Horse of the Decade? It was American Pharoah

American Pharoah | Sarah Andrew


More than just a year ended Tuesday. The sport says goodbye not just to 2019, but to an entire decade, one filled with tremendous highs (two Triple Crown winners) and tremendous lows (2019's fatalities at Santa Anita). To mark the occasion, we submit our winners in random group of categories, celebrating the very best of the 2010's.


American Pharoah (Pioneerof the Nile) came about at a time when many had all but given up on there ever being another Triple Crown winner. It had been 37 years since it was last done, by Affirmed, and the ensuing years had swallowed up 13 horses that had won the GI Kentucky Derby and GI Preakness S. but, for one reason or another, couldn't complete the job in the GI Belmont S. How and why did so many lose at Belmont Park? Was it because no horse in the modern era could possibly put together three A+ efforts in the span of five weeks, the last of them coming at a distance well beyond the comfort range of most horses?

Some even suggested that the Triple Crown had to be changed. The races needed to be shorter and spaced further apart. Call it the Triple Crown Lite. What a terrible idea.

The Triple Crown roared back to life during the decade, with not just one, but two winners. American Pharoah did it in 2015 and Justify (Scat Daddy) swept the series in 2018.

Both are Triple Crown winners, but American Pharoah's accomplishments were the more impressive of the two. He was the one who broke the long drought and made the sport believe once again that a really, really special horse would come along and could in fact conquer the sport's biggest challenge. And, of the two, American Pharoah had by far the more complete career. He won two Grade I's at two and was that year's champion juvenile colt. He stayed in training after the Triple Crown, winning the GI Haskell Invitational S. and the GI Breeders' Cup Classic. As brilliant as he was, Justify's career lasted just 111 days, from the time he broke his maiden until he was retired after winning the Belmont.


Only one grass horse was named Horse of the Year during the decade, and that was Wise Dan (Wiseman's Ferry). He earned the sport's highest honor in both 2012 and 2013, a period during which he lost just twice and won back-to-back runnings of the

GI Breeders' Cup Mile. After winning the 2014 GI Shadwell Turf Mile S. at Keeneland, he retired with a career record of 23 for 31, with 20 stakes wins and earnings in excess of $7.5 million. He won nine Grade I races, including the 2011 GI Clark H. on the dirt.

A very good horse who had, by modern standards, a lengthy, full career.


Bob Baffert won only one Eclipse Award as the nation's top trainer, which came in 2015, American Pharoah's Triple Crown year, during the decade. But when you consider that there were two Triple Crown winners during the 2010's and he trained both of them, Baffert is a fairly obvious pick as the outstanding trainer of the decade.

In most any other decade, this honor would have gone to Chad Brown. If he wins the Eclipse as the nation's top trainer in 2019, which is likely, he will have won the award four straight years. Brown is young and has an insatiable appetite for success. He could easily win 18 of the next 20 Eclipse Awards in the trainers category. But what Baffert did is rare and special and deserving of this honor.


The champion jockey in 2010, 2011 and 2012, Ramon Dominguez dominated the early part of the decade and looked to be well on his way to being the top rider of his era. That all ended in 2013 when he was forced to retire after suffering head injuries in a spill early in the year at Aqueduct.

That paved the way for Javier Castellano to take over. A top rider throughout the decade, he won the Eclipse four straight years, from 2013 through 2016.

The Ortiz brothers took over in 2017, with Jose winning the title, followed by brother Irad in 2018. Irad Ortiz Jr. will likely repeat in 2019, but neither Ortiz Brother was around for enough of the decade to merit serious consideration for this award.


The decade started off with back-to-back fillies being named Horse of the Year, Zenyatta (Street Cry {Ire}) in 2010 and Havre de Grace (Saint Liam) in 2011. For both, though, those were the only years during the decade where they had standout campaigns.

Beholder (Henny Hughes) may not have been as talented as Zenyatta or Havre de Grace, but no filly or mare had a more complete run during the decade. She was champion 2-year-old filly in 2012, champion 3-year-old filly in 2013 and champion older mare in 2015 and 2016. She ended her career with what very well might have been the race of the decade, the 2016 GI Breeders' Cup Distaff, in which she beat Songbird (Medaglia d'Oro) by a nose.


There may not be an Eclipse category for racetracks, but that doesn't mean that one shouldn't be recognized.

At the beginning of the decade, Gulfstream was a top track but not nearly the juggernaut that it has become. The annual “Championship Meet” now rivals Saratoga as the most prestigious and popular meet in the country. The GI Florida Derby is, arguably, the single most important prep on the calendar for the GI Kentucky Derby. Gulfstream was ahead of the pack when recognizing how popular grass racing was with the bettors, oftentimes carding seven or eight grass races a day. There is no certainty that the GI Pegasus World Cup Invitational will survive the next decade, but in the 2010's it was a welcome innovation, a race won by superstars and one that kept a couple of horses around for one more start after they otherwise would have been retired to stud after the Breeders' Cup. With Calder being operated by indifferent management, Gulfstream executives, led by Tim Ritvo, saw the need to bolster year-round racing in Florida and successfully transitioned Gulfstream into a track that runs during the summer and for

10 months a year. And once Gulfstream management took over the racing operation at Calder/Gulfstream Park West, handle soared at South Florida's other racetrack.


No need to rehash the details here. Let's just hope that 2020 is the year in which racing heads back in the right direction, proving to its critics that safety is its number one concern and being able to back that up with numbers that reflect a far lower rate of fatal accidents.


One Thoroughbred going to slaughter is one too many and the sport has yet to wipe out a practice that is a blight on its name. But the 2010's were a decade when the industry made larger strides than ever before when it comes to eliminating this problem.

The days of sweeping the issue under the rug disappeared. There is hardly a track left that doesn't have a no slaughter policy on the books whereby any trainer caught sending a horse to the “killers” is banned. The decade also marked the formation of the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, which was formed in 2012. The TAA has increased the awareness of the slaughter issue and given the movement a badly needed umbrella organization.

Some horses may still slip between the cracks, but the number of ex-race horses that show up at these seedy sales where people buy the animal for their meat is a fraction of what it used to be.

There's more work to be done, but the sport as a whole deserves credit for making major and meaningful changes in this area during the decade.


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