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My 2017 Top Ten are…

Author: Nicholas Godfrey


The first column of 2018, out with the old year, in with the new. But not before we’ve had world rankings for 2017 and Horse of the Year awards for 2017, and this 100% guaranteed subjective Top Ten of international performers for 2017. Before we start, let me explain. I was recently asked to compile a ‘global top ten’ for the Racing Post but this exercise had certain parameters: all the horses had to be trained outside Britain and Ireland, and they were largely tied to their Racing Post Ratings handicap mark (featured here alongside their current official ratings).

This top ten, therefore, is different: put simply, it is my personal list of international performers, and admittedly the rules are somewhat arbitrary. I was still looking for horses who had achieved something special on the global stage, beyond the major European racing nations (and, generally speaking, Dubai), and ratings still played a part (but not an overarching part). Horses who crossed national and international boundaries were given added credence, but those who did something remarkable at home are also included here (but not if it was European horses in Europe or UAE horses in Dubai!).

So, a couple of horses who don’t figure are Enable and Cracksman, both of whom obviously feature in any world top ten in terms of merit; in fact, as I stated recently, they’re in the argument for number one. For this exercise, I also don’t need to worry unduly about the allowance handed to fillies and mares when they race males, which makes it exceedingly hard for females to lead the way in the official rankings where, in effect, they are carrying a 3lb or 4lb penalty; Winx, for example, comes out only second best in the weights for the Cox Plate behind Humidor, who gave her 2kg and was beaten half a length.

Which of those two do you think should be in this list? Finally, I ought to explain why Dubai winners Vivlos, The Right Man and Jack Hobbs aren’t included, despite their efforts on World Cup night. It is quite straightforward: sadly, they didn’t really do much else, though others may consider they’d done enough anyway and it is possible I haven’t given them enough credit owing to the passage of time. But it’s my choice and I can do whatever I want! I’m making the rules.

1. Winx 6yo mare Street Cry - Vegas Showgirl Trainer Chris Waller (Australia) Racing Post Rating (RPR) 130; Official rating (OR) 132 2017 record 9 wins from 9 starts Prize money £3,675,877 

GIVEN my devotion to the mighty mare, it must be admitted this was a foregone conclusion, despite her never leaving Australia. Still, she comes out joint top rated on Racing Post Ratings on the 130 mark with Gun Runner and Arrogate: remember she’d be getting weight in a race as well, but fully deserves top spot thanks to her historymaking efforts in Australia, where she became only the second horse to complete a hat-trick in Cox Plate, Australasia’s premier weight for age contest. Okay, a half length victory wasn’t the stuff of legends, and she had made us sweat elsewhere thanks to her dramatic ‘come from behind’ style. but it’s hard to quibble with a perfect nine out of nine record in 2017 (featuring six Group Ones) that extended a famous winning streak to 22 (at a variety of distances on all types of ground). She is a phenomenon; in terms of legacy, it really should not matter whether she travels outside Australia or not, especially as a fourth Cox Plate would be a tremendous achievement. I love her.

2. Highland Reel 5h Galileo - Hveger Aidan O’Brien (Ireland) RPR 123 OR 123 2017 record 3 wins from 7 starts Prize money £2,229,810

The iron horse with the golden legacy: how could any list of global performers worth its salt exclude this wonderful horse? Tough and talented, durable and consistent, Highland Reel’s career CV features seven Group One wins and 13 starts outside Britain and Ireland, with journeys to France, Australia, Dubai, the USA and four times to Hong Kong. Nineteen of his last 20 races were at the top level (he won the other one too in last year’s Hardwicke) and, despite rarely getting the good ground he favours, he added three more Group Ones to his tally in 2017, finally exiting the stage by becoming the biggest European-trained earner of all time (£7.5million plus) when he regained his Hong Kong Vase crown (beating Talismanic, who had lowered his colours at the Breeders’ Cup).

3. Gun Runner 4yo c Candy Ride - Quiet Giant Steve Asmussen (USA) RPR 130 OR 129 2017 record 5 wins from 6 starts Prize money £5,691,626

CERTAIN to be named America’s Horse of the Year after flawless domestic campaign, having cast all before him at home after second place in Dubai World Cup, in which Arrogate seemingly put him in his place. Four runaway successes altogether by cumulative 28 lengths included three Grade Ones (Stephen Foster Handicap, Whitney and Woodward) before dominant victory in Breeders’ Cup Classic (where those beaten included Arrogate) to ensure championship status thanks to formidable second half of season. As such, has to go above Arrogate, I’m afraid to say! Set to be retired after contesting second running of world’s richest race, the $16m Pegasus World Cup, at Gulfstream Park on January 27.

4. Arrogate 4c Unbridled’s Song - Bubbker Bob Baffert (USA) RPR 130 OR 134 2017 record 2 wins from 5 starts Prize money £10,843,902

It hurts me to have to drop him down to third place, after all, my recent book, ‘Postcards from the World of Horse Racing’ (buy it at Racing Post shop onine!), climaxed with him in his pomp and, despite controversy over his world leading official mark of 134, he may yet be identified as World Champion for 2017 at next month’s World Thoroughbred Racehorse Rankings by virtue of stellar efforts early in the year, when ultra lucrative winning spree was extended with utterly dominant display in first running of Pegasus World Cup, then spectacular performance amid adverse circumstances in Dubai). Had become richest money earner of all time (and achieved form in excess of Triple Crown hero American Pharoah) but the horse dubbed ‘America’s King Croesus’ by Meydan racecaller Terry Spargo blotted his copybook thereafter with a trio of lacklustre efforts at Del Mar. Maybe he just didn’t like the track, or maybe he’d fallen out of love with the game (still had fastest final sectional when fifth at Breeders’ Cup), but exited the scene for stud duties with a tarnished reputation which cost him top spot here. A case of thanks for the memories if ever there was one.

