Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Champs Who Weren't Champs

Racing is occasionally blessed to have several good horses within the same division at the same time but usually one horse proves themselves to be slightly better or maybe they simply catch the public eye to a greater degree. In any event the horse who ends up being crowned champion is rightly remembered and often the one who fails to win the championship falls through the cracks as time goes on.

Here are some of my favorite uncrowned champions in chronological order. Some of them did win championships in other years of their career but were outshone during certain campaigns. This is not to say they were necessary wronged when they failed to win a championship it's just recognizing that they too were brilliant.

Swaps - 1955
It's hard to believe that a Derby winner who went 9-8-1-0 during the campaign would be overlooked for year end honors but he had the great misfortune of competing against Nashua who beat him decisively in a match race. Swaps was not right that day and many of his fans dismiss that race as a poor representation of what he was really capable of but the rest of his campaign needed no excuses. He won the Kentucky Derby in fine style going straight to the front. He had to deal with some early pressure and then a massive challenge from Nashua at the head of the lane but he turned back the challenge and scored by two lengths. He then went back home to California and set a new world record for 1 1/16th when taking the Californian in 1:40 2/5. He also proved that he was no one surface wonder when equalling the American record for 1 3/16 on the Turf in the American Derby. Aside from Nashua no horse really got near him. He went on to be Horse Of The Year in 1956 but his 55 season was worth some accolades as well.

Gun Bow - 1964
Gun Bow's epitaph should probably read something like "He lived in the time of Kelso". That pretty much explains why he was not a decorated hero. Kelso won everything there was for a 5 year period. A lot of very good horses failed to win championships during that era. Gun Bow was the best of the rest. In 1964 Gun Bow went 16-8-4-2, he raced at 8 different tracks from California to New York. He ran on both surfaces from 7f to 12f and carried as much as 132lbs successfully. He even managed to go 2-2 in head to head match up's with Kelso. Sadly this was not enough to overcome the mighty Kelso for year end honours but he still had a fantastic campaign.

Easy Goer - 1989
This is probably the strongest case anyone ever had had for splitting an award and giving it to both parties. Sunday Silence definitely deserved an award for his season but look at Easy Goer's record that year and try to imagine seeing a horse that good these days. He won all three of his Triple Crown prep races including the Gotham where he very nearly broke Dr. Fager's record for a mile. He then competed in all three Triple Crown races before capping off his year with a brilliant sweep of all the major G-1's in NY and a second in the BC Classic. He won the Travers, Whitney, Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup. He went 11-8-3-0 in all with 5 G-1 wins, the only horse to beat him in 1989 was Sunday Silence and two of those triumphs were very narrow indeed.

Star Of Cozzene - 1993
His duels with Lure drew comparisons to the great rivalry between Affirmed and Alydar. The only difference was that, unlike Alydar, Star Of Cozzene could actually beat Lure when both were at their best. Alydar never beat Affirmed to the line as a 3yo, his only win came via DQ. Fans were hoping to see a horse take a shot at the traditional Triple Crown but instead the Turf Triple Crown on the under card of the Classics stole the show. Lure took the Turf Classic on Derby day and followed that with a win on Preakness day in the Dixie. Both times Star Of Cozzene chased him home in second. But back at Belmont Star Of Cozzene had his revenge and stormed past Lure in the final furlong to deny him a million dollar bonus. The pair met again next time out in the Caesar's International where Star Of Cozzene again defeated Lure. The pair ran 1-2 in 4 consecutive major races and the rest of the competition was a combined 20 lengths behind them. Star Of Cozzene did not run in the Breeders Cup which likely cost him the Turf Eclipse but along with the Manhatten and Caesar's International he won the Arlington Million and Man O'War stakes on his way to compiling a record of 10-6-4-0 in 1993. At his best he was unquestionably one of the fastest Turf horses we've ever seen on this continent. From 1992 to the present there have only been 19 occasions when a horse has received a Beyer Speed Figure of 115 or more on the Turf. Star Of Cozzene equalled or bettered that mark 4 times. No other horse, not even Lure, topped 115 on the Beyer scale more than once.

Formal Gold - 1997
Speaking of fast horses according to the Beyer scale, has there ever been a horse as consistently fast as Formal Gold? He broke his maiden with a record 112 Beyer speed figure and in his 4yo season went on tear that saw him record 3 consecutive 120+ Beyer Speed Figures. He was unfortunately inconsistent in the early part of 1997 and was injured before the Classic where he might have been favored. All in all his 9-4-2-1 record was not enough to beat out Skip Away at the polls but the way he left Skip Away for dead in the Woodward has to go down as one of the most brilliant performances ever at Belmont.

Awesome Again - 1998
Like Formal Gold, Awesome Again was a Canadian bred and he had a special place in my heart. I happen to think that he had a good case for Horse of the Year in 1998. A perfect 6 for 6 campaign with wins in the Whitney and in the Stephen Foster over Silver Charm and capped off with that wild and crazy win in the BC Classic. Some argue that he wasn't the best horse in that race but in my opinion he came and got them like a champion. He showed a ton of determination to close from near last against one of the toughest fields ever assembled. Most assuredly a champion uncrowned.

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