This could be the new queen of racing! She was always thought of as a superior race horse, but her smashing victory in the Breeders Cup Distaff has vaulted her to a whole other level. Nothing captivated racing like the Zenyatta/Rachel Alexandra era, but racing could be bracing itself for a repeat of that in 2014 as Beholder and Princess of Sylmar look to become rivals. The two have already dueled twice, with Princess of Sylmar taking the Kentucky Oaks and Beholder taking the before mentioned Breeders Cup Distaff. As we head into the new year Beholder does hold a slight edge, but it’s not by much. Look for her to sharpen up in California a few times, and then maybe she’ll travel east for a big showdown prior to what could be another classic race in the 2014 Breeders Cup Distaff.
2. Will Take Charge
If they gave out awards for “horse of the half-year” this would be the winner. Will Take Charge has grown into his enormous frame, and has figured out exactly what he’s supposed to be doing out on the track. His devastating stretch run is tough to hold off, and he’s already shown that he can run with his older rivals without any problem. The scariest part about Will Take Charge…D Wayne Lukas has said from day one that he will only get better with age. The ceiling could be unlimited for the this giant beast, and he will surely be put on a campaign that will make him Horse of the Year worthy. As long as he is not retired to stud (there is a chance he might be) he will be the premier male of 2014.
3. Wise Dan
You can knock the connections all day long for their campaign of this horse, but Wise Dan is on the verge of becoming Horse of the Year for the second straight year. That’s not mismanagement if you ask me! However, there has been talk that they could point Wise Dan to more dirt races in 2014. That should make all the haters happy, but you can put me in the “don’t care where you run” category. I’m just thankful that they are bringing him back once again. Sometimes it’s good to be a gelding!
4. New Year’s Day
Everyone is hyping Honor Code, but we shouldn’t forget about New Year’s Day. He won the biggest two-year old race of the year over what was most likely the toughest field of the year. He did take advantage of a nice trip while others had wide trips, but getting the victory is always the most important thing. The horse has the right connections to get him to the Derby, and the pedigree is pretty strong. He’ll be the number one horse in California heading into the ever important Santa Anita Meet.
5. Strong Mandate
We’ve all seen the resurgence of D Wayne Lukas as he’s guided Oxbow and Will Take Charge to major success this year, and now he has a legit prospect to kick off next year. Keep in mind that this time last year Oxbow and Will Take Charge were just maiden winners, while Strong Mandate is already a Grade 1 winner. We follow the Lukas horses closely, and this one might have more ability than any 3-year-old he’s taken to Oaklawn Park in recent memory. You have to like that he has given the horse a little break before the Oaklawn meet begins, and you know he’ll give the horse every chance to make it to the Kentucky Derby.
6. Honor Code
The hype is HUGE for Honor Code, and he did a little to back it up when fighting back to take the Remsen Stakes last weekend. I haven’t totally bought into him yet, but make no mistake…this horse will be the buzz horse of the winter and spring. The breeding is impeccable, and as we saw last year he has the trainer that can win the big one. He’s headed to Florida for the winter and will most likely resurface in he always competitive Gulfstream three-year old prep races. He has the pedigree and the look, but does he have the talent to carry him to the top?
7. Princess of Sylmar
She was the sweetheart of 2013 for most of the year, but now is kind of being forgotten after her poor Breeders Cup Distaff effort. The speed favoring track and tough campaign really stacked up against her in that race, so I don’t punish her at all for the poor effort. On a fair track going a mile and one eighth she can definitely beat Beholder, and anyone else for that matter.
8. Cairo Prince
May have lost the Remsen by a nose, but he showed his class in that race. The slow pace of the Remsen may have actually hurt his chance, as Honor Code was actually ahead of Cairo Prince down the back stretch. Either way, the horse is gifted with a naturally high cruising speed, and can kick for home when given his cue. Very capable of having a big year.
9. Palace Malice
Other than Will Take Charge, is there any one horse with as much upside at Palace Malice going into 2014? The horse had a great summer, and while he came up short in the biggest races this fall, he still ran respectable. Also like Will Take Charge, I think this horse can get even better as a four-year old. He will probably be a force on the east coast.
10. Secret Circle
It took him a long time to recover from an injury sustained in his three-year old season, but boy did he come back firing! In two races Secret Circle went from an after thought to the best sprinter in the country. From day one you could tell this horse was best at a mile or less, and if he’s spotted correctly it’s hard to imagine him losing a race in 2014. Yes I said it…
11. Mucho Macho Man
If only he could run at Santa Anita every time! Over that track he’s proven to be hard to handle, but lets not sell him short when running at other tracks as well. There is no doubt his 2013 season started off extremely slow, but when he gets to the top of his game he’s as good as anyone. Look for a similar campaign as the last two years from him, as the main goal will obviously be the Breeders Cup Classic.
12. Game On Dude
It was nice to see Game On Dude run well in the Clark Handicap last weekend. Both his fans and connections had to be let down by his second straight Breeders Cup Classic flop, and the race being on his home track makes it that much worse. People can say what they want about him, but he still will be the dominant California older male in 2014. It’s amazing that this gelding will be seven years old in 2014, yet he’ll still most likely be running at such a high level.
The bounce in the Cigar Mile was beyond predictable, but lets not forget about how good he can be…especially in California. Anytime you have that kind of deadly early speed, you are dangerous over the Santa Anita track. I expect him to stay at the mile distance range, and to rack up several wins in 2014.
14. Bobby’s Kitten
He didn’t run quite as well as we all hoped he would in the Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf, but his game third place effort still got my attention. The pace he set that day was frantic so only getting beat a couple of lengths by two top class Euro invaders is very respectable. It’s interesting that he got a lot of play in the Kentucky Derby future wager pool, even though the horse has never ran on dirt. Perhaps that is something the Ramsey’s and Chad Brown will consider in 2014.
15. Close Hatches
The sleeper! Everyone is raving about Beholder and Princess of Sylmar, but Close Hatches might just be the horse that sneaks up on us all. Her resume speaks for itself: A two-time Grade 1 winner, a Grade 2 winner, and a two-time Grade 1 runner-up. Pretty impressive, especially considering the lastest runner-up finish was in the Breeders Cup Distaff. Add in the fact that she has a great trainer in Bill Mott….this one might have more upside than anyone.