Top 20 Horses in America in 2022
Knicks Go, soon to be named Horse of the Year for 2021, will make his only start of the year in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park in late January before beginning his new career as a stallion. With many of the best horses of last year retired, or in the case of Medina Spirit, no longer with us, let’s take a look at all the top horses who will remain in training in 2022.
While 3-year-olds will emerge in the coming months, leading up to the spring classics, only the champions Echo Zulu and Corniche accomplished enough so far to be included in the list.
Top 20 Horses in America in 2022
1) Life Is Good
A debut winner in his only start at 2, he twice defeated Medina Spirit early in his sophomore season to become the hot horse on the Kentucky Derby trail, but an injury kept him on the sidelines on the first Saturday in May. Following a 5 1/2-month layoff, and moved to the barn of Todd Pletcher, the son of Into Mischief returned as good as ever. A narrow defeat to Jackie’s Warrior in the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial was followed by resounding victories in the Grade 2 Kelso at Belmont Park and the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Del Mar. His top spot and a (6-5-1-0) record will be tested early in his 4-year-old campaign when he faces off with Knicks Go in the rich Pegasus World Cup.
— BloodHorse (@BloodHorse) January 16, 2022
Despite an off day in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, she will soon be named champion older dirt female of 2021 on the strength of a season which saw her compile four Grade 1 stakes wins, which led the nation. The daughter of Super Saver will be back for her 6-year-old season for trainer Fausto Gutierrez, with her return to the races expected to happen in February with the Grade 3 Royal Delta at Gulfstream Park. From there, the first major goal of the winner of 17-of-23 lifetime will be a defense of her victory in the $1 million Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park in April. Last year, she defeated the two-time champion Monomoy Girl in a spirited stretch duel in the Grade 1 race in Arkansas.
No horse has been more talked about after only one stakes win than this son of Tapit. A maiden winner in April, an allowance winner in September, and then a 11 ½-length runaway winner of the Grade 1 Malibu, he won his first three career races by a combined 37 ½-lengths. Trained by John Sadler, the brilliant colt will need to prove that he can stay healthy for the nation’s biggest races, and also demonstrate that he can be as effective going distances of a mile or more. With the Breeders’ Cup Classic the stated long-term goal, look for Flightline to get his first major test of 2022 in the Grade 1 Met Mile on Belmont Stakes Day.
4) Mystic Guide
Unfortunately, last year’s Dubai World Cup winner missed almost the entire second half of 2021 after having a bone chip removed from his knee. The surgery followed an upset loss in the Grade 2 Suburban in early July. Unraced since then, he was working at Fair Grounds, but another setback looks to delay his return. Still, the plan is to get him back to the races in 2022. The 5-year-old son of Ghostzapper has never finished out of the money in nine career starts and is well proven at the Breeders’ Cup Classic distance of 10 furlongs.
5) Domestic Spending
America’s top turf horse in 2021 was forced to miss the Breeders’ Cup Turf due to a minor injury. With a career record of (8-6-1-1), the English-bred son of Kingman has been a model of consistency for trainer Chad Brown, and the way he finished in Grade 1 wins in the Turf Classic at Churchill Downs and the Manhattan at Belmont point to him as a dominant performer if the 5-year-old gelding can stay healthy in 2022. Also a Grade 1 winner in 2020, he will be pointed for a return this spring.
6) Hot Rod Charlie
Hot Rod Charlie will bypass the Pegasus and Saudi Cup to focus on the Dubai Cup. Trainer Doug O’Neil says he will run in a prep before the Dubai Cuo where he is 6/1 according to https://t.co/3IKD8O3Hlt#Dubai #HorseRacing #news #Horses pic.twitter.com/JwPTgRG7XA
— Horse Racing Tote (@HorseRacingTote) January 9, 2022
He wasn’t always a winner on the track, but the Vox Populi winner, as chosen by the fans, had a strong 3-year-old season from beginning to end. Highlights for the son of Oxbow included a pair of million-dollar victories in the Pennsylvania Derby and the Louisiana Derby, a finish first, but taken down by disqualification result in the Grade 1 Haskell, as well as a very game second in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes. The popular colt trained by Doug O’Neill is expected to make a trip overseas for the Dubai World Cup in March.
