2022 in Review: Reilly's 10 favorite races

December 20th, 2022

From the sublime Flightline to photo-finish thrillers, the 2022 racing year delivered some outstanding moments. Here’s a personal list of my 10 favorite races of the season, divided equally between North America and Europe.

Pacific Classic (G1) - Flightline

If it’s possible to exceed expectations as a 3-10 favorite, that’s what Flightline did in the Sept. 3 Pacific Classic (G1) at Del Mar. He entered the gate as an unbeaten phenom trying two turns for the first time. By about halfway, he was doing something special, and turning for home, Flightline was giving Secretariat-like chills. This was the performance we’ll remember most, as his ensuing Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) was more of a formality than a spectacular revelation.

Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) - Alpinista

Europe’s fall championship not only delivered a proper winner in Alpinista, but an especially meaningful one for connections. She’s the crowning achievement for two of racing’s grandees, Kirsten Rausing of Lanwades Stud, and iconic British trainer Sir Mark Prescott. Beyond the “rooting interest” factor, however, was Alpinista’s neatly tying up a loose end left dangling since last October. For she had beaten the 2021 Arc shocker, Torquator Tasso, on his home soil in Germany before he went on to glory in Paris. Alpinista stayed in training in 2022 precisely to pursue the Arc. She fulfilled that long-term plan, capping her career with an eighth straight win. Better still, Alpinista once again beat Torquator Tasso. A valiant third in his title defense, Torquator Tasso was simultaneously affirming the merit of his own Arc.

Juddmonte International (G1) - Baaeed

The world’s highest-rated horse until overtaken by Flightline late in the season, Baaeed had sparked lively discussion about his place in the British pantheon – specifically, how he stacked up against unbeaten phenom Frankel. The two struck me as intrinsically different types. Frankel was the distillation of brilliance with the uninhibited desire to pummel you, the quintessence of Thoroughbred greatness. Baaeed would deliver the coup de grace when asked. Those debates ended, though, once Baaeed failed to emulate Frankel in his Champion S. (G1) finale, looking like an uncharacteristically damp squib in fourth. My enduring memory of Baaeed is the Juddmonte International (G1), his first try beyond a mile. For some time he’d appeared to want more ground, and his explosive kick in the about 1 5/16-mile prize at York only reinforced that view in spades.

Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) - Malathaat

For sheer drama, while playing for the highest stakes, the three-way tussle in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) has to be on just about everyone’s short list of the best of 2022. Adding to the piquancy, archrivals Malathaat and Clairiere had also been involved in the wild conclusion to the 2021 Distaff, when Japan’s Marche Lorraine prevailed in a four-way finish and relegated them to third and fourth. This time at Keeneland, the blinker-improved Malathaat got up at the wire over Blue Stripe, with Clairiere two noses away in third. In another cinematic plot twist, Argentine import Blue Stripe is a half-sister to 2019 Distaff winner Blue Prize; she was a flared nostril short of putting their dam, Blues for Sale, in an exclusive club of broodmares responsible for two Breeders’ Cup winners.

Woodbine Mile (G1) - Modern Games

Modern Games was entitled to win the Woodbine Mile (G1) as the class of the field, but the Charlie Appleby shipper was ruthless in asserting his superiority. Few could have expected that a 5 1/4-length demolition job was imminent when Modern Games was still behind a wall of horses entering the stretch. Yet that’s how rapidly he took off once in the clear. As the cherry on top, Modern Games became the first three-year-old to defeat older horses in the Woodbine Mile. His eventual Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) score was closer, making Woodbine his spectacular highlight.

2000 Guineas (G1) - Coroebus

While Native Trail was the clear favorite for the 2000 Guineas (G1), I’d been a longtime booster of his Godolphin stablemate, Coroebus. My hypothesis was that the Dubawi colt arguably had more scope to improve at three than Native Trail, last year’s unbeaten champion juvenile by Oasis Dream. This pet idea happened to play out in the season’s first British classic: Coroebus bested Native Trail to top the Appleby exacta at Newmarket.

My abiding belief was that he should have been the one stepping up in trip subsequently, not Native Trail. Instead, Coroebus stuck to a mile, adding the St James’s Palace (G1) at Royal Ascot before misfortunes in France. Sadly, we’re bereft with what-might-have-beens, as Coroebus suffered a fatal breakdown in the Prix du Moulin (G1). Aside from the lingering question of his optimal distance, there’s the pang of his never having a chance on the Meydan dirt. Coroebus was out of a half-sister to two-time Dubai World Cup (G1) hero Thunder Snow, and I would have loved to see him experiment at the 2023 Carnival.

Belmont (G1) - Mo Donegal

Although Rich Strike’s 80-1 upset of the Kentucky Derby (G1) will be the iconic moment of the 2022 Triple Crown, the Belmont (G1) delivered my favorite result. The third jewel was the most formful of the three classics, and the strongest from a Brisnet Speed rating perspective as well. The victorious Mo Donegal racked up a 111 Speed figure in what unfortunately turned out to be his final start. Runner-up Nest recorded a 108 en route to taking control of the three-year-old filly division.

What made the Belmont particularly special was the fact that both Mo Donegal and Nest were bred by Ashview Farm and Colts Neck Stables. They grew up on the same farm, got sold from the same shedrow at Keeneland September, and reunited in the Todd Pletcher barn.

Travers (G1) - Epicenter

After frustrating losses in the first two jewels of the Triple Crown, Epicenter needed to set the record straight at Saratoga. The Jim Dandy (G2) was the first step toward that end, and in the Travers (G1), he gained total revenge on the Derby and Preakness (G1) winners. We’ll never know how Epicenter might have finished in the Breeders’ Cup, as he sadly sustained a career-ending injury in the Classic. But for that very reason, his Travers conquest looms all the more important for his Eclipse-worthy resume.

Oaks (G1) at Epsom - Tuesday

As delightful as it was for Tuesday to peak in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1), in keeping with my hopes, her defining moment came five months earlier at Epsom. The very late foal (born June 3) did well just to make it to the classics, never mind become a major player. After placing in both the 1000 Guineas (G1) at Newmarket and the Irish equivalent at the Curragh, Tuesday relished the stretch-out to 1 1/2 miles to nip hot favorite Emily Upjohn in the Oaks (G1). Much of the postrace focus was on Emily Upjohn’s poor start, but Tuesday had to motor herself from well off the pace. She kept finding extra to hold off the surging Emily Upjohn, with Nashwa adrift in a non-staying third.

That was quite a way for Tuesday to celebrate her literal third birthday, and hand trainer Aidan O’Brien a record-breaking 41st victory in a British classic. She didn’t have as long a career as her seven-time Group 1-winning sister Minding, who turned the Guineas/Oaks double in 2016, but Tuesday packed an awful lot into her sophomore campaign.

Moyglare Stud (G1) - Tahiyra

We all saw what Meditate did to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) field. Now remember that Tahiyra summarily dispatched Meditate in the Sept. 11 Moyglare Stud (G1) at the Curragh. A half-sister to 2020 Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) queen Tarnawa, Tahiyra had hinted of unusual potential in her debut romp at Galway, where Dermot Weld tends to send his better youngsters. Even so, she was stepping up in class to face even-money favorite Meditate, then unbeaten through four starts, three in Group company, including Royal Ascot’s Albany (G3). Yet Tahiyra blew past Meditate by 2 1/4 lengths, stamping herself as Europe’s best two-year-old filly – and a prime classic contender for 2023. Although she’s a different type from Tarnawa, her family’s penchant for blossoming over time only adds to the excitement for what Tahiyra’s future may hold.