The NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll each week gives everyone an indication as to where the race for Horse of the Years stands if Eclipse Award votes were cast that particular week instead of at the end of the year.
The Breeders’ Cup races at Santa Anita Park on Nov. 1-2 no doubt will, as usual, go a long way toward determining who and who is not voted Horse of the Year.
Here is the Top 10 in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll for this week:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 387 Bricks and Mortar (27)
2. 363 Midnight Bisou (12)
3. 280 Mitole (1)
4. 251 Sistercharlie
5. 202 McKinzie
6. 174 Code of Honor
7. 145 Imperial Hint
8. 94 Catalina Cruiser
9. 81 Elate
10. 75 Vino Rosso
Let’s take a horse-by-horse look at those 10 horses.
No. 1 BRICKS AND MORTAR. I think a strong case can be made that he really ought to be the 2019 Horse of the Year regardless of whether he wins or loses at the Breeders’ Cup. That’s because he now has held the top spot in the NTRA poll for 27 consecutive weeks, whereas no one else in the Top 10 in this week’s poll has been No. 1 for even a single week.
In the first poll this year on Jan. 28, City of Light ranked No. 1. He received all 32 of the first-place votes. Two days earlier, City of Light had registered a 5 3/4-length victory in the Grade I Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park. He then was retired from racing.
Even though City of Light’s racing career came to an end after the Pegasus World Cup, he continued to hold the No. 1 spot in the poll for the next six weeks.
Then on March 18, Monomoy Girl moved up to No. 1. Prior to March 18, she had recorded four 2019 workouts. She held the top spot for three straight weeks. But it turns out that, for various reasons, Monomoy Girl is not going to race at all in 2019 after being voted a 2018 Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly.
On April 8, Bricks and Mortar took over the No. 1 position in the poll after winning his first two races of 2019. He was victorious in the Grade I Pegasus World Cup Turf at Gulfstream on Jan. 26 and Grade II Muniz Memorial Handicap at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots on March 23.
Bricks and Mortar will go into the Breeders’ Cup five for five this year. Since his victory in New Orleans in March, the 5-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Giant’s Causeway has reeled off Grade I wins in the Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on May 4, Manhattan Stakes at Belmont Park on June 8 and Arlington Million at Arlington Park on Aug. 10 for trainer Chad Brown.
No. 2 MIDNIGHT BISOU, trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, is seven for seven this year. She cruised to a 3 1/4-length victory in last Saturday’s Grade II Beldame Stakes at Belmont (a historic race that I believe still should be a Grade I). The 4-year-old Kentucky-bred Midnight Lute filly is a three-time Grade I winner this year (Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park in April, Ogden Phipps Stakes at Belmont in June and Personal Ensign Stakes at Belmont in August).
No. 3 MITOLE, also conditioned by Asmussen, has recorded five wins and a third from six starts this year. The 4-year-old Kentucky-bred Eskendereya colt won one of the deepest Grade I events so far in 2019, the Grade I Met Mile at Belmont on May 4. That’s one of his three Grade I triumphs this year. He also won the Grade I Churchill Downs Stakes on May 4 and Grade I Forego Stakes at Saratoga when last seen under silks on Aug. 24.
No. 4 SISTERCHARLIE, who like Bricks and Mortar hails from the powerful Brown operation, is two for two this year, both at the Grade I level. The Irish-bred 5-year-old Myboycharlie mare returned from a long layoff to take Saratoga’s Grade I Diana Stakes on July 13, then won Arlington’s Grade I Beverly D. by three lengths in a stellar performance on Aug. 10.
No. 5 MCKINZIE, trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, finished second as a 3-10 favorite in last Saturday’s Grade I Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita.
Mongolian Groom, virtually ignored in the wagering at 25-1, won the Awesome Again by 2 1/4 lengths. Voters in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll are tasked with ranking 10 horses. Despite Mongolian Groom’s Awesome Again victory, not a single person put him on their ballot anywhere from No. 1 down to No. 10 in this week’s poll.
As for McKinzie, his only Grade I win this year came in Saratoga’s Whitney Stakes on Aug. 30. He has posted two wins and four seconds from six starts this year. McKinzie has been favored in all six starts. That does mean he has been a beaten favorite four times in 2019. The 4-year-old Kentucky-bred Street Sense colt will try to step up and win the Grade I BC Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 2.
McKinzie has been ridden in all 13 of his career starts by Hall of Famer Mike Smith. However, Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman reports that Baffert has decided to make a change. Consequently, someone other than Smith will ride McKinzie in the BC Classic.
No. 6 CODE OF HONOR, a 3-year-old colt trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, has four wins, a second and a third from seven starts this year. Older foe Vino Rosso beat Code of Honor by a nose in last Saturday’s Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont, but the stewards disqualified Vino Rosso and placed him second, which made Code of Honor the official winner of this venerable affair.
The way I saw it, from the top of the stretch to just inside the sixteenth pole, Vino Rosso drifted out three times. He came out and bumped Code of Honor in the vicinity of the eighth pole. It appeared to me that Vino Rosso subsequently came out and brushed Code of Honor twice more. With the margin between those two only a nose at the finish, I concur with the stewards’ decision to disqualify Vino Rosso and place him second.
The stewards explained the reasoning for disqualifying Vino Rosso by stating: “The #3 Vino Rosso drifts out several times under a left-handed crop making contact and pushing him out. The #2 Code of Honor comes back to lose by a nose. After reviewing the video and speaking to the riders involved, the #3 Vino Rosso is disqualified from first and placed second behind the #2 Code of Honor.”
