Horse Racing: The Top 5 Stories of 2018 and Predictions for 2019

As the new year arrives, reviewing the biggest headlines that happened in horse racing in 2018 and predictions for what could happen in the year ahead.

Updated: Dec. 31, 2018 • 6:55 PM ET

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The 2019 Kentucky Derby is one of the most anticipated event next year.

Plenty has transpired in horse racing over the past year, including several highs and lows. Below is a recap of the top five stories of 2018.

5. Gary Stevens’ Bow

The sport saw the retirement of one of its senior members, jockey Gary Stevens. Health issues drove Stevens to retirement before, but a spinal injury caught up with him this time. One of the most decorated jockeys of his generation, Stevens will be remembered for his grit, class, that performance in movie “Seabiscuit” and as one of the world’s greatest to handle a whip. Perhaps NBC will give him a ring — they need him!


4. Enable Doubles Down

Gentleman John Gosden trained the super horse of the turf, Enable. She won the 2017 and 2018 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in Paris (one of the world’s greatest races) and then came to this year’s Breeders’ Cup in early November at Churchill Downs. With Frankie Dettori aboard, she smoked an international field and won the elusive double. The connections report that Enable will return in 2019. A Third Arc? Stay tuned.


3. Ramsey Reduction

The red capital “R” emblazoned on the jockey’s chest has become an anthem for winning, excellence and the Ramsey Farm, based near Nicholasville, Ky. Administered by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, they’re the patriarchs of a powerful empire that has overseen one of the greatest turf sires of all time, Kitten’s Joy. This past year, the Ramseys decided to scale back. It doesn’t mean they’re throwing in the towel, just that they’re recalibrating and making the move to retirement. It has been a great run — in five years, the Ramseys have won more than 600 races and banked more than $36 million in prize money — but nothing ever lasts, not even the power of Ken Ramsey’s smile.


2. Catholic Boy’s Defiance

At this year’s Saratoga Meet, the Travers arrived as the signature race once again. A wide-open field caused panic among the pundits. Lots of folks, including NBC’s crack horse racing broadcast team, overlooked the Jonathan Thomas-trained Catholic Boy. Thomas, a former steeplechase jockey turned trainer, faced great odds after a catastrophic accident ended one career; but over time, he took up another. Catholic Boy’s victory has been the opening salvo in what should be a great career for Trainer Thomas.


1. Justify’s Flash

I told most people that would listen that there was no way a horse that did not run as a two-year-old could ever win the Kentucky Derby. Lesson: Don’t count out the dynamic duo of Bob Baffert and Mike Smith. Their horse, Justify, didn’t stop with the Derby; he proceeded to garner the Preakness and the Belmont. A Triple Crown — need I say more? The meteoric rise of Justify came to an end as quickly as it started with his sudden retirement in the late summer. Bound for the breeding shed, he carries an $80 million valuation into retirement. Not bad.


And now, for some highly unscientific predictions for 2019.


5. The Year of McKinzie

Last year, the Baffert-trained McKinzie was slated as an early Derby favorite, but it wasn’t to be. Injury sidelined him (imagine if he had run against Justify), but he’s primed for 2019. If Baffert deems it, we could see him headed to Dubai for the World Cup, a race coveted almost as much as the Derby. I think McKinzie has the power to do it, and if he makes it to the fall, he could vie for a shot at the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Watch out!


4. Access Denied

Turf writing, as it's historically called, has deep roots in an American publication called the Daily Racing Form (DRF). But, over the past decade, DRF does not carry the spunk it used to. Sure, you can still buy it at tracks around the nation, but its online publication has limited free-access. I predict that readership will be Bearish, and it’s difficult to understand why DRF refuses to make their prose accessible to the public. Certainly, newspapers’ and magazines’ efforts to open, free articles to hold a reader’s gaze in a world with short attention spans. DRF is the Titanic, and there’s an iceberg ahead!


3. Drayden on the Rise

The Ortiz Brothers? Javier Castellano? Mike Smith? Joel Rosario? Nope, not in 2019. This will be Drayden Van Dyke’s year. The young man passed his O.W.L.S. with flying colors, fought through a major injury, and has competed and won at other tracks outside his base in Southern California. He rode in 1,000 less races than Irad Ortiz in 2018 and still maintained a 22 percent winning clip. Van Dyke is poised to win major races this year, and he could be a contender for an Eclipse Award as the best American jockey.


2. Live in 3,2,1…Snooze

This one is easy. NBC continues to produce mediocre horse racing coverage. Despite having Royal Ascot on NBCSN for four days in June and on the main network on Saturday with a Queen, Nick Luck in a top hat and a bunch of shot-in-the-dark picks isn’t enough. Some of this isn’t their fault because of time in between races at any given American track; but overall, their stories, on-air talent and ability to take something as exciting as this sport and make it into spackling compound is uncanny. I know, I know; it’s the best we’ve got. Really? Guffaw!


1. Louisville Slugger

My Derby prediction is simple. It might be futile to do this, but it’s fun, so allow yourself to be led. I think hometown boy Brad Cox will win the Kentucky Derby this year. My vote is for Pole Setter, a horse that has hit the board in several lower level races but is working out for the start of the Oaklawn Season in Arkansas. I’m not necessarily backing this horse, but I’m for Brad Cox. He won the Kentucky Oaks last year, so I’m Bullish on him.

Whatever happens in 2019, it will be another great year of racing! Happy New Year!

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