2017: The 10 best races of the year

Profile Picture: Alastair Bull

December 28th, 2017

There’s been many fantastic performances in 2017. But for this piece, I’m more interested in the best, or most dramatic, contests. Have a look at all these – they’re worth repeated viewing.


10) Personal Ensign Stakes (1 1/8 miles, G1, Aug. 26, Saratoga, $700,000)

Songbird had only been beaten once in 14 starts when she arrived at Saratoga. But she hadn’t been as impressive as usual in her two 2017 starts, and this time she had to face Forever Unbridled. Forever Unbridled made her move from the rear on the final turn, and jockey Joel Rosario took her wide in the stretch, maybe so Songbird couldn’t see her. Gradually she closed, and she got up on the line by a neck. An injured Songbird was retired soon after, while Forever Unbridled went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

9) Hong Kong Vase (1 ½ miles, G1, Dec. 10, Sha Tin, $2.3 million)

Few horses have been as game and durable as Highland Reel in the past three years. He’s raced in Ireland, Britain, France, the U.S., Australia, Dubai, and Hong Kong, and it was Sha Tin where he finished his career. Facing Talismanic, who beat him in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, Highland Reel settled in second and took the lead at the top of the stretch. He looked set to be beaten as Talismanic drew level with a furlong to run, but he found an extra gear to win going away by a length. He finished his career with earnings of about $10,050,000.
8) Tenno Sho (Autumn) (1 ¼ miles, G1, $2.8 million)

Few horses have been as popular in recent years as Japan’s Kitasan Black. He’d proved one of the toughest stayers of recent years, winning the 2-mile Tenno Sho (Spring) twice and the 1 ½-mile Japan Cup among others. But in the 1 ¼-mile Tenno Sho (Autumn) he missed the start and got further back than usual on a heavy track. Superstar jockey Yutaka Take found a way through on the rail around the final turn, sprinted clear in the stretch, and had just enough to hold off Satono Crown and become the first horse to complete the Tenno Sho double in 10 years.
7) Preakness Stakes (1 3/16 miles, G1, May 20, Pimlico, $1.5 million)

Always Dreaming had won the Kentucky Derby impressively, but interference cost Classic Empire the chance to prove himself in that race and many thought the Preakness would be a different story. The two went head-to-head in front from the start, before Classic Empire put the Derby winner away around the final turn. It seemed Classic Empire would get his victory, but Cloud Computing, who didn’t run in the Derby, took advantage of the trail to grab victory near the line. The quirky Classic Empire didn’t race again and Cloud Computing disappointed in two more runs, but this was a dramatic clash.
6) Nunthorpe Stakes (5 furlongs, G1, Aug. 25, York, $468,000)

American raider Lady Aurelia was an odds-on favorite for this speed test after her King’s Stand Stakes victory, though some thought King George Stakes winner Battaash would have something to say. Almost forgotten at 8-1 was Marsha, a well-beaten third in the King George. It looked like a replay of the King’s Stand as Lady Aurelia led and forged clear, but Marsha put in a strong burst near the end to make it close. Lady Aurelia’s rider Frankie Dettori waved in triumph after hitting the line – but it was Marsha that got up by a nose. Later that year, Marsha sold at auction to Coolmore for $8.5 million.
5) Chelmsford Stakes (1 mile, G2, Sept. 2, Randwick, $189,000)

Winx extended her unbeaten run to 22 in 2017, but it wasn’t without drama, which strangely came in two races below group one level. After missing the start, she just nabbed Foxplay in the Warwick Stakes prior to the Chelmsford. Training efforts to ensure she jumped with the field were successful, but more surprising was seeing the modestly-performed Red Excitement race a long way ahead with three furlongs to run. Winx still had five lengths to make up with a furlong to run, but she showed all her class and courage to take the victory.
4) Beholder Mile (1 mile, G1, June 3, Santa Anita, $400,000)

Vale Dori came into the Beholder Mile on a six-win streak, but here she faced Stellar Wind, who had beaten Beholder twice in 2016. Vale Dori went straight to the lead, and Stellar Wind sat outside her. Stellar Wind inched up to share the lead on the final turn, and the pair staged a stirring battle up the stretch, with Stellar Wind just winning by a neck. The same pair had almost the same battle eight weeks later in the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes, with the same result.
3) Dubai World Cup (1 ¼ miles, G1, March 25, Meydan, $10 million)

With his victories in the Travers Stakes, Breeders’ Cup Classic, and Pegasus World Cup, Arrogate was widely expected to win. That changed when he missed the start and got pushed back to last. But jockey Mike Smith gradually made his way around the field, and he swooped on the lead dramatically in the stretch, running away from Gun Runner, who wouldn’t be beaten again in 2017. Arrogate never ran to the same form again, but it was an unforgettable effort.
2) Ascot Gold Cup (2 ½ miles, G1, June 22, Royal Ascot, $535,000)

Defending champion Order of St George was expected to score a repeat victory in Britain’s premier test of stamina, but they reckoned without the class and heart of Big Orange. Taken to the lead with 1 ¾ miles to run, Big Orange gradually picked up the tempo and fought off Harbour Master with two furlongs to run. Order of St George took time to pick up but came strongly and looked set to win with a furlong to run, but Big Orange found something extra and, at the end of 2 ½ miles, had a short head to spare. It was an epic struggle, and a popular victory for the 6-year-old gelding.
1) T J Smith Stakes (6 furlongs, G1, April 1, Randwick, $1.9 million)

Throughout his career, Chautauqua has frequently come from last in six-furlong sprints with flying late runs to win in a manner which looked impossible. Among other races it earned him victories in the T J Smith Stakes in both 2015 and 2016, and he headed back to Randwick seeking a third triumph. Even for him, he seemed too far back, with at least six lengths to make up in the final furlong. But he once again found a way, and caught English in the last 10 yards to make history. If there’s one video to watch from the year, this is it.