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Can Finishing Second Ever Be Honorable?

If you’re not first you’re last! – Will Ferrel

The quote above was from a Dale Earnheardt type character played for comedic effect by Will Ferrel, but many in our industry feel this way. How many people can remember who finished second in the 2009 Kentucky Derby? Some will, but that’s only because he is now making a name for himself at stud. So, I started thinking about second place and what it means in racing. Can finishing second ever be honorable? I think that it can be honarable if the horse who finished second had no right even being in the same starting gate as the horses he competed against. Here are three horses who earned my respect simply by giving all they had to finish second.

1995 Pimlico Preakness

Horses for courses is one of the truest adages in all of racing and it was on full display at the 1995 Preakness. Oliver’s Twist had just won the Federico Tesio over the Pimlico course and so his connections thought he might have a shot in the Preakness. Like the downhill turf course at Santa Anita, you either love Pimlico dirt or you hate it. Oliver’s Twist clearly loved it as he beat every single horse in the field except for Timber Country.

2005 Kentucky Derby

I know that the pace was quite ridiculous that day and even a maiden claimer could have sat off of the pace and got show. Still, Closing Argument was a glorified allowance horse who still had to pass 18 very talented horses to earn his paycheck that day, and he did just that. If there was anything that this derby taught us it’s that in the modern era, closing horses with good jockeys are always dangerous. Look at the last four Kentucky Derbies. The speed simply did not hold up. Yes, a stalker won this year but Commanding Curve finsihed second. The Derby is becoming a closer’s race.

2007 Travers Stakes

Horses are the most optimistic athlethes by virtue of not knowing how overmatched they truly are. I still get chills watching this race. How on earth did Grasshopper stay with Street Sense for so long? Yes the pace didn’t set up for Street Sense and Calvin, but they still should’ve cruised to a four length victory. Instead, they wound up locked in a battle with the most game allowance horse since Boom Towner (An old grumpy horse who used to race on the NYRA circuit). Unfortunatley, Grasshopper was never the same after that race. However, that valiant stand against Street Sense at the graveyard of favorites earned him a future as a stallion. Not bad for two minutes of work.

If you have any other great place finishes that stand out in your memory, feel free to shoot me an email or reply on twitter to @TAnalytic

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