A winner in 5-of-6 starts in 2021, this son of Constitution proved that he can do much more than only beat up on fellow New York-breds with a big season-closing victory in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct. Three times a romping stakes winner against state-breds at three different racetracks, his only loss of the year came when he finished third behind Hot Rod Charlie in the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby. Unlike several on this list, he enters his 4-year-old season full of momentum.
8) Golden Pal
Turf sprinters are seldom talked about in the United States, but this son of Uncle Mo and Lady Shipman deserves to be. He turned in one of the best performances of the 2021 Breeders’ Cup with a decisive front-running victory in the Turf Sprint. Trained by Wesley Ward, it was his second victory in the Breeders’ Cup in as many years, having won the Juvenile Turf Sprint the year before. With trips to run in Europe already completed in his first two seasons, look for him to do more traveling in 2022, with possibly even a trip to Australia in the works.
With a little luck, this soon to be champion 3-year-old filly of 2021 could still be unbeaten. She won three Grade 1 races last year topped by the Kentucky Oaks, and also including the Ashland and Alabama. With a lifetime record of (8-6-1-1), her only losses were narrow ones in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks and when facing older mares for the first time in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. The daughter of Curlin and Dreaming of Julia will look to continue her winning ways for trainer Todd Pletcher in 2022.
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10) Jackie’s Warrior
Perhaps America’s top sprinter for much of the 2021 season, his quest for a championship was likely derailed when the son of Maclean’s Music was well beaten as the heavy favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. The winner of four impressive graded stakes last year, to go along three more in his 2-year-old season of 2020, has won 8-of-12 lifetime. None of his victories were bigger than his Grade 1 score over Life Is Good in the H. Allen Jerkens Memorial at Saratoga. After his loss in the Breeders’ Cup, he had successful knee surgery to remove a bone chip, and is slated to be back racing as a 4-year-old.
It was kind of a strange season for the son of Into Mischief. He was placed first in the Grade 1 Haskell by the stewards after narrowly losing the decision on the track to Hot Rod Charlie, and he still may be declared the winner of the Kentucky Derby, pending the ongoing legal battle of Medina Spirit’s positive post-race test. Save a sub-par effort in the Louisiana Derby, this Brad Cox trainee has fired every time. Conventional wins in the Grade 2 Risen Star and the Pegasus Stakes were also part of his sophomore season. His 4-year-old season is expected to get an early start with the Louisiana Stakes at Fair Grounds in January, followed by the rich Saudi Cup in February.
12) Art Collector
Art Collector confirmed for the @BreedersCup Dirt Mile by Drury.
— Horse Racing Nation (@HR_Nation) October 19, 2020
Much like he had done as a 3-year-old in 2020, this son of Bernardini got hot last year. Within eight weeks, the Bill Mott-trained runner scored three straight impressive stakes wins at three different tracks. The biggest among them was the Grade 1 Woodward at Belmont Park over Maxfield. He’ll need to prove that he can beat the absolute best after disappointing results in the 2020 Preakness and 2021 Breeders’ Cup Classic, but he will get the chance this year, with the Saudi Cup and expected early season goal.
13) Echo Zulu
It’s hard to know where she fits in with so many of these older accomplished horses on the list, but suffice it to say that she was far and away better than her 2-year-old filly competition in 2021. The daughter of Gun Runner, trained by Steve Asmussen, proved untouchable in her first four career starts. Starting with a Saratoga maiden race, followed by Grade 1 efforts in the Spinaway at Saratoga and Frizette at Belmont Park, and culminating with the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Del Mar, she simply ran her competition off their feet. Sent to New Orleans for the winter, the Kentucky Oaks in early May is her first major goal.
