Ranking Horse Racing's Top Moments of 2013

Michael Dempsey@turfnsportFeatured ColumnistDecember 30, 2013

Ranking Horse Racing's Top Moments of 2013

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    It was an exciting year in horse racing, with comebacks, brilliant performances, milestones and photo finishes that made for plenty of great moments.

    Voting is underway online for fans at the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) website for the 15th annual NTRA Moment of the Year.

    There are a dozen top moments that occurred throughout the year on the list, and fans have until midnight (ET) on Thursday, January 2 to cast their ballots.

    Last year’s winner was the recovery of Haskell Invitational winner Paynter, a popular colt who recovered from near-deadly battles with laminitis and colitis. Paynter is on the ballot this year as well for his triumphant return to the racetrack.

    The previous three years top moment all involved the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.

    Let’s rank the top moments in horse racing for 2013:

12. Spicer Club's Wild Ride

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    Date: April 13, 2013

    Spicer Cub bolts around the parked starting gate along the outside rail and still nearly wins at Pimlico Race Course, losing by a nose.

    It was only a $25,000 maiden claiming race at Pimlico, but it certainly was the wildest ride of the year. The gelding was making his eighth career start, but he looked like a green rookie, bolting in the stretch, causing jockey Xavier Perez to lose his irons.

    The gelding squeezed between the parked starting gate and the rail and reappeared to rally strongly to just miss out on what would have been one of the most improbable wins of all-time.


11. Ramon Dominguez Accepts Riding Awards

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    Date: August 25, 2013

    Retired jockey Ramon Dominguez is presented with the Mike Venezia Award, as well as the 2012 Eclipse Award trophy for Outstanding Jockey he was unable to accept last January, during a ceremony in the Saratoga winner’s circle.

    The Mike Venezia Award is given annually by the New York Racing Association to honor a jockey who exemplifies extraordinary sportsmanship and citizenship.

    A spill in January sent the three-time winning Eclipse Award winning jockey to the sidelines, and the popular jockey announced he would not be returning to the saddle in June, retiring due to a traumatic brain injury.


10. Russell Baze Boots Home No. 12,000

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    Date: July 7, 2013

    Hall of Fame jockey Russell Baze becomes the first North American rider to reach the 12,000-win milestone aboard Handful of Pearls at the Alameda County Fair at Pleasanton.

    Baze rides primarily in Northern California, out of the spotlight. He has never ridden a Triple Crown winner although he has led all jockeys nationally in wins ten times, the most recent coming in 2008.

    Baze was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1999 and at the age of 55 is not showing any signs of slowing down. He will finish second in wins among all jockeys in 2013, booting home 308 races through Dec. 29.

    No. 12,000 was not easy, Baze had to wait out a photo finish. 

9. Ramseys Take Three Grade 1 Races in Two Hours

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    Date: August 17, 2013

    Ken and Sarah Ramsey win three major Grade I turf stakes – the Secretariat (with Admiral Kitten), Sword Dancer (Big Blue Kitten) and Arlington Million (Real Solution) – at two different tracks in less than two hours.

    The Ramseys are the favorites for taking down the Eclipse Award for top owner, with over $12 million in purses won in 2013. 

    It is a dream for any owner to win a Grade 1 race, and the Ramseys managed to win three of the most prestigious turf races in less than two hours. All three of the winners were sired by Kitten’s Joy, who the Ramseys campaigned, earning $2 million on the track. Kitten's Joy is now one of the hottest sires on the planet.

8. Paynter's Remarkable Return

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    Date: June 14, 2013

    Paynter, after battling back from life-threatening illness the year before, returns to the races to win an allowance at Betfair Hollywood Park.

    Shortly after a breathtaking score in the Haskell Invitational last year the Bob Baffert trained Paynter fell ill, and was diagnosed first with colitis, and then laminitis. Some said he would not make it, and few thought her would ever make it back to the track.

    He not only made it back, he rolled to a sharp win by 4 ½ lengths at Hollywood Park, and ran second in a couple of graded stakes before finishing off his year with a seventh place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

7. Mizdirection Repeats, Clones Rack It

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    Date: November 2, 2013

    Five-year-old mare Mizdirection beats males in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint for the second straight year in her final career start.

    Owned in part by television and radio personality Jim Rome, it is tough for a mare to beat the boys. However, Mizdirection not only beat males in one of the biggest races of the year, she beat them in her first start off a five-month layoff, and for the second year in a row.