5. Kitasan Black 5h Black Tide - Sugar Heart Trainer Hisashi Shimizu (Japan) RPR 125 OR 123 2017 record 4 wins from 6 starts Prize money £5,600,969

Was tempted to push him even higher, not least because his talents have largely gone unrecognised outside Japan. Be that as it may, reigning Japanese Horse of the Year added further lustre to glorious record with four more Grade One wins to take his career tally to seven, winning the Osaka Hai and both spring and autumn editions of the Tenno Sho (over 2m and 1m2f respectively) before emotional farewell success in the end of season Grand Prix, the Arima Kinen. Never raced abroad but a huge fan favourite at home, and deservedly so: broke track record in spring Tenno Sho but better form in autumn edition, beating tip top field featuring multitude of Grade One and Classic winners. Hot favourite to complete consecutive successes in Japan Cup and looked sure to win entering straight but run down in final furlong after adopting customary front running tactics (reportedly lost shoe) before becoming highest earner in Japan Racing Association history in the Arima Kinen.

6. Rekindling 3c High Chaparral - Sitara Joseph O’Brien (Ireland) RPR 116 OR 121 2017 record 3 wins from 7 starts Prize money £2,402,012

WE’RE open to accusations this was a one hit wonder but what a hit it was! Nobody could have forecast what was destined to happen when Rekindling finished down the field in the Derby, but his victory over Wicklow Brave in the Curragh Cup showed that staying was probably his game, and he ran well enough in the St Leger. Winning the Melbourne Cup as a 3yo, at the head of a remarkable 1-2-3 for Ireland, was an amazing feat, even allowing for his low weight. He was the youngest horse to win ‘the race that stops a nation’ since Skipton in 1941, and the first time since the pioneering Vintage Crop in 1993 that the winner hadn’t had a prep race in Australia.

7. Talismanic 4c Medaglia D’Oro - Magic Mission Trainer Andre Fabre (France) RPR 118 OR 122 2017 record 3 wins from 8 starts Prize money £2,346,642

Only middling form at home in France (won Group Two over 1m6f) when conditions rarely suit but blossomed when meeting faster ground on international stage at end of year, notably in career best effort when being produced between horses for a narrow victory in Breeders’ Cup Turf at Del Mar; showed good turn of foot after ground saving trip there, but no fluke, as subsequent second to estimable Highland Reel in Hong Kong amply demonstrated. Looks type to thrive on global stage this term, with Dubai the starting point as he is entered for the carnival.

8. Lady Aurelia 3f Scat Daddy – D’Wildcat Speed Trainer Wesley Ward (USA) RPR 124 OR 121 2017 record 2 wins from 4 starts Prize money £350,870

Spectacular turf scorching effort in 2016 Queen Mary Stakes was one of the most devastating displays seen in modern times at Royal Ascot. After winning in minor company at home at Keeneland on her seasonal debut, showed she was no mere 2yo sensation with another amazing display in King’s Stand before a thrilling defeat on the nod by Marsha in the Nunthorpe. Frankie Dettori, who endured the embarrassment of celebrating a victory that never happened admitted he was ‘in shock’, adding: “I thought I’d won by a neck.” Disappointed on final outing at Breeders’ Cup but had already demonstrated herself as unquestionably one of the best sprinters in the world.

9. Vazirabad 5h Manduro - Visorama Trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre (France) RPR 120 OR 117 2017 record 4 wins from 6 starts Prize money £832,744

DUBAI regular may have struck it lucky with the ground not being fast at Meydan for the last two runnings of the Gold Cup on World Cup night but it is hard to argue with a carer record of 13 wins from 19 runs. Indeed, other than an attempt at Group One company at Saint-Cloud over an inadequate 1m4f in July 2016, he hasn’t been out of the first two since his debut nearly three years ago. Last year this formidable stayer won four more Group races, among them France’s premier long distance race, the Prix du Cadran. He’s seldom flashy, seldom wins by much, but he wins often. Back again for the Dubai Gold Cup, a hat-trick would be entirely fitting. For his sake, let’s just hope it isn’t run on fast ground.

10 World Approval 5g Northern Afleet - Win Approval Trainer Mark Casse (USA) RPR 123 OR 123 2017 record 5 wins from 6 starts Prize money £1,634,685

Would not quite make any global top ten in pure ratings term but earns his place after developing into top class US turf horse with Grade Oe hat-trick culminating in decisive victory in Breeders’ Cup Mile, where he stormed home from a field wherein 50% was supplied by European visitors (Lancaster Bomber did best, beaten length and a quarter into second). Won five out of six altogether in 2017 for Tepin’s trainer and may attempt to emulate that formidable mare with a visit to Royal Ascot for the Queen Anne Stakes; a repeat success at next year’s Breeders’ Cup, however, is his principal target, with the Dubai Turf a strong possibility in March.


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22 Mar 2018
Issue Number: Issue 641
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Dubai playing a key role in British racing, says Jockey Club boss
Busybody Tadhg looks to scale mountains after climbing Hills
Nass’ trial and error style seems to be working wonders for him
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