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Horses of the Decade: 2000-2009

I skipped the customary Christmas Day movie/Chinese Food routine, so what better time to look back on a fascinating decade of racing and crunch some PP’s to figure out the best of the best in each category.

Annual Eclipse Awards are sometimes difficult because there are no clear guidelines in how to comparatively assess ability vs accomplishment.  The general understanding is to simply measure the strength of the overall campaign (although this logic seems to have fallen by the wayside for Zenyatta supporters when it comes to the Zenyatta vs Rachel Alexandra debate for 2009 Horse of the Year). Selecting a champion for the decade is even more difficult because you’re facing the same questions multiplied by 10.  How do you treat a horse who had the most accomplished championship year vs a horse who was clearly the best and most talented champion but perhaps slightly less accomplished?

I’m going to go with a blended answer and take a little from both sides.  My list of champions for the decade are determined by seeing who rises to the top at the intersection between ability and accomplishment.  I will limit it to their individual championship years and not how they performed outside of those years.

2 Year Old Colt – This has to be War Pass who was absolutely brilliant is going 4-for-4 including G1 wins in the Champagne and Breeders’ Cup and recorded Beyers of 103 and 113 in those races.

2 Year Old Female –  I have to narrowly give this to Storm Flag Flying who was sensational as a 2 year old in going 4-for-4 with 3 Grade 1 wins (Matron, Frizette, Breeders’ Cup) and ran fast in the process (94-98-102 BSF’s).  Storm Flag Flying seemed to be getting better and looked poised to become an  all-time superstar before developing some issues at 3, subsequently getting hurt and never really regaining that elite form when she came back.  Closely behind is Halfbridled who was also sensational as a 2yo filly.  Sweet Catamine and Tempera were both extremely fast and quite good but they both lost races unlike the top 2.

3 Year Old Colt – What a tough call as most of these had somewhat incomplete seasons.  Tiznow only won 2 Grade 1’s.  Same with Smarty Jones and Afleet Alex.  Curlin won 3 Grade 1’s in a 6-for9 season.    Bernardini won 3 Grade 1’s in a 6-for-8 season.   My winner is Point Given who won 5 Grade 1’s and Horse of the Year in a 6-for-7 season that was cut short by injury.  His only loss was in the Derby where he inexplicably didn’t fire after making a big middle move – but his overall record was as good as anyone, his accomplishments as strong as anyone, and he won 2 more Grade 1’s than anyone else during the decade.

3 Year Old FillyRachel Alexandra…by as big a margin as she won the Kentucky Oaks & Mother Goose.

Older Male – Another difficult call in comparing ability and accomplishment as only Saint Liam and Mineshaft (and now Gio Ponti – who is not considered because his wins were on turf) won 4 Grade 1’s.   Saint Liam was generally not brilliant and certainly wouldn’t make for a popular choice.  Mineshaft had an extremely strong year going 7-for-9, winning in January through September, and running fast.  But he passed on the Breeders’ Cup and beat a fairly weak group (Quest, Hold That Tiger, Volponi, Western Pride, American Style, Olmodavor, Learned, Halo’s Tiger, Revised Note ran 2nd in his wins) so a little luster is lost.

Mineshaft is still probably the most logical winner but I cannot vote against Ghostzapper who was simply incredible in his short 4 win Horse of the Year  season.  His accomplishments were obviously less than some others, but he was as talented as any horse to run since Spectacular Bid and lengths better than any other horse to run this decade.  His Breeders’ Cup was the fastest Classic ever and he beat a very strong field in what was, amazingly, just his 2nd career start around 2-turns and first time ever running 10 furlongs.  He’s my choice.

Older Filly/Mare – Had she not ran horribly in the Breeders’ Cup I’d give the nod to the often-forgotten Riboletta who was as good as just about any filly or mare in years for a few months in 2000.   She was 7-for-11 that year (with 2 of those losses coming on turf)  with Beyers of 115-115-111-110.   But with her glaring 7th place finish in the Breeders’ Cup, this becomes a toss-up between Zenyatta’s 7-for-7 season in 2008 (4 Grade 1’s) and Azeri’s 8-for-9 season in 2002 (5 Grade 1’s).  Ability-wise they were pretty similar – with Azeri perhaps a touch faster than year.  Neither campaign was super aggressive.  Azeri won 1 more race, and 1 more Grade 1, but she also lost a race while Zenyatta didn’t.  But because of those extra wins and the fact that she was slightly more dominant in her victories and didn’t earn most of her wins over synthetics, I’d give the nod to Azeri by a nose.

Turf MaleHigh Chaparral by a small margin for his 2002 campaign in which he went 5-for-6 with 4 Grade 1 wins including the Epsom Derby, Irish Derby and an easy win in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.   Close runner-up is Fantastic Light for his 2001 campaign where he went 4-for-6 with 4 Grade 1’s and was ultra impressive winning the Breeders’ Cup Turf running a 117 Beyer (vs 111 for High Chaparral).

Turf FemaleOuija Board (2004) where she was 4-for-5 including wins in the English Oaks, Irish Oaks, and an easy win in the BC Filly & Mare Turf.  Her only loss was a 3rd to Bago in the Arc.

On a sidenote, Ouija Board is a horse that I think has been overrated a bit.  People consider her among the best turf females of all-time but her record against males was actually pretty weak.  Ouija Board was actually just 2-for-11 in Grade 1 races against males over the course of her career – with one of those wins coming in Hong Kong.

