2017 Year in Review: 10 Best Horses

Profile Picture: Alastair Bull

December 22nd, 2017

Everyone who follows racing will have their ideas about who the best horses in the world are. No two lists will be alike. Ignoring my unfortunate black spot regarding horses in South America and South Africa, these are my top 10 for the year.

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Gun Runner topped off a wonderfully consistent season with a Breeders' Cup Classic triumph. (Photo by Steve Dalmado/Eclipse Sportswire/Getty Images)


It’s a shame Arrogate ended 2017 so badly. He lost a lot of luster in his three defeats at Del Mar, finishing behind horses such as Cat Burglar, Donworth, and War Story. Whether it was the Del Mar track, or whether he simply wasn’t as good as he once was, will always be questioned.

But as this is an assessment of 2017, you must look at the entire year, and during the first three months Arrogate was unparalleled. He benefitted from California Chrome racing below his best in the Pegasus World Cup, but his victory over Shaman Ghost was still spectacular.

However, he went to another level in the Dubai World Cup. Missing the start against a hot field, he got to midfield on the outside on the back of the course, made his move around the final turn and had too much for Gun Runner in the stretch. It was perhaps the best effort to win a Dubai World Cup in the race’s history, and one which three below par runs at Del Mar can’t make you forget.



As a 2-year-old in 2016, Battaash won once, placed third on three occasions, and 12th at Royal Ascot – enough for an owner to be a little encouraged, but surely not one that suggested he would become a topliner.

In a very good year for sprinters in Europe, the 3-year-old Battaash was one of the best. Beginning with a victory in the Scurry Stakes, Battaash then won the Coral Change (Sprint Stakes) (G3). That encouraged trainer Charles Hills to head to Goodwood for the King George Stakes (G2), where he thrashed a good field.

Much was expected when Battaash met Lady Aurelia and Marsha in the Nunthorpe Stakes (G1), but he got too worked up before the start and finished fourth. Freshened up, he then contested the Prix de l’Abbaye (G1) at Chantilly. His opponents included Marsha, but he turned on a demolition performance. As Battaash is a gelding, he should be around for a few more seasons yet.



For the first half of the year, the Frankel colt Cracksman was a good but not outstanding 3-year-old. The winner of his only juvenile start, he returned to narrowly win the Derby Trial at Epsom. He then finished third in the Derby (G1) to Wings of Eagles and Cliffs of Moher, and a few weeks later was second to Capri in the Irish Derby (G1).

Given seven weeks between races by John Gosden, Cracksman then flourished. He zoomed away for an easy victory in the Great Voltigeur Stakes (G2), and was then too strong in the Prix Niel (G2).

Cracksman then stepped back to 1 ¼ miles for the Champion Stakes (G1) at Ascot. He put up a performance reminiscent of his sire, careering away to beat Poet’s Word by seven lengths.

Softer ground may have helped him in his final three starts, but whatever the case, his Champion Stakes effort was sensational. Fortunately for racegoers, he’ll stay in training as a 4-year-old.



John Gosden had the good fortune to have two of the best 3-year-olds in Europe this year. But while Cracksman took his time to get going, Enable was at the top nearly from the start.

The winner of her only juvenile start, Enable began 2017 with a third-place finish in a conditions race at Newbury. From there she took out the Cheshire Oaks, and then outstayed Rhododendron by five lengths in the Oaks (G1) at Epsom. The Irish Oaks (G1) was another five-length romp.

Enable was now set the task of beating the best males in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (G1). She didn’t give her fans any reason to doubt her, beating the high-class Ulysses by 4 ½ lengths. Back to her own gender in the Yorkshire Oaks (G1), Enable coasted home to another five-length victory.

Next was Europe’s premier 1 ½-mile race, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1). No English-trained 3-year-old filly had won the race, but Enable wasn’t about to let history stop her. Once again she produced her devastating turn of foot near the top of the stretch, beating Cloth of Stars by 2 ½ lengths. She won the Cartier Horse of the Year award, and she’s likely to stay in training.


Gun Runner

Gun Runner is the type of horse everybody would want to own. Consistent, classy, and courageous, he also continued to improve as his career went on.

Gun Runner’s first target was the Dubai World Cup (G1), which he contested after winning the Razorback Handicap (G2) at Oaklawn Park as a prep. He put in a great effort in Dubai and would have been successful but for a freakish last-to-first effort by Arrogate,

But while Arrogate never found his Dubai form again, Gun Runner just got better on his return to the U.S, winning the Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) by seven lengths, the Whitney Stakes (G1) by 5 ¼ lengths, and the Woodward Stakes (G1) by 10 ¼ lengths.

The big test was always going to be the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). For a moment it looked like Collected would make a race of it, but Gun Runner drew away in the final yards to win by 2 ¼ lengths.

Gun Runner will almost certainly be named U.S. Horse of the Year. He will have his final race in January’s Pegasus World Cup (G1) before heading off to a well-deserved stud career.


