Division Rankings: 3 main contenders for Horse of the Year

July 24, 2019 12:08pm
Division Rankings: 3 main contenders for Horse of the Year
Photo: Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO

Although Bricks and Mortar continues to lead the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll, there remains possibility that even if he wins out and completes an unbeaten season, he won’t be awarded Horse of the Year.

onnections have indicated that the Breeders’ Cup may not be on their radar for the son of Giant’s Causeway due to concerns about the 12-furlong distance of the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

So, a
s it stands now, there are three logical Horse of the Year contenders, each of them standouts in their respective divisions.

At this point in the season, Bricks and Mortar is the front-runner, and he deserves his No. 1 ranking. But w
hat also hurts his case should he skip the Breeders’ Cup is the historically weak male turf division he has been beating. In order to really solidify his case, the Chad Brown trainee may need to beat the best, including international rivals, on the big stage.

A turf horse hasn't won Horse of the Year without running in, and winning, a Breeders' Cup race since the championships began running. Without a Breeders' Cup start, Bricks and Mortar would need the other contenders to falter -- and it doesn't look like much is stopping any of these three horses.

Midnight Bisou has already won five graded stakes in 2019, two of them at the Grade 1 level. A win in her next start, the Personal Ensign (G1) at Saratoga, would all but wrap up a division title regardless of what happens this fall.

So can Midnight Bisou contend for Horse of the Year? 
She will likely run one more race after the Personal Ensign and before the Breeders’ Cup. With a win in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, she too could finish off an unbeaten season, going as much as 8-for-8, and would most certainly receive tremendous support for the award. For this voter, she would get the nod over Bricks and Mortar should the above scenarios play out.

But what about Mitole? He too has a chance at an unbeaten season and Horse of the Year nod.

His last two starts have yielded Grade 1 wins, and his is a unique scenario. He will likely not go two turns, but he defeated top older males in McKinizie and Thunder Snow in the Met Mile (G1). His quality is unquestioned.

Mitole is expected to run Saturday in Saratoga's Alfred G. Vanderbilt (G1) and will be heavily favored to make it 5-for-5 in 2019. He too would likely have one more start before the Breeders’ Cup, and his connections would then have a choice between the Dirt Mile and Sprint. Mitole is chasing a 7-for-7 season.

How about that potential scenario? Three horses from different divisions each finishing their years without a loss.

My take is simple: If all three pull off the above, Horse of the Year comes down to Mitole and Midnight Bisou.

Can any other horse work its way into the conversation? It would be tough to envision that right now.

Many will look to the glamour division, the 3-year-old males, for an answer. At this point, only Maximum Security seems to fit. If he wasn't disqualified in the Kentucky Derby, he'd be a fourth logical contender. His resume stands out in his division, and should he keep winning and run in the Breeders’ Cup, a Classic win could put him on ballots pending finishing touches by the aforementioned Big 3.

Given that, here's a look at this week's rankings:

Older Dirt Males

– Super impressive in the Met Mile (G1), and has been flattered since, with several horses he beat coming back to win stakes. This weekend's Vanderbilt will be his next start.

2.  McKinzie 
– Came running in the Met Mile, but it wasn’t quite enough. Will make his next start back around two turns in the Aug. 3 Whitney (G1) at Saratoga.

Thunder Snow – Ran a remarkable race in his first start since Dubai. He's the real deal and a serious player with longer U.S. races ahead. He will also start next in the Whitney.

Seeking the Soul – I would like to see some consistency from the Stephen Foster (G2) winner. Will travel west for his next start in the August 17 Pacific Classic (G1) at Del Mar.

Vino Rosso – Finally broke through to win the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1) at the Breeders' Cup Classic distance and over the track where the Classic runs Nov. 2. It makes him a contender here.

Next 5: Preservationist, Quip, Catholic Boy, Gift Box, Catalina Cruiser.