Sprinter – Tough call between Kona Gold (2000) and Orientate (2002).  Kona Gold in 2000 was 5-for-6 with his only loss coming by a nose.  His Beyers that year were 112-109-119-118-117-114.   Orientate was 6-for-10 in 2002, however his 4 losses were either on turf (2) or going long (2).  Sprinting he was 6-for-6 with Beyers of 109-115-115-112-116-114.   This is a toss-up for me but since it’s impossible not to love a horse like Kona Gold who was very good for a long time, and since he was slightly faster, we’ll give him the nod.

Agree?  Disagree?  Let’s hear your thoughts…

Happy Holidays to all – and as Harvey Pack would say “May the horse be with you!”

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7 Responses

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  1. Steve M. says

    This is one of the better “best of the decade” list I’ve seen IMHO. Finally, someone willing to give Storm Flag Flying her due. Halfbriddled was great but thought Storm Flag’s BC performance was incredibly gutsy for a two-year old.

    I picked Ghostzapper as my horse of the decade just based on raw talent, but it was nice to see Mineshaft getting some props. Mineshaft’s had a great four year old campaign but his competition wasn’t flattering. I thought he missed the BC Classic due to injury but maybe the connections thought he nothing left to prove – dunno. Always suspected the Jockey Club Gold Cup was gonna be his last race.

    Only quibble w/ your list was that Invasor deserved consideration as best older horse in addition to Ghostzapper and Mineshaft. But in the end, Ghostzapper’s best looked to be better than any other horse we’ve seen this decade. Aptly named becuase he was scary on the track.

  2. Darrell says

    Thanks Steve – appreciate the nice words.

    Invasor is one of those horses that I thought started out very underrated but ended up a bit overrated.   That said, your comment caused me to look back and realize I made a mistake in that Invasor also won 4 Grade 1’s in his championship season.  Not sure how I overlooked that.  By that measure he’d certainly have to rank right along with Saint Liam (better overall season) and Mineshaft (not as strong a season, but did run in and win the Classic).  Even though the accomplishments pale in comparison, I just can’t put any of them ahead of Ghostzapper because of how scary talented he was and how much better than any of those he was.   Good call though.   I will check out your blog as well.


  3. sbloomer says

    It’s hard to comment on a such a list. Given how few times many of the champions of the ’00s raced, it’s hard to compile a gaudy list of accomplishments, as your post underlines. And this leaves me underwhelmed by the whole thing (not your fault). Nonetheless, you are right about Ghostzapper, and about Ouija Board being overrated (she was Euro horse of the year one year when Pride was the better older mare that year).
    But here’s one you can tackle in another thread – how horses from the 00s  should be HOFers? The expectation should be that there will be 10 males and 10 females in this decade

  4. Darrell says


    I don’t know if that’s necessarily the case since there will undoubtedly be a lot of leftovers from previous decades who could/should qualify, but to play along…

    10 Females: Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, Azeri

    10 Males: Ghostzapper

    OK…I’m falling a little short.  I could be forgetting 1 or 2 but offhand those are really the only horses that rise to the level of being Hall of Famers.  I really can’t see anyone else being considered a true “great” on the basis of accomplishment + ability.

    Fortunately this time will be able to be used to get in some others who deserve to be there but have been left off due to too much competition.

    Time to revise the criteria.  1 per year is ridiculous.  Some years they all deserve it and some years none deserve it.

  5. sbloomer says

    Thanks Darrell for replying. I only read your post and others like it yesterday just in time to coincide with baseball’s HOF discussion. You’re more pessimistic than I’d be.  My idea was given enough time and that you vote 1 male and 1 female per year, you would expect an average decade would get 10 of each (given the present voting procedure). So I went back and counted the horses in the HOF today from both the 70s and 80s (the ones on the decade borders I slotted into the decade that made them a HOFer – so Spectacular Bid is a 70s horse, John Henry a 80s horse, Go for Wand a 90s horse).
    It went like this:
    1970’s – 14 males, 7 females
    1980’s – 9 males, 10 females
    with not a whole lot of questionables in those 40.
    I compiled a list of who I thought will make it from the 00s (that’s sort of different than who deserves to be in), based on precedent.
    Tiznow is in already. Azeri, RA, Zenyatta, Ghostzapper obviously. Curlin had both better 3 and 4 y.o. seasons than Tiznow, so he’s in. Miesque’s in the HOF – so multiple Breeders Cup winners from Europe with excellent European race records are in – Goldikova and High Chaparral for sure, Ouija Board almost assuredly though her 2 US victories were not in open company, Conduit?? nah!  Invasor was a HoY, never lost in the US in a handful of US starts – All Along as a HOF might be a good comparable, and so he’s in.
    That’s 4 males, 5 females for sure. AP Indy’s presence in the HOF gives hope to the lightly raced, seldom defeated 3 y.o’s of the ’00s, though none of these should be in before say Spend a Buck who was simply more brilliant. Amongst sprinters Xtra Heat had a great record but only beat boys once and shouldn’t be in before Safely Kept.  Ashado as a 2 time eclipse award winner might, as might Ginger Punch – despite very solid records over multiple years, these 2 don’t scream HOF to me.
    Anyways, a rather subpar decade. So here’s hoping for the 10s and that Gio Ponti and Summer Bird return and kick some tail this year, which is what we really need, good horses with more longevity.

  6. Frederico says

    Really good post. Enjoyed reading it thoroughly 🙂

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Jessica Chapel / Railbird v2 - Racing ’09, ’00s in Review: The List of Lists linked to this post on December 26, 2009

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