Former co-worker and current Team Valor International PR man Jeff Lowe used to ask if I did some undisclosed promotional work on behalf of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities.
He got that notion I suppose because I’d occasionally task him with putting together a piece about the IRHA’s comings and goings and its periodic ranking of the world’s best racehorses. (Full disclosure, Jeff, I did not.)
The rankings are now known as the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings and they’re put together by the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings Committee. Hopefully the members of the committee get some swag from Longines, which thankfully in a short time has positioned itself as one of the world’s leading sponsors of racing.
Rankings like these, and others like the weekly NTRA polls of North America’s best horses and best 3-year-olds, are good conversation pieces for those who pay attention to international racing.
The latest list ranks 37 horses representing nine countries (based on where their trainers set up shop). Surprisingly, Americans have the largest group with 11 of the top 37. Hong Kong is next with seven while Japan and Australia have five each. The others are UAE (3), Great Britain (3), France (2), New Zealand (1) and Ireland (1).
So who is the world’s best now that a third of the year is in the books?
Just A Way is ranked as the top, earning a rating of 130 off his 6 1/4-length win in the Group 2 Dubai Duty Free back in March. He’s rated four pounds heavier than two-time South African Horse of the Year Variety Club (rated as UAE-based), winner of the Group 2 Godolphin Mile in Dubai and Group 1 Champions Mile in Hong Kong.
Americans make up the next two spots with Game On Dude pegged at 125 and Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome at 124. The only other U.S.-based runner in the top 10 is Will Take Charge, co-rated with six others at 123.
I don’t know much about how the lists are compiled and the rankings are made, despite Jeff’s beliefs that I’ve got some insider knowledge of this whole deal. The horses are ranked in categories by distance and by surface and gender.
Eight of the U.S. group are in the dirt category, again not surprising considering the majority of our marquee races are run on dirt. How they are ranked is a bit surprising.
The dirt horses, in order, are Game On Dude, California Chrome, Will Take Charge, Lea, Palace Malice, Untapable, Commanding Curve and Sahara Sky. All spectacular animals with great accomplishments, however at least four don’t pass the eye test as of this ranking.
Game On Dude won the Santa Anita Handicap – that’s probably enough to get him where he is – but lost the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic to massive longshot and ex-claimer Imperative in his second loss in three 2014 starts.
Will Take Charge looked like he was headed in the wrong direction despite winning the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap – his lone win from four starts this year – and proved it with a flop in the Grade 2 Alysheba on Kentucky Oaks Day.
Sahara Sky is another with more losses than wins in 2014, the latest a seventh in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs on the Kentucky Derby undercard.
Untapable is a timely one to rank, off her impressive victory in the Kentucky Oaks, but come on. It’s way too soon to put a U.S.-based 3-year-old filly on a list of the world’s best.
On the flip side, Lea and Palace Malice are vastly underrated.
Lea, on the shelf as he battles back from an early-April illness, was easily the most impressive dirt horse in the U.S. this year and broke a track record winning the Grade 1 Donn Handicap in February.
Palace Malice continues to show his quality and won the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap going a one-turn mile in 1:33.80 and the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap by open lengths going 9 furlongs.
Last but not least is the ranking of Wise Dan, America’s two-time defending Horse of the Year. He’s pegged at 122 and co-third best among those in the “M” category for 1,301 to 1,899 meters on turf.
If you’ve read carefully – and I’ll forgive if you need to scroll back to the top and try again – you’ll detect a lot of references to the number 2, as in Group 2 or Grade 2. A lot of the wins by the top horses came in those “2” races with some losses sprinkled in there, too.
I’ve been around long enough to know that grades assigned to races do not always truly indicate the quality of the fields, and I’m not about to regurgitate the tired Turf-writer speak about how races should be graded after the fields are drawn, but Grade 1s are Grade 1s.
Wise Dan owns two Grade 1 wins this season, one more than any other horse on the list with the exception of Derby winner California Chrome.