14) Midnight Bourbon
Despite losing his last eight races in 2021, this son of Tiznow distinguished himself as a top 3-year-old. The winner of the Grade 3 Lecomte to begin the season, the Steve Asmussen-trained colt did not run a bad race the rest of the year. Highlighted by game second-place finishes in the Preakness, Travers and Pennsylvania Derby, he finished off the full campaign with a third against older horses in the Grade 1 Clark Stakes. Like Mandaloun, the Louisiana Stakes at Fair Grounds and the Saudi Cup are early season targets.
It’s yet to be seen whether this son of Quality Road will be allowed in the Kentucky Derby starting gate, with the Bob Baffert ban currently being challenged, but there can be no doubt that he is a deserving 2-year-old male champion. Undefeated in three career starts, the $1.5 million was clearly best in each. Starting with a fast win going 5 ½ furlongs at Del Mar, and followed up by wins in the Grade 1 American Pharoah at Santa Anita and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, he used his high cruising speed to decisively defeat all opposition. Look for him to begin his sophomore campaign in Southern California a little later this winter.
She has never been the most talked about filly and mare, but this daughter of Daredevil knows her way to the winner’s circle. The upset winner of the Kentucky Oaks back in 2020, she had another very solid season in 2021 for trainer Brad Cox, adding the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch, Grade 1 La Troienne, Grade 2 Azeri, and Grade 3 Locust Grove to her graded stakes victory total, which now stands at seven. Look for her to reemerge early this year at Oaklawn Park, where races like the Azeri and Apple Blossom should be on her dance card.
17) Aloha West
Unraced at both 2 and 3, this son of Hard Spun burst onto the scene with a pair of impressive allowance victories this past summer at Saratoga. Proving that he was indeed as good as he had looked at the Spa, he closed out the year by just missing in the Grade 2 Phoenix Stakes at Keeneland before just getting up in the final jump of the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Del Mar. Trained by Wayne Catalano, it will be interesting to see what this late-running sprinter does for an encore in his second season, as a 2022 5-year-old.
18) War Like Goddess
A bit of a late bloomer, she proved herself as a turf star for trainer Bill Mott last year at the age of 4. A daughter of the recently departed turf champion the English Channel, she began her season with a disappointing effort in her stakes debut, but then proved what kind of mare she was with consecutive victories in the Grade 3 Orchid at Gulfstream Park, the Grade 3 Bewitch at Keeneland, and the Grade 2 Glens Falls and Grade 1 Flower Bowl both at Saratoga. She then rallied to take the lead in the stretch of the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup FIlly & Mare Turf, before being overtaken late by the Japanese star Loves Only You. Still lightly raced, she should be a force in 2022.
19) Dr. Schivel
It’s hard to knock the record of this son of Violence. He had won five straight over two seasons, which included impressive wins against older in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby and the Grade 2 Santa Anita Sprint Championship, before losing a heartbreaking nose bob to Aloha West in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. His string of excellent races was broken when last behind Flightline in Malibu but was discovered to have a virus after the race. Also a Grade 1 winner as a 2-year-old, look for the good version of the doctor to return in 2022.
20) Express Train
Del Mar horse-for-course Express Train (3-4 DMR) 101 Beyer pace-press G2 San Diego on Sat, early contender G1 Pacific Classic Aug 21, possibly vs San Diego two-threes Tripoli + trip-compromised Royal Ship. Also Sat, Ginobili 104 Beyer N1X mile romp. (Express Train, Benoit Photo) pic.twitter.com/9hYzMrtWXV
— Brad Free (@BradFree1) July 18, 2021
A bit in and out during the 2021 season, this son of Union Rags had to miss the Breeders’ Cup Classic due to a minor injury but still managed to end the season on a high note with a rallying upset win over Hot Rod Charlie in the Grade 2 Santa Antonio. It was actually his third Grade 2 victory of the season, having accounted for both the San Pasqual and San Diego early in the year. Tried several times at a classic distance, he looks best suited for middle distances and could be a major player in 8 to 9 furlong races in 2022.
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Taken to the races at a very young age, Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Professionally, his work has been published on several leading industry sites. Brian served as the Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, where he still writes a regular column and hosts the popular weekly webcast HorseCenter.
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