Top 10 Races of 2016: Part 1
by John Piassek
Every racing year is filled with great races, exciting finishes, and dramatic battles, and 2016 was no exception. The season saw an eclectic three-year-old crop, a legendary three-year-old filly, and an all-time great older horse establishing his status as a legend, among other things.
The year was also one of change and growth for Danonymous Racing. The site saw records in terms of number of articles posted, hits per day, and total hits per month. The month of December, for one, saw the site get more than 30,000 hits, more than double the number of hits in December of 2015.
November marked the biggest change of all, as I (John Piassek) took over everyday site operations from site founder Dan Tordjman. Since then, we’ve added a bevy of new handicappers to the site, increasing the amount of analytic content. This winter, you’ll find regular coverage of Aqueduct, Gulfstream Park, Laurel Park, Oaklawn Park, Meydan, Santa Anita Park, Tampa Bay Downs, and Turf Paradise, plus bonus coverage of big days at other tracks, and various interesting racing features.
2016 has been a fun year on Danonymous, and here’s hoping 2017 is an even bigger and better one.
Back in June, we did a rundown of the top ten races of the first half of 2016. Since then, some of the greatest races we’ve seen in recent times have happened, which made making a list of the best races all year a tough task. Best as I could, I ranked them all. The first part of this article contains races 10 through 6 on my list, with races 5 through 1 posted later in the week. Let’s begin:
10. 2016 Ballston Spa Stakes (Strike Charmer)
This race is cloaked in personal bias, as I made a big score by hitting the grand slam on this race.
Going into this race, the big story was that this was Lady Eli’s first race in thirteen months, having survived a tough battle with laminitis. The racing world was wondering: how would this brilliant grass filly return off the long layoff?
As it turns out, she ran admirably, finishing a close second behind 27/1 upsetter Strike Charmer. As I noted, I picked against Lady Eli in the grand slam wager, using Miss Temple City and longshot Strike Charmer. The latter pick wound up being a successful one, as the grand slam (a rather convoluted wager offered only at NYRA tracks) returned more than $200. For a poor college student that doesn’t bet a lot of money, that’s a pretty good score.
Of course, Lady Eli went on to shine after this race, winning the Flower Bowl art Belmont Park in her next start, followed by a close second in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf.
9. 2016 Champagne Stakes (Practical Joke v. Syndergaard)
This, to me, was the most impressive race by any two-year-old in 2016. But it was not the effort of the winner that caught my eye.
The primary contenders going into New York’s premier two-year-old race were Hopeful winner Practical Joke, and New York-bred Syndergaard, who had dazzled with two impressive victories at Saratoga. They were joined by sharp maiden winner Favorable Outcome and California invader Big Gray Rocket.
Early on, Syndergaard hooked up with Big Gray Rocket, and sped through a half-mile in a dazzling 44.63 seconds. For a two-year-old going a mile, that’s a wildly fast pace. When the two-year-olds zoomed past the six furlong pole in 1:08.76 seconds, Big Gray Rocket gave way, and with Practical Joke looming large at the top of the stretch, Syndergaard looked toast. However, he battled gamely down the stretch, never giving an inch as Practical Joke fought on. The front-runner never gave way, as he ultimately lost to Practical Joke by a nose. Even though Syndergaard lost the battle, he showed his heart and determination after going through that blazing pace.
8. 2016 Dubai World Cup (California Chrome)
After a runner-up finish in the 2015 Dubai World Cup, California Chrome returned to Meydan in 2016 with revenge on the brain. A victory in this race would make the 2014 Kentucky Derby winner the richest American-bred horse of all time.
He wound up not just winning, but dominating. Chrome stalked the pace three-wide, made his move in the stretch, and ran the field off their feet. His victory against this international field pushed his earnings to the $12 million mark, eclipsing Curlin’s earnings record for an American-bred. Of course, as we’ll see later on, Chrome was just getting started in 2016.
7. 2016 Queen Anne Stakes (Tepin)
Before the Queen Anne, Tepin already had a very impressive 2016 resume. She was coming into the race on a six-race winning streak, including a score against males in the previous year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile. In 2016, she had already won four graded stakes.
A win in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot, however, would be historic. If Tepin won, she would be the first American to win the historic Queen Anne, traditionally the first race of the prestigious Royal Ascot meet.
Shipping across the ocean, and running over a straight course without Lasix, proved no problem at all for Tepin. She was in the mix throughout, and ultimately prevailed by a half-length.
6. 2016 Metropolitan Mile (Frosted)
Frosted had been a very good three-year-old, with victories in the Pennsylvania Derby and Wood Memorial. He started his four-year-old season with a group 2 victory in Meydan, before disappointing in the Dubai World Cup. Nonetheless, he was sent off as the 2/1 favorite in the Met Mile at Belmont Park.
As it turned out, not only did Frosted win, he dominated. He crushed the field by 14 1/4 lengths, while going the mile in a dazzling 1:32.73. It turned the racing world on its head, was witnessed by a huge crowd there for the Belmont Stakes, and immediately became a Horse of the Year front-runner.
Frosted did not come close to duplicating the majesty of that race. He won as the heavy favorite in the Whitney , was third after a troubled trip in the Woodward, then was up the track in his career finale, the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Still, he was awe-inspiring, if only for one day.