It is time to have a little fun. Who are the top five horses in the 2000's? Well that is a question that anyone can answer. Opinions can be different, and I am sure they are here.
As I discussed below in the Hambo Poll voting, I think a lot of these votes are a popularity contest, or they are political. I always look at things from a different perspective in these things. I don’t care if a horse won $1M or more, or a few high purse races, because each year there are many in each division who can and do that. There is little doubt that a horse like Always A Virgin would not be making a whole lot of scratch this year against Art Official and the Beach for example. What I look for is extreme talent, horses that did something we rarely see, those who might be able to step out of their comfort zone to beat older, or horses of a different sex, or those who are mentioned with harness racing true greats. To illustrate, a horse like Artsplace would be on my all time list, not for what he necessarily made, but because when he was at his best he could give horses like Niatross, or the Beach a run. His 2YO Breeders Crown win for example, was one for the ages. If it was run tomorrow, he might win again.
It is those who capture my imagination. Anyhow, here goes!
1. Rainbow Blue (32-30-0-1 $1.6M) - Words can not describe this beast of a mare. Does anyone have any doubt that in the nine seasons of this millenium she would have beat any filly foaled? I don’t. In her Roses are Red elimination at Woodbine she won in a hand drive in 49.2. There is a chance she could have set the all age track record that evening. In the final, on a soupy track, she proved her meddle even more, going three high at the half, surging to the lead and winning with ease. This was the three year old year of horses like Metropolitan and Modern Art. Not only was she argued as being one of the best fillies in history, there were many observers who felt that she, if entered in the Pace or North America Cup would have won. That has not happened ever with a three year old filly that I remember. She is tops on my list.
2. Peaceful Way (52-33-3-2 $3.25M) - Another filly makes the list. She won $3M, all the while having several mishaps. She crushed male free for all superstars in the Maple Leaf Trot. She was constantly talked about as being able to possibly beat Mr. Muscleman. It will take many, many years to forget this mare and I don’t know if we’ll see another one like her. Some thought that Snow White might follow in her footsteps, but as is proven time and time again, fillies with tremendous speed have a hard time following through. During her heyday she was always compared to the greatest trotters ever, which happens only to the true greats. In some people’s books she would be number one of this list and I don’t think I could argue. For a race that sends chills up ones spine, remember her performance in the Classic Series at the Meadowlands. I have never seen brush like that in my life by any trotter, let alone a filly. She was marvelous. To relive that mind-boggling race, you can at youtube here. If you think that was an aberration, well she won from an impossible spot like that more than once. No filly this decade would even hit the board off those trips.
3. Somebeachsomewhere (16-15-1-0 $2.4M) - Another one of “those” horses, the ones that transcend racing history. Just like Rainbow Blue, or Peaceful Way, each time he sets foot on a racetrack the fans know that something special can happen. Let’s try him in the Metro - world record, off a 54 half, and a virtual hand ride to the wire. Let’s pop him in the box off a foot bruise and no training? Hand ride to the wire. Let’s try heats? World record. How about entering him in the Canadian Pacing Derby this year if he was eligible? He'd be the favorite against Mr. Big and might beat him. He is probably the only horse in harness racing history where he wins on a dead track, on a cool night in 150, and everyone asked what was wrong with him. That’s why horses like this make this list.
4. Eternal Camnation (101-47-18-5 $4.2M) - She is here for many reasons, the most of which might be her longevity. I do not think she could have beaten Rainbow Blue, but boy could she have given her a tussle. I sincerely wish her Classic Series win at Dover was on Youtube. In it she proved she belongs on anyone’s list. She was in a no win spot and driver Eric Ledford had to tip her three wide extremely prematurely. That would have stopped virtually any horse, but not horses who make this list. She continued to surge, and surge and surge; and she won. She was another who broke down barriers and was mentioned as perhaps a starter in some races against the boys. She might have had a tough time beating the Free for Allers, but she would have tried her butt off, because that is who she was.
5. Art Major (49-32-7-2 $3.3M) - I had trouble with the five slot, but if there was a match race tomorrow between Art Major and Somebeachsomewhere, I believe that he would be 6 or 7 to 5. He is that good a pacer. During his three year old year I had the feeling that each win would be an open length one. It was not will he win, it was how much will he win by. A mark of greatness. His win over McArdle in the US Pacing Championship was breathless. I do not think that there are many horses alive who could have won that race off that trip.
That’s my list. I know there are many others that could have been considered. Horses like Windsongs Legacy, Donato, Gallo Blue Chip, Rock n Roll Hanover; and several others. But those five horses, I believe did things that any on a subjective list would have a tough time doing. In the end it came down to this: Is there a horse in their respective divisions alive in the 2000's who could beat these horses on a regular basis, when at their best? I don’t think there is. Each horse was in some way, generational, and the best horses in our sport must be held to that high a bar, to be considered one of the best we've seen.
Photo of Rainbow Blue, courtesy Ed Keys.