This upcoming weekend will bring about the end of the first half of 2012, so it seems like a good time to take a look at the top performers from the last six months. Obviously, there’s no way to put together a list of 2YOs at this point, but that will be forthcoming post-Saratoga and Del Mar.
OLDER HORSE: Ron the Greek
Of all the great work that Bill Mott has done over the years, and his career has been incredible, Ron the Greek might be his best training job. He has won two Grade Is with this son of Full Mandate, who looked like an allowance horse at this time one year ago. Has he benefited from positive circumstances? Sure, but he has delivered when it mattered most, winning two of the country’s most prestigious races, the Santa Anita Handicap and Stephen Foster Handicap.
OLDER FEMALE: It’s Tricky
The distaff division in California is awful. Thus, the three graded stakes wins for It’s Tricky make her the best in this division to this point. After kicking off her 2012 campaign with a win in the Top Flight at 1 1/16 miles, she cut back to win the Distaff at Aqueduct before winning the Ogden Phipps at Belmont. She is expected to stretch out to 10 furlongs in the Delaware Handicap, where she will tangle with Royal Delta, the filly who could end up on top of this division in five months.
HONORABLE MENTION: Royal Delta
TURF MALE: Little Mike
This division is very much up in the air, especially with Manhattan winner Desert Blanc now on the sidelines. Little Mike has just one graded stake win, but it was the Woodford Reserve at Churchill on the Kentucky Derby undercard. He has an opportunity to add to his resume in a big way if he can win the Shoemaker Mile at Hollywood on Saturday. The fleet-footed Little Mike has had difficulty staying healthy for an entire campaign, but he is a tough customer when on his game.
TURF FEMALE: Zagora
The memories of Zagora’s failed bid in the Jenny Wiley at Keeneland are fresh. However, that was her only blemish through a four-race stretch where she picked up graded stakes wins in the Hillsborough, Endeavour, and Gallorette. Trainer Chad Brown has taken a relatively easy path with her thus far, but she’ll face 3 titans in this division when she defends her Diana title in late July at Saratoga.
HONORABLE MENTION: Tapitsfly
One of the debates that always ensues as the Eclipse Awards are decided on at the end of the year is how you categorize one mile races. Shackleford won the best of them all, as he took the Met Mile in a stirring rendition back on May 28. He also won the Churchill Downs over 2011 Eclipse Award winner Amazombie. The horses on the west coast in this division will battle in Saturday’s Triple Bend Handicap at Hollywood Park. If The Factor is able to live up to his endless hype, he could vault himself into contention for this award.
FEMALE SPRINTER: Groupie Doll
This is an easy one. The talented “Buff” Bradley trainee rattled off two Grade I wins in 23 days between April and May. She is currently sidelined, but is expected to appear at Saratoga later this summer. Her ability to handle any surface and versatile running style make her a threat in any race. It took Bradley some time to determine the ideal trip for Groupie Doll, but she has proven to be very tough at 7 furlongs. With a healthy Turbulent Descent out west, she will have a major impact on the division leading up to the fall. Following the A Gleam at Hollywood in July, there’s a major void in the female sprint division out west. Here’s to hoping Turbulent Descent returns to Saratoga and tries Groupie Doll in the Ballerina.
3 YEAR-OLD: I’ll Have Another
This is a really easy one. I don’t envision any change in this division, barring something totally unforeseen from another three year-old. Who are the horses who could potentially knock him off in this division? Union Rags would need two more graded stakes wins to match I’ll Have Another’s four, and at least one of those would have to come in the Travers. Bodemeister has one graded stakes win, but is likely to pick up another in the Haskell next month. He was beaten twice by I’ll Have Another and would probably have to beat older horses to have a legitimate shot at the award. Paynter is miles behind and Dullahan’s poor effort in the Belmont seemed to stop any momentum he had built.
3 YEAR-OLD FILLY: Believe You Can
As the only 3 year-old filly with a Grade I win and another graded stakes win, she has an edge at this point. Her trip in the Mother Goose was far from ideal, which earns her another chance in the upcoming CCA Oaks and Alabama at Saratoga. Her talent is clear, but she is going to need to rebound strongly at the Spa.
TRAINER: Dale Romans
Wins in the Blue Grass, Woodford Reserve, Met Mile, and Just A Game earn you this title. Dale Romans has been on an incredible tear for the last two years, especially in Grade I races. He has a giant stable of stars that will certainly be active over the next few months.
JOCKEY: Ramon Dominguez
Even though he went 0-3 in the Triple Crown races, Dominguez picked up a pair of Grade I wins on the Belmont undercard and has been the most consistent rider in big races thus far this year. Clearly, this is a division that is influx as the year progresses.
That’s a look at who some of the best performers are for the first half of 2012. I’ll be back next week with a look at the Independence Day weekend stakes races! Saratoga starts four weeks from Friday!