This could have been the week that a humble but heroic horse, Rapid Redux, made a legitimate claim for Horse of the Year honors. But it won't be.
Rapid Redux has won 20 straight races -- 18 of them this year. Even though the victories were of the "blue collar" variety against modest competition, that feat stands out in a year when none of the "blue blood" horses seems to have gotten its act together.
When the Breeders' Cup World Championships resulted in one upset after another, there was some sentiment that Rapid Redux should be rewarded for a consistency that eluded all others. But still -- those races he won were, well, not exactly where one would look for a Horse of the Year.
Owner Robert Cole Jr. and trainer David Wells could have answered that objection Saturday at Fair Grounds in New Orleans. Fair Grounds for the first time is hosting the Claiming Crown -- a series for horses that have raced to be sold during the previous year. The races draw overachievers from all around the country. A victory by Rapid Redux in the $50,000 Claiming Crown Iron Horse would have been a significant credential in the debate over year-end honors.
Cole and Wells considered it and pre-entered their horse -- but decided no. Rapid Redux has run off his winning streak in a small geographic area in the northeast and they were concerned about the cost and risk of shipping him to the Big Easy.
So, the Claiming Crown will go on without the horse that could have been its focal point and -- who knows? -- the only Horse of the Year it ever produced.
Still, even without "Redux mania," the Claiming Crown is a cool event and usually provides excellent wagering opportunities. There are six races, all for horses 3 and up, at distances ranging from 6 furlongs to 9 furlongs. The day is highlighted by the $150,000 Claiming Crown Jewel at 9 furlongs on the main track and the $100,000 Claiming Crown Emerald, 1 1/16 miles on the Fair Grounds grass.
At the other end of the class spectrum, Sunday finds the $3.5 million Japan Cup Dirt covering 9 furlongs over the Hanshin course.
Foreign entrants have not fared well in this race since its inception in 2000 and won't win this year, either, since there are none. With no overseas contestants , the 2011 Japan Cup Dirt is shaping up to be a showdown between the last two champions in 2009 winner Espoir City and defending champion Transcend, the runner-up to Victoire Pisa in the Dubai World Cup.
Santa Rosa Park in Arima, Trinidad & Tobago, puts a toe into the international limelight Saturday with the inaugural Caribbean Nations Racing Challenge. The event includes 10 races and $650,000 in total purses. Emile Ramsammy, based in Canada now but the all-time leading Trinidad & Tobago jockey, is scheduled to ride along with Corey Nakatani, Edgar Prado and Alan Garcia from the United States and Richard Hughes from Ireland. TVG will televise the races and offer wagering.
-- Calder Race Course Friday offers the $100,000, Grade III La Prevoyante Handicap for fillies and mares at 1 1/2 miles on the grass and the $100,000 Tropical Turf Handicap at 9 furlongs on the lawn. Eleven signed on for the La Prevoyante, including Senada and Cheetah, who ran first and third in the Dowager at Keeneland this fall over the same distance. Mr. Ryder, Silver Medallion and reformed claimer Chosen Empire are among nine entered for the Tropical Turf.
-- Calder hands off to Gulfstream Park on Saturday and Gulfstream immediately takes advantage of its early opening with the $100,000, 6-furlong Spectacular Bid for 2-year-olds. Some likely will always be sprinters but one or two might be looking to jumpstart a Florida Derby bid. Watch for Luke of York, a Put It Back colt who is undefeated in two starts including the 6-furlong $125,000 Keeneland 75th Anniversary Stakes. The race is a reality check for Vexor, who won the Nashua Stakes at Belmont Park Oct. 2 as an 18-1 longshot, then finished last in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint. Also in the eight-horse field are For Oby and Jordan's Image, who finished first and third in the $125,000 Jack Price Juvenile at Calder last month.
-- The only other graded event Saturday is the $100,000, Grade III Native Diver Handicap at Hollywood Park at 9 furlongs on the all-weather track. Eldaafer is in following a sixth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Marathon. Tres Borrachos enters off a third-place showing in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.
-- Sunday, Hollywood has the $150,000, Grade II Bayakoa Handicap for fillies and mares going 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather surface and Woodbine sends 3-year-olds and up over 14 furlongs in the $150,000 (Canadian), Grade III Valedictory Stakes. Zia Park offers $200,000 on Sunday for the Zia Park Distance Championship at 9 furlongs and $120,000 for 2-year-old state-breds in the New Mexico Eddy County Stakes.
News and Notes
Several of the world's top horses have been withdrawn from the upcoming Hong Kong International Races. The defections include recent Breeders' Cup winners Regally Ready and Perfect Shirl; Dubai World Cup victor Victoire Pisa; Shareta, runner-up in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe; and Snow Fairy, winner of last year's Hong Kong Cup and recent victor in the QE II Commemorative Cup in Japan. Also out is Excelebration, who chased Frankel home in the QE II on Champions Day at Ascot. While all four of the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International races retain plenty of foreign punch, the defections brighten the chances of the local horses significantly.
Dubai's premier sprint race has been added to the Global Sprint Challenge for 2012, extending the series to 10 legs in six nations. In addition to the Dubai Golden Shaheen's inclusion in the series, changes to the $1 million GSC bonus structure were announced Tuesday. To be eligible for the bonus in 2012, a horse must win a GSC race in three countries, which can include the horse's country of origin. Previously, the horse had to score three GSC victories outside its own jurisdiction to be eligible. The Golden Shaheen, to be run at the Medan Racecourse on World Cup night, March 31, will become the third leg of the 2012 series, which kicks off Feb. 18 with the Coolmore Lightning Stakes at Flemington in Australia and concludes with the Hong Kong Spring on Dec. 9 at Sha Tin.