Harry Angel

A 3-year-old son of Dark Angel, Harry Angel began the year in the ownership of Peter Ridgers, finishing second in the Pavilion Stakes (G3) and then winning the Sandy Lane Stakes (G2) by 4 ½ lengths.

Godolphin then swooped, buying Harry Angel from Ridgers, though he remained him in the stable of Clive Cox. He then headed to Royal Ascot for the Commonwealth Cup (G1), where he led until failing to go with Caravaggio in the final 100 yards.

The tables were turned in the July Cup (G1). Leading for much of the way, he shook off 2016 winner Limato near the finish to win by 1 ¼ lengths, with Caravaggio no better than fourth. Harry Angel was even more impressive in the Haydock Park Sprint Cup (G1), winning by four lengths.

A below-par fourth in his final race of the season, the British Champions Sprint Stakes (G1), didn’t fog the memories of his two group one victories. He’s set to race again next year.


Kitasan Black

Horses don’t get much more popular than 5-year-old Japanese star Kitasan Black – and they don’t get much better. Owned by the beloved veteran singer Saburo Kitajima, Kitasan Black built on his Japan Cup-winning 2016 season, in which he was named Horse of the Year, to score three more top-level triumphs.

Kitasan Black returned to racing with a comfortable victory in the Osaka Hai (G1), and then defended his title in the two-mile Tenno Sho (Spring) (G1).

A surprise defeat followed in the Takarazuka Kinen (G1), after which he was given a break prior to the 1 ¼-mile Tenno Sho (Autumn). Getting further back in running than usual, Kitasan Black strode to the front at the top of the stretch and became the first horse to complete the Tenno Sho double since 2007.

Kitasan Black tried to lead all the way in the Japan Cup but was overtaken near the finish by Cheval Grand and Rey de Oro. However, he extracted his revenge in style, winning the season-ending Arima Kinen comfortably in December. It was his final start, and he heads to stud in 2018.



Redzel began 2017 as a promising sprinter who looked to be improving. By the end of the year he was clearly the best sprinter in Australia, and he’d won the richest turf race in the world.

The son of champion sire Snitzel began his campaign by finishing second in the Challenge Stakes (G3) at Randwick, and then found only Russian Revolution too good in The Galaxy (G1) on the same track.

He was then sent up to Queensland, where he earned his first group one success in the Doomben 10,000. On his return to Sydney, he easily won the Concorde Stakes (G3) and the Shorts Stakes (G2).

Next was the inaugural running of the six furlong, $A10 million ($7.8 million) Everest, funded using a similar slot holder scheme pioneered for the Pegasus World Cup. As always he showed speed from the gate, sat outside the leader, and dashed clear in the stretch.

Redzel extended his winning streak to six in the six-furlong, $A1 million Darley Classic (G1) in Melbourne before taking a well-earned break. As a gelding, there should be more great prizes coming up for him in 2018.



What hasn’t already been said about Winx? Unbeaten since May 2015, a stretch of 22 races, and rated the best turf horse in the world for the past two years.

Winx was dominant in the Sydney fall Feburary-April, scoring repeat victories in the Apollo Stakes (G2), Chipping Norton Stakes (G1), and George Ryder Stakes (G1), before adding the $A4 million Queen Elizabeth Stakes (G1) for good measure.

Winx’s spring campaign was tougher. She missed the start when resuming in the Warwick Stakes (G2), but still had enough to catch Foxplay to win by half a neck. Then she had a lot to do in the Chelmsford Stakes (G2) to catch runaway leader Sense of Excitement, but got up in the final strides.

Next was a race-record in the George Main Stakes (G1), and a 6 ½-length victory in the Turnbull Stakes (G1) in Melbourne. Her main spring aim, a record-equaling third Cox Plate (G1), approached.

Nobody expected Winx to have any trouble matching Kingston Town’s Cox Plate record, but Humidor had other ideas, getting to her girth in the stretch. The champion mare responded and scored a half-length victory.

The big question for 2018 is whether Winx will head to the northern hemisphere. Trainer Chris Waller said she’d only travel if at her best – and if she is, she will be a huge drawcard.


World Approval

World Approval was just another contender in the U.S. turf racing scene for 1 ¼ miles to 1 ½ miles at the start of 2017, and he began the year with victories in the Turf Classic Stakes at Tampa Bay and the Dixie Stakes (G2) at Pimlico.

But after finishing fifth in the 1 ¼-mile Manhattan Stakes (G1) in June, trainer Mark Casse decided to try concentrating on mile racing. It paid off in a big way.

World Approval began his new role in the Fourstardave Handicap (G1) at Saratoga, and left no room for doubt, winning decisively from Time Test. It was then off to Canada for the Woodbine Mile, and it was the same story: a 2 ½ length victory over Lancaster Bomber.

The grey gelding then headed to Del Mar to face a strong field in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1). In a field which included leading European miler Ribchester and three-time group one winner Roly Poly, World Approval was in a class of his own, accelerating away in the short stretch for an easy 1 ¼ length victory.

As a gelding, World Approval should be back for more in 2018. A meeting with Winx would be a dream.