    The Clones apparently went to the windows, making her the betting favorite. She returned $7.40 for a $2 wager.

    Rack it!

6. Will Take Charge Takes Travers

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    Date: August 24, 2013

    Will Take Charge barely gets up to beat front-running Moreno by a nose in the $1 million Travers at Saratoga Race Course.

    The D. Wayne Lukas trainee competed in all three Triple Crown races, finishing eighth in the Kentucky Derby, seventh in the Preakness and 10th in the Belmont Stakes, beaten a combined 46 lengths.

    The colt turned it around at Saratoga in the Travers, known as the Mid-Summer Derby, winning by a nose over Moreno and returning $21.20.

    The colt followed that up with a win in the Pennsylvania Derby, a second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and a victory in the Clark Handicap, and is the favorite for the Eclipse Award for top three-year-old.


5. Gary Stevens Gets First Win After Seven Year Retirement

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    Date: January 12, 2013

    Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens rides his first winner in North America since 2005 aboard Branding in the first race at Santa Anita.

    Stevens was away from the saddle for seven years, acting on the big screen and analyzing horse races on the small screen. When he returned it looked as if he had not missed a day.

    While the moment is for winning his first race after his retirement, the real story is how many big races he won this year. He took the Preakness with Oxbow and won the Breeders’ Cup Distaff aboard Beholder and the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Mucho Macho Man.

    His mounts earned nearly $12 million in 2013. The Hall of Fame jockey is in the mix for the Eclipse Award for outstanding jockey.

    Stevens is back and riding as good as ever with his AARP card buried deep in his wallet.

4. Lukas, Stevens Team Up to Win Preakness with Oxbow

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    Date: May 18, 2013

    Oxbow wins the Preakness Stakes, giving Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas his sixth win in the Triple Crown’s middle jewel and 50-year-old Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens his third.

    Owbow dashed any thoughts of a Triple Crown with his win over Kentucky Derby winner Orb in the second jewel of the Triple Crown.

    Oxbow was saddled by 78-year-old Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who won his first Triple Crown race since Commendable won the Belmont Stakes in 2000, and ridden by 50-year-old jockey Gary Stevens, who won his first Triple Crown race since the 2001 Belmont Stakes aboard Point Given.

3. Orb Wins Run for the Roses in Slop

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    Date: May 4, 2013

    Orb wins the Kentucky Derby for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey and owners Stuart Janney III and Dinny Phipps.

    Orb was a popular winner of the Run for the Roses, the betting favorite paying $12.80 and his six-wide rally through the slop had fans talking Triple Crown.

    It was the first Derby win for McGaughey, who has campaigned some of the all-time greats including Easy Goer, Personal Ensign, Lure and Heavenly Prize.

    The Triple Crown hopes for Orb were dashed in Baltimore two weeks after the Derby where the colt checked in a disappointing fourth.

2. Wise Dan Repeats in Breeders' Cup Mile

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    Date: November 2, 2013

    Wise Dan wins the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Mile for the second straight year, capping a season that will likely be recognized with a repeat Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year.

    The Charles LoPresti trainee is one of the most brilliant milers we have seen in quite some time, defending his title in the Breeders’ Cup Mile despite some early trouble. The gelding likely wrapped up Horse of the Year honors for the second year in a row thanks to losses by Game On Dude in the Classic and Princess of Sylmar in the Distaff.

    The gelding was perfect in six starts on turf in 2013, his lone loss a second in the Shadwell Turf Mile which was washed off the grass and contested over the polytrack surface at Keeneland.

1. Mucho Macho Man Takes Thrilling Classic

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    Date: November 2, 2013

    Mucho Macho Man wins the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic by a nose for jockey Gary Stevens, trainer Kathy Ritvo and owners Reeves Thoroughbred Racing.

    Mucho Macho Man had a solid 2012 which included a runner-up finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but his 2013 campaign did not get off to a good start as he was eased in the Sunshine Millions and ran third in the ungraded Criminal Type and then third in the Whitney Handicap.

    The five-year-old ran big in the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita and then five weeks later held on gamely to win this year’s Classic in a three-way photo over the late charging Will Take Charge and Declaration of War.

    His trainer Kathy Ritvo became the first woman to saddle a Breeders’ Cup Classic winner. Ritvo received a heart transplant in 2008.

    The horse and trainer showed plenty of heart in the most exciting race of the year.