Looking back at the 2011 racing season, two horses stand head and shoulders above their peers, as the best performers in their code. Henry Ceci’s Frankel and Paul Nicholl’s Big Bucks,both went through their campaigns with unblemished records and never shirked the issue when faced with a challenge. The duo will return in the new year and fans of the sport will have plenty of opportunity to see their heroes in action.
Frankel has been described as a “freak” and a “monster” such is the power he displays in his races. Unbeaten as a juvenile,the colt maintained his one hundred per cent record this season,and his 2000 Guineas victory was one of the most impressive in the long history of the classic. Tom Queally was forced to make the running on the odds on favourite as his pacemaker was unable to lie up with him early. Some of the opposing jockeys made the mistake of thinking Frankel was in fact his pacemaker, as he blazed the trail early on. However, he never relented the gallop and blitzed his rivals with a show of awesome power. Apart from Royal Ascot, where it appeared as if Queally may have misjudged the pace, Frankel never looked in any danger of defeat in 2011. He will return next season, where he is likely to be stepped up to 1m2f. On breeding he should have little difficulty with the distance, and races such as the Eclipse,Juddmonte and Champion Stakes look his for the taking.
Big Bucks has already reappeared for the new campaign over jumps and increased his winning run to fourteen in succession. Unlike Frankel, the horse has been defeated, but since switched to staying hurdling class he really appears to have found his forte. The Ditcheat horse is already odds on to made it four stayers hurdles in a row in 2012 and at this point it is difficult to see who can dethrone him. Nicholl’s campaigned his horse sparingly last season but never ran from any rival.Grands Crus was seen as a serious threat prior to Cheltenham but there was only one horse in the Stayers from the final flight. Big Bucks went on to add to his incredible record by easily winning at Aintree. In any other stable he would be regarded as a Gold Cup horse of the future but connections have already ruled out the prospect of ever running over fences again.
Elsewhere in 2011,Hurricane Fly finally made it to Cheltenham after a series of no-shows in recent years. The Montjeu gelding clearly has his training issues and may not even return to defend his crown next season. However, in March this year he proved beyond doubt that he is the best 2mile hurdler in these isles. He hardly came off the bridle as he dismissed a high class line up, and repeated the feat a month later at the Punchestown festival. Long Run was the star 3mile chaser, winning the King George at Kempton, before coming out on top in an epic three way battle with Denman and Kauto Star at Cheltenham. With time on his side he has the potential to become one of the all time greats.
Ballabriggs continued the McCain love affair with Aintree, giving Donald Junior his first victory in the great race. In Ireland,Nina Carberry became only the second female rider to win the Irish version, with successful aboard Organisedconfusion. On the flat, Aidan O’Brien continued his dominance of the domestic classics, taking yet another Irish Derby with Treasure Beach, and giving son Joseph his first classic aboard Roderic O’Connor in the 2000 Guineas. Pour Moi broke the French hoodoo at Epsom but never raced again. His victory was most impressive and injury robbed the sport of a potential superstar. We will never know just how good he could have been,but his Derby win was franked at the Curragh and he would have been an intriguing Arc runner.
The sport of kings lost two of it’s biggest stars in 2011, with the retirements of Goldikova and Denman. The French mare was one of the best milers of all time and her Breeders Cup exploits will live long in the memory. At her best, the Freddie Head trained mare was almost unbeatable and could make the running or be held up for a late burst. “The Tank”,Denman had only one way of running,galloping his opponents into submission. His Gold Cup win will forever be etched in the minds of punters,but his terrific weight carrying performances in two Hennessys were arguably even better efforts.