Had he done that and won he easily could have been second on this list.
5. Point Given: 13-9-3-0
Has there been a more powerful horse this century? Point Given exuded class and power, it seemed there was no stopping him once he got rolling. Point Given is perhaps best remembered for failing to the win the Derby when it seemed like he was invincible but his string of 4 straight $1 million dollar race victories left no doubt as to who was the best horse of 2001. He did fail to meet older competition but given his imposing physique and machine like consistency I have no doubt he would have been able to excel against any competition he faced. Although he retired after the Travers he already looked much better than any older horse in the country.
6. Smarty Jones: 9-8-1-0
Although he is the most lightly raced of all the horses in the top 10 Smarty Jones was simply too brilliant to leave out. How he managed to lose the Belmont, even with the hot pace, was a mystery. He was a far better horse than any from his crop. Racing really was robbed the day he retired as he simply appeared to be on a different place than other horses. Much like Ghostzapper, Smarty Jones rarely had to work to beat his opposition. The winning margins seemed like side issues as it appeared as if he could have won by any margin his jockey asked of him. He still had much to prove when he retired but his sheer ability marks him as one of the best in this century.
7. Azeri: 24-17-4-0
The undisputed Queen of racing since the millennium. Azeri took the Horse of The Year title in 2002 to become one of just a handful of females to be named Horse of The Year. She won at the Breeders Cup, she won the Apple Blossom 3 years in a row, she won 11 G-1's on 6 different tracks and had an 11 race winning streak at one point. She even had to battle through adversity after her first trainer proclaimed she could never run again. There is no question that Azeri was a superior animal.
8. Pleasantly Perfect: 18-9-3-2
Not a dominant horse by any means but certainly a relentless one. Pleasantly Perfect had a troubled start to his career. He always showed talent but Mandella had a terrible time getting him right and keeping him that way. He really only burst into prominence when he captured the BC Classic, capped a 4 win day for Mandella. Many people thought the race a fluke but his hard fought victory over the fantastic Medaglia D'Oro in the Dubai World Cup put that issue to rest. At his best Pleasantly Perfect could beat anyone aside from Ghostzapper.
9. Saint Liam: 20-9-6-1
Saint Liam is perhaps fortunate to be on this list. He is a BC Classic winner and he was named Horse of the Year in 2005. He was not dominant and was only rarely brilliant but he simply accomplished more than horses like Medaglia D'Oro, Roses In May and Afleet Alex. Perhaps his greatest effort came in the Donn Handicap where he beat Roses In May by a resounding 3 lengths.
10. Kona Gold: 30-14-7-2
He is the only sprinter to make it on the list, this century has not seen many great talents in this division that have gone on to fulfill their promise. Kona Gold raced for 6 seasons and was a top class competitor in every one of them. He shockingly only captured 2 G-1's in his career but he won several G-2 races that have since been upgraded to G-1 status. 2000 was certainly his greatest season as he went 6-5-1-0 missing perfection by just a nose. He won the BC Sprint that year in an incredible 1:07 3/5. Kona Gold was a fantastic warrior who gave his fans many seasons of excitement.