Column: Vox Populi Award misses mark with 2018 nominees

Column: Vox Populi Award misses mark with 2018 nominees
Photo: Bee Buck Photography

Bewilderment is the word that comes to mind when reading down the list of nominations for the 2018 Vox Populi Award, otherwise known as the “Voice of the People” with voting underway through Friday at

Since its inception in 2010, the Vox Populi has gone to an American-based horse that’s a fan favorite in a variety of ways. The national exposure provided by Zenyatta, California Chrome and American Pharoah, bringing renewed attention to racing, made those runners sensible choices. Other winners such as Rapid Redux and Ben’s Cat didn’t win at the highest level but captured the hearts of racing fans nonetheless.

Each of those recipients, and most of the nominees, reflected favorites in American racing. While this year’s nominees are all undoubtedly great horses, there are a couple nominations that don’t seem to belong in Winx and Enable. 

If the award existed in Australia, Winx would be the unchallenged winner. Until she runs in America, there are better candidates domestically. 

The same mostly applies to Enable, who at least ran in the U.S. once, making history as the first horse to win the Arc de Triopmhe and a Breeders’ Cup race in the same season. The performance was incredible on many levels, but similar to the Eclipse Award, bestowing the Vox Populi honor off one domestic start is difficult to justify.

Given a committee determines the Vox Populi nominees, if I had a voice in it, I would have added Whitmore and Bravazo to the list. And note that you can still write in any horse you’d like, though it would take quite a campaign to upset those individuals listed on the ballot, only a click away. In addition to Winx and Enable, nominees include Accelerate, Justify and Monomoy Girl.

So, why Whitmore and Bravazo? They aren’t the best horses in racing, but they always show up, even with the circumstances don’t go their way.

Bravazo has competed in 10 Grade 1 or Grade 2 races in 2018. Accelerate and Monomoy Girl ran in 14 such events combined — seven apiece. While Bravazo didn’t win but one of those races, he finished in the money six of 10 times and has continued giving top efforts late in the season, most recently a close second in last Friday’s Clark Handicap (G1).

Whitmore, much like Bravazo, ran several times this season against his division’s best competition. Facing the nation’s best sprinters, he finished out of the exacta just once in eight starts as a 5-year-old who began building a following when he ran in the 2016 Kentucky Derby.

Other horses that would have been deserving of a nomination include Promises Fulfilled, Mind Your Biscuits and Wonder Gadot based on what they did on the track. Off it, The Player, who endured a lengthy recovery following injury to recently return to breeders, owner and trainer Buff Bradley’s Kentucky farm, has garnered support as a write-in candidate.

Enable and Winx are both great horses and deserving of the accolades they’ll receive on their respective continents. But to include them as Vox Populi nominees overlooks a number of American horses who ran their eyeballs out in 2018.

Meet Laura Pugh

Laura Pugh got her first taste of Thoroughbred racing when she watched War Emblem take the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 2002. At that point, she fell in love with the sport, reading every piece of news and information she could get her fingertips on.

Laura has a long history with horses in general, taking her first ride on her fifth birthday, with her first official riding lesson when she was eight years old. Both years she attended college, she joined her school’s equestrian team, first at Virginia Intermont College and then again at Delaware State University. Unfortunately, after back and shoulder injuries, she had to hang up her saddle. 

In 2010, Laura began writing for Horse Racing Nation and has also contributed to Lady and the Track, TwinSpires and USRacing. She currently works at a local newspaper as a community reporter.

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