It’s always rather distasteful whenever the stewards disqualify a horse, especially when they DQ a horse from first in an important race like the Gold Cup. I think it’s just too bad that Irad Ortiz Jr., Vino Rosso’s pilot, did not maintain a straight course in the lane. I sure would have liked to have seen what would have happened if that had been the case.
By virtue of Code of Honor’s win in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, I think he now is the favorite to be voted the 2019 Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male. The Gold Cup was his second Grade I victory this year. The Kentucky-bred son of Noble Mission also took Saratoga’s Grade I Travers Stakes in August.
Like Code of Honor, Maximum Security is a two-time Grade I winner this year. Maximum Security was victorious in the Grade I Xpressbet.com Florida Derby at Gulfstream in March and Grade I Haskell Invitational at Monmouth in July. Maximum Security also finished first in the Grade I Kentucky Derby, but he was disqualified and placed 17th for causing interference near the five-sixteenth pole.
Maximum Security was withdrawn from the Sept. 21 renewal of the Grade I Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing because of a colon issue. I believe his candidacy for the 3-year-old male Eclipse Award has been weakened to some extent as a result of missing the Pennsylvania Derby and because his status with regard to racing again in 2019 is up in the air. It seems a sign that Maximum Security’s stock has fallen somewhat in that he has dropped out of the Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll, while Code of Honor has moved up from No. 6 after being No. 10 last week.
No. 7 IMPERIAL HINT was as game a winner as you will ever see in last Saturday’s Grade I Vosburgh Stakes at Belmont. When he was headed by 2-1 Firenze Fire during the stretch run, it appeared that Imperial Hint was going to get beat as the overwhelming 1-5 favorite.
But after Imperial Hint relinquished the lead, he did not throw in the towel. He kept on fighting. Displaying John Henry-like determination, Imperial Hint came back on to get himself into a head-bobbing battle for the lead with Firenze Fire approaching the finish. And for Imperial Hint, the finish line came at just the right time for him to win by a scant nose.
Trained by Luis Carvajal Jr., Imperial Hint has two wins and two thirds from four starts this year. The 6-year-old Florida-bred son of Imperialism also won the Grade I Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga on July 27.
No. 8 CATALINA CRUISER, conditioned by John Sadler, is three for three this year. All three of his 2019 victories have come at the Grade II level. The 5-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Union Rags won the True North Stakes at Belmont in June, San Diego Handicap at Del Mar in July and Pat O’Brien Stakes at Del Mar in August.
No. 9 ELATE has two wins, two seconds and a third from five starts this year. Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, the 5-year-old Kentucky-bred Medaglia d’Oro mare won Churchill’s Grade II Fleur de Lis Handicap on June 15 and Grade II Delaware Handicap at Delaware Park on July 13. Most recently, she lost the Grade I Personal Ensign by a nose on Aug. 24 at Saratoga when she finished second to Midnight Bisou.
Elate is scheduled to run in Sunday’s Grade I Spinster Stakes at Keeneland.
No. 10 VINO ROSSO, a 4-year-old Kentucky-bred Noble Mission colt trained by Todd Pletcher, has two wins, a second and a third from five starts this year.
I thought Vino Rosso ran a good race in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Before the Gold Cup, I had said on Steve Byk’s SiriusXM radio program At The Races earlier in the week that it seems to me that Vino Rosso is improving with age, like a fine wine, as many of Curlin’s offspring do. It also appears to me that 1 1/4 miles suits Vino Rosso. Don’t forget that he won a 1 1/4-mile race, the Grade I Gold Cup at Santa Anita, in late May. That could bode well for him vis-a-vis the 1 1/4-mile BC Classic at that same Southern California track in early November.
BEYERS FOR GOLD CUP & AWESOME AGAIN WINNERS
Code of Honor received a career-best 106 Beyer Speed Figure in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, as did the DQ’d Vino Rosso.
Meanwhile, Mongolian Groom was credited with a career-best 110 in the Awesome Again, while runner-up McKinzie recorded a 108, down a bit from his career-best 111 when he won the Whitney.
These are the Beyer Speed Figures for the winners of the Jockey Club Gold Cup going back to 2009:
2019 Code of Honor (106)*
2018 Discreet Lover (103
2017 Diversify (107)
2016 Hoppertunity (104)
2015 Tonalist (109)
2014 Tonalist (106)
2013 Ron the Greek (114)
2012 Flat Out (109)
2011 Flat Out (107)
2010 Haynesfield (107)
2009 Summer Bird (111)
*Vino Rosso finished first but was disqualified and placed second
These are the Beyer Speed Figures for the winners of the Awesome Again going back to 2009:
2019 Mongolian Groom (110)
2018 Accelerate (100)
2017 Mubtaahi (102)
2016 California Chrome (112)
2015 Smooth Roller (111)
2014 Shared Belief (101)
2013 Mucho Macho Man (110)
2012 Game On Dude (109)
2011 Game On Dude (102)
2010 Richard’s Kid (106)
2009 Gitano Hernando (106)
In case you were wondering, these are the Beyer Speed Figures for the winners of the BC Classic going back to 2009:
2018 Accelerate (105)
2017 Gun Runner (117)
2016 Arrogate (120)
2015 American Pharoah (120)
2014 Bayern (113)
2013 Mucho Macho Man
2012 Fort Larned
2010 Blame (111)
2009 Zenyatta (112)
Going back to 2009, the Breeders’ Cup has been held at:
2018 Churchill Downs
2017 Del Mar
2016 Santa Anita
2014 Santa Anita
2013 Santa Anita
2012 Santa Anita
2011 Churchill Downs
2010 Churchill Downs
2009 Santa Anita*
*The BC Classic was run on a synthetic surface