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Top Horses Show Us the Money

by Jeremy Plonk

December 26, 2017

Money changes everything, or so Cyndi Lauper tried to explain to us back in the day. But when you look at the top money earners in Thoroughbred racing for 2017, it’s not far off any list of Top 10 horses you would put together. While casino purse bumps and an arms race in the purse account for some top races may have skewed things somewhat, in the end, the horses cashing the checks got the last laugh.

The top of the list is headed by Arrogate, Gun Runner and Shaman Ghost. You’ll have a hard time coming up with three better handicap-division runners in 2017. Arrogate owned the first half of the year, while Gun Runner the latter. Shaman Ghost was top-2 in all 4 starts and didn’t take an easy step from the Pegasus World Cup to the Santa Anita Handicap to the Pimlico Special to the Suburban. That’s literally a coast-to-coast resume.

At No. 4 on the earnings list is Always Dreaming. True, few would rate him among the year’s 10-best performers. But on resume, you’re not going to find a 3-year-old with 2 more important victories than the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby. He blanked the campaign after that point to be sure.

Next up are Talismanic, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Turf; West Coast, the top 3-year-old of the second half of the year; and World Approval, winner of the Woodbine and Breeders’ Cup Miles and clearly America’s most accomplished middle-distance horse on turf.

The bottom three in the Top 10 earnings list are Collected, easily one of the top few handicap division runners by season’s end; Beach Patrol, who had a historic Arlington Million-Turf Classic double and was easily America’s top in the turf route division; and Abel Tasman, who paced the 3-year-old fillies all year long.

In review, the top 10 earners were 4 horses anyone would have in their handicap division Top 5; the most accomplished 3-year-old colt and filly, as well as the late-blooming 3YO colt who may end up with the title; the leading turf performers both short and long from America, and the world traveler who took down the BC Turf.

There’s not a lot of fluff in that list. So to say purses are inflated these days may be true in some instances, but ranking horses on money earned still has proven to be a pretty darned good way to go. You could argue dropping a horse or two from this list of 10 and inputting a few others. But it’s not far off the mark.

Those outside the top earners in 2017 that deserve more credit than their bankroll suggest really only includes one horse certainly among the year’s Top 10: Forever Unbridled (No. 12), who won all 3 starts in a limited campaign that was the real reason she didn’t hit the list. Certainly you could dig deeper into the list for Songbird and Lady Eli, but they weren’t the same horses this year as the past. The latter had her chance to accumulate cash in the Breeders’ Cup and ran the most inexplicable race of her career without any forewarning.

Maybe the moral to this story is that the best horses show up when the money is on the line in today’s limited-action scheduling. Or perhaps it’s just a coincidence in 2017. Whatever the case, it will be interesting to follow the money (literally) in 2018 and see if the results repeat.