Older Dirt Females

Midnight Bisou  A facile victory in the Molly Pitcher (G3) on the Haskell undercard only continued her run of dominance in 2019.

Elate – With no Midnight Bisou to worry about, she found the winner's circle in the Fleur De Lis (G2) and dominated the Delaware Handicap (G2). They could meet again at Saratoga.

Blue Prize – A runner-up to Elate at Churchill Downs, she then finished third to the same mare in the Delaware Handicap.

4.  Wow Cat - 
Breeder’s Cup Distaff runner-up finally made her 2019 debut in the Shuvee (G3), where she finished runner-up again. I feel like she should take a huge step forward in her next start and be a factor in this division in the fall.

She’s a Julie – Just edged out for the place in the Fleur De Lis by Blue Prize but well clear of the rest, she was third in the Shuvee.

Next 5: Come Dancing, Secret Spice, Escape Clause, Paradise Woods, La Force.


Maximum Security – He doesn’t seem to get the respect he deserves and is clearly the leader of this division after his Haskell (G1) score. Crossing the wire first in three Grade 1 events this season, he has shown to be a very game horse in the stretch, proving difficult to get past.

2.  War of 
Will - The Preakness winner ran out of gas in the Belmont but should be a contender in the big races later on this summer. Will run this weekend in the Jim Dandy (G2).

Game Winner – Ran as expected in his Los Alamitos Derby (G3) romp. Will go next in the Travers as a possible favorite. He has a chance to take over leadership of this division from there.

Tacitus – Again came running in the stretch of a Triple Crown race but fell short of Sir Winston in the Belmont, where he was second best. Will run this weekend in the Jim Dandy.

Omaha Beach – Had some bad luck with the throat issues that caused him to scratch from the Derby and miss time. Had his first breeze since a week before the Kentucky Derby, and his comeback is slated to be the Aug. 25 Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar.

Next 5: Code of Honor, Sir Winston, Country House, Owendale, Mucho Gusto.


Guarana – 
Passed another test in the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1), but she had to work for it in the stretch after setting a slow pace. Only three starts in her career and she already has two Grade 1 wins. She has a hold on this spot right now, but I get the feeling she may find things tougher moving forward.

Serengeti Empress – She was simply second best in the Acorn but went extremely fast early. The loaded Test Stakes (G1) at Saratoga will be her next start.

Bellafina  Her fifth-place finish in the Oaks was disappointing for her connections. Nine furlongs may be a bit too far for the daughter of Quality Road. Will also go in the Test Stakes.

Lady Apple – Got the job done with a half-length win in the Iowa Oaks (G3). The Fantasy Stakes (G3) winner also gave a good account of herself in the Kentucky Oaks with her third-place finish. 

Dunbar Road – Last month's Mother Goose (G2) winner looked good in victory, but I question who she really defeated.

Next 6:
 Point of Honor, Champagne Anyone, Break Even, Jaywalk, Concrete Rose, Covfeve

Turf Males

Bricks and Mortar – Has about as big of a lead in a division as you can with a last out Manhattan (G1) win. Will appear next in the Arlington Million (G1).

Catholic Boy – Although he may focus more on dirt races now, I believe he is better on the grass. Will we see him on it again, though? His connections seem intent on keeping him on the dirt.

Robert Bruce  Ran a great race when second to “Bricks” in the Manhattan, with a rematch up next at Arlington Park.

Channel Maker – Got back into the win column with a gritty victory in the Man o’ War (G1) before an even fourth in the Manhattan. Will run this weekend in the Bowling Green (G2) at Saratoga.

Qurbaan – Finished a disappointing third in the Forbidden Apple (G3) at Saratoga in his last start. Still hasn’t won this year.

Next 5: Almanaar, Delta Prince, Arklow, World of Trouble, Bowie’s Hero.

Turf Females

Sistercharlie - 
Eight months removed from her last start, the reigning Eclipse Award winner from this division was outstanding in her Diana (G1) win over Rushing Fall and Homerