TDN's Most Popular Stories of 2021

Medina Spirit | Coady


With 2021 now behind us–thankfully, some might say–it's time to look back at the TDN stories that were the mostly widely read during the year. Unfortunately, it's a list largely void of feel-good stories. That's not surprising during what was another tumultuous year for the sport, from the sad saga of Medina Spirit (Protonico) to the sentencing of drug cheat Jorge Navarro to five years in prison to the 11th-hour surprise that was the United States Anti-Doping Agency announcing that it would not be part of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act going forward. It was also a year in which the sport lost some giants, B. Wayne Hughes, Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid al Maktoum, Rick Porter, Khalid Abdullah, to name a few.

Here are the 10 most widely read stories of 2021:

  1. Medina Spirit Dies of an Apparent Heart Attack

The news was stunning and tragic. After finishing up a Dec. 6 workout at Santa Anita, Medina Spirit collapsed and died of an apparent heart attack. It was the final chapter in a story that began with an overachiever once sold for $1,000 winning the GI Kentucky Derby and continued with his drug positive in the Derby and then his death.

“Medina Spirit was a great champion, a member of our family who was loved by all and we are deeply mourning his loss,” trainer Bob Baffert said in a statement. “I will always cherish the proud and personal memories of Medina Spirit and his tremendous spirit.”

The story had more than twice as many readers as any other story that ran in the TDN during the year.

  1. Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid al Maktoum Dies

In March, His Highness Sheik Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum passed away at the age of 75. Operating a racing and breeding empire under the Shadwell banner that tasted success all over the world, he raced 19 European Classic winners. In the U.S., Shadwell won such notable races as the GI Breeders' Cup Classic, the GI Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, the GI Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf and the GI Belmont S. and was a two-time winner of the GI Whitney H.

  1. Lopez After Fight with Ortiz: I Don't Want Any Trouble Going Forward

There's nothing like a good old-fashioned donnybrook to get the readers' attention. Irad Ortiz, Jr. didn't like Paco Lopez's tactics during a late February race at Gulfstream and let him know it afterward when he started punching his rival outside the jockey's room. Lopez did not retaliate and told the TDN after it was over that he wanted to put the incident behind him.

  1. Rispoli Not Allowed to Fly to Saudi Arabia for Cup

COVID-19 regulations proved to be a headache during the early part of the year and kept Umberto Rispoli and John Velazquez from being able to travel to Saudi Arabia to ride in the Saudi Cup.

  1. Guillot Horse with Racist Name Wins at Aqueduct, Sparks Outrage

Trainer Eric Guillot retired from racing in January but he didn't exactly go quietly. The last horse he ran was a horse he named Grape Soda (Uncle Mo), a racist stereotype directed at African Americans. On Twitter, Guillot admitted the horse was named in “honor of a TVG analyst,” presumably Ken Rudulph. The horse was claimed out of the race by owner Larry Roman, who promptly changed his named to Respect For All.

  1. Rick Porter Passes Away

Few owners in the sport were more respected and more successful than Rick Porter. Porter, who campaigned three Eclipse Award winners, passed away in June at 80 after a long bout with cancer.

“We lost a gem in horse racing,” said trainer Larry Jones.

  1. Writers Room Tackles Medina Spirit News, Baffert, Ortiz Suspension

With the Medina Spirit death and the 30-day suspension handed to Irad Ortiz, Jr. by the Aqueduct stewards for careless riding, there was plenty to talk about on the Dec. 8 TDN Writers' Room podcast. A story previewing the podcast proved to be among the most popular of the year.

  1. Derby Winner Aiming for New World Record

Emma Berry tells the story of 2013 GI Epsom Derby winner Ruler Of The World (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) arriving in Italy at the Cipriani family's Allevamenti della Berardenga

  1. Irad Ortiz, Jr Suspended for 30 Days

In what was supposed to be an ordinary race in December at Aqueduct, Irad Ortiz, Jr., aboard Gran Casique (Algorithms), inexplicably came over about eight paths while making his way toward the rail on the backstretch and cut over on and dropped apprentice Omar Hernandez Moreno. The Equibase chart caller wrote that “Gran Casique angled in with reckless abandon.” Throughout the year, many had been calling out Ortiz Jr. for what they said were his rough riding tactics. At least on this one occasion, the stewards agreed, setting him down for a month.

  1. Parx Backstretch Raid Yields Significant Contraband

There was plenty of controversy in 2021, including a backstretch raid at Parx that yielded, according to Pennsylvania Director of Thoroughbred Horse Racing Tom Chuckas, a “significant amount of contraband.” A few days later, trainer Richard Vega was “summarily suspended” by the stewards after hypodermic needles, syringes and injectable substances were found in his tack room.

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