2022 in Review: Bull's 10 Best Races of the year

December 19th, 2022

Everyone has their own idea of what makes a memorable race. It can be a close finishes, an awe-inspiring performance, a great battle, a fantastic story, a huge upset, or anything really.

Regardless, as of this moment, these are the 10 races I enjoyed watching most in 2022. I don’t expect anyone else’s personal list to have more than a couple of these races in them, but I hope they make good viewing.

On with the countdown!

10. Champions Sprint (G1), Flemington, Australia

There is no higher quality place in the world for turf sprinting than Australia, as was shown when its reigning champion Nature Strip demolished his European and American rivals in the King’s Stand S. (G1) at Royal Ascot. He hasn’t found it so easy on his return to Australia, but he was expected to prove himself again over the straight six-furlong track at Flemington in Melbourne in this race, one he'd won twice before. He fought hard for second, but in a fantastic finish with just 1.5 lengths covering the first 10. It produced a second big upset in 2022 at Flemington for Roch ‘N’ Horse. A 100-1 winner of the Newmarket H. (G1) in March, the ex-New Zealand mare was at 19-1 when winning here.

9. Japan Cup (G1), Tokyo, Japan

The Japan Cup is always a hard-fought event, and this year was no exception. In a field with plenty of class but no obvious superstars, it was Vela Azul, a five-year-old that has improved sharply since being switched from dirt to turf earlier this year, that got home. What’s most worth watching here is the fantastic job that jockey Ryan Moore did, weaving in and out near the rail coming down the stretch before finally finding the space to hit the lead in the last sixteenth.

8. Gran Premio 25 de Mayo (G1), San Isidro, Argentina

Racing in South America unearthed a new star in 2022 in the shape of Durazzo. The son of Fortify hadn’t taken on top class until the start of the year, and though beaten in his first effort, he proceeded to win six on end. It was a huge shame he broke down trying to make it seven in the Gran Premio Carlos Pellegrini (G1) in mid-December, but the initial prognosis seems good for him, and it doesn't take away from his earlier achievements. He scored great victories in the Estrellas Classic (G1) on dirt and the Copa de Oro (G1) on turf, but it was the 25 de Mayo (G1) that announced his arrival at the top level. He has a sharp turn of foot, but what’s most appealing is just watching him once he hits top stride, with his head low and his legs at full stretch as he puts this field away.

7. Supreme Novices Hurdle (G1), Cheltenham, England

I have a tremendous soft spot for National Hunt racing in England and Ireland, and as usual there was some outstanding viewing. But the biggest wow factor came at the Cheltenham Festival from the two-mile Supreme Novices Hurdle, for jumpers that hadn’t won a race prior to the jumping season. Three unbeaten horses over jumps – the Irish raider Dysart Dynamo and the English stablemates Jonbon and Constitution Hill – clashed, but nobody could have foreseen how Constitution Hill would demolish his opponents with an effort that UK ratings agencies said was one of the greatest ever efforts ever seen over hurdles. He’s resumed for the new season in similar fashion and is worth watching for anyone who loves to see a good jumper – or just a good horse.

6. Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1), Keeneland, USA

There was just a nose and a half-length between Marche Lorraine, Dunbar Road, Malathaat, and Clairiere in the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Distaff, and surely it was too much to expect something similar in 2022. But that’s exactly what viewers got, only this time there were noses between three horses at the line. Again there was a foreign-bred outsider in the finish, this time Blue Stripe, along with Malathaat and Clairiere. This year, however, Malathaat was able to triumph, showing tremendous guts to get up right on the line to beat Blue Stripe and Clairiere. It was a fitting end to the career of a tremendous racemare.

5. Juddmonte International (G1), York, England

He wasn’t quite in the class of Flightline, or his recent predecessor Frankel, but Baaeed was the undoubted star of British flat racing in 2022. Like Frankel, he made his name at a mile; also like Frankel, he ventured beyond a mile for the first time in the Juddmonte International (G1) over an extended 1 1/4 miles at York; and again, like Frankel, he produced an astounding performance. Giving a good horse like Mishriff a beating of more than six lengths was awe-inspiring; it was a shame he was defeated for the first time in his only other 2022 start, but this was still a great performance.

4. Dubai Turf (G1), Meydan, United Arab Emirates

The 1 1/8-mile Dubai Turf may be a $5 million race, but it’s normally a backdrop to the main event of the night, the Dubai World Cup. But though the World Cup was good to watch as always, for pure drama and excitement it was outshone by the Dubai Turf. Watching Japan’s Panthalassa try to hold on, and then seeing compatriot Vin De Garde and Britain’s Lord North descend on him right at the end, was thrilling. The result was as close to a triple dead heat as you will see in a major race: Panthalassa and Lord North dead-heating for first, with Vin De Garde a nose behind in third. It was terrific viewing.

3. Kentucky Derby (G1), Churchill Downs, USA

Was there a more dramatic race, or a more surprising one, in 2022 than the Kentucky Derby? America’s most famous race is not surprisingly dominated by big stables and owners, but this year was the complete opposite. For it to be won by Eric Reed, a trainer with one prior graded stakes victory, and Sonny Leon, a jockey often based in Ohio with no graded stakes wins, with a horse that only got his way into the starting field with a withdrawal of another horse the day before the race, was stunning enough. To win with a charge from the rear, under an inspired ride by Leon, at 80-1 odds made it extra crazy, and also heart-warming. And though the race was compelling viewing, the best view comes from watching Larry Collmus’s shock as he calls the race.

2. Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1), Keeneland, USA

If you had dry eyes after Cody’s Wish won the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, you either had money on the other horses or you weren’t human. The story about how the young foal bonded with Cody Dorman, a boy with the debilitating Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome who had been suffering from depression, became the feel-good story of the year. Their bonding was remarkable enough, but the fact he then became a top racehorse added extra layers, and it was all capped off with the Dirt Mile success with Dorman present. Sometimes, events just transcend the sport, and this was one of those.

1. Pacific Classic (G1), Del Mar, USA

Racing, like all sports, can bring on many emotions. Among them, the most powerful can simply be astonishment. The 2022 Pacific Classic was just that. Everyone knew Flightline was an exciting horse, and there was high anticipation about how he would handle a step up from a mile to 1 1/4 miles. But the pure demolition job he administered to some good horses was beyond belief, almost Secretariat-like. And just to prove it was no fluke, he did almost the same thing again in the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1). It's a shame we got to see Flightline race just six times, but he created an impression that few others have ever made.