Yearly Overview: A decade from now 2008 will likely not be remembered as one of the great years of racing. Sure we had Curlin break the North American earnings record and Big Brown nearly sweeping the Triple Crown but the biggest story of the year really was the Eight Belles tragedy. As tragic as it was it seems as though it's going to be the catalyst for some real and lasting changes in racing and that will be the legacy of 2008 as opposed to anything that happened on the track. The biggest racing story of the year in my opinion were the phenomenal fillies both here and abroad. It's not often that we get such superstars as Zenyatta and Zarkava, the fact that they emerged in the same year is truly remarkable. Add to that a supporting cast of Ginger Punch, Hystericalady, Cocoa Beach, Goldikova, Indian Blessing, Proud Spell and Music Note and its clear that the quality of the female racehorses this year was exceptional. There has never been this much female quality in all the years I've been following racing.
Thoroughbred Championship Rankings: The third annual TCR Awards will be launched tomorrow. The TCR Awards mirror the Eclipse Awards but are given out in a fashion that we feel is a better model for rewarding the years most accomplished. Votes count for 50% of the consideration and the points accumulated by each horse according to the Thoroughbred Championship Rankings count for the other 50%. Obviously Curlin will be heavily favored to win Horse of The Year for a second time but we have tight races developing in the Male Sprinter and Three Year Old Female divisions. The year end TCR division winners can be seen on the sidebar.
Power Rankings: Just developed in the middle of 2008 so they have not even had a full year of use but I'm very excited about these rankings. Already in their brief existence I've been impressed by their accuracy both historically and in real time. There is nothing like them in racing. The Power Rankings have obviously identified Curlin, Zenyatta and Big Brown as the big three. You don't need a numbers system to tell you that but what of the debate between Midnight Lute, Street Boss and Benny the Bull or Music Note, Proud Spell and Indian Blessing? These numbers aren't really a handicapping tool or something to base year end awards on but I find them profoundly interesting.
Performance of the Year: No race of 2008 took my breath away like Goldikova's victory in the Breeders' Cup Mile. I was literally speechless for minutes after the race. Most people did expect her to win but I don't think many would have bet on such a dominant exhibition of speed and turn of foot. The Mile is always a tough race and this year was definitely no exception but she made it look a shade easy as she simply waltzed away from defending champion Kip Deville.
Race of the Year: For the title of best race of the year I'm not looking so much at the quality of the field as I am the overall "watchability". I generally like to pick exciting races that I can watch over and over. No matter how lackluster a year has been in terms of overall talent there is always no shortage of tight finishes. That's one of the great things about racing. The tightest of the tight finishes in 2008 was probably the Travers Stakes. It was a roughly run affair and at the top of the lane it looked like anyone had a shot. Colonel John and Mambo in Seattle forged to the front of the pack and fought each other all the way to the line. Even now my eye cannot separate them at the finish. A classic renewal of a classic race.
Flop of the Year: The most shocking loss of the year is still Big Brown's demise in the Belmont. Even in retrospect it doesn't make sense. Sure I know that anything can happen on any given day but he never ran that poorly before or since and none of his rivals that day proved to be of much use. It was a result totally out of left field.
Tip O'the Cap: Bob Baffert has never been my favorite trainer. He went through that cult-like phase in the late nineties when he couldn't even leave footprints in the snow. The last five years have been less kind to him and his star has fallen to a great degree. It seemed like things were at an all time low when Zayat stables removed a bunch of horses from his care to escape the speed sucking synthetic surfaces. It seemed as though Baffert was set for hard times. But the 2008 tip o'the cap goes to Baffert for his ability to reinvent himself a bit and adjust to the changes. Much of the adjustment started in 2007 when he started regularly shipping good "dirt" horses out of California in search of proper races but in 2008 he not only continued his deadly winning percentages with out of state shippers he also figured out how to win at home. Midshipman and Midnight Lute both ran exclusively on synthetics and will be favored for Eclipse Awards. Baffert has also guided Indian Blessing through a well chosen campaign that has featured a mix of surfaces. Baffert wasn't dominant enough to win trainer of the year or anything but he learned how to play the hand he was dealt. I'm sure he wouldn't have wanted to trade spots with anyone.
KC Handicapping: It was not a great year at the windows. It is my goal to try an improve every year but this year I took a step backwards. It is of course quite difficult to maintain a high winning percentage when you're routinely analysing and picking days prior to the actual event. It's very important to assess things in real time and make changes. But as you can see from the numbers below I once achieved better results than I did in 2008. Towards the end of the year I felt like I found my feet a bit so hopefully that continues into this new year. Sorry to anyone who decided to follow my advice.
Yearly Record: 229(150)-34-34-25 (-$75.50 -16.48% ROI)
Overall Record: 674(356)-115-108-91 (-$125.50 -9.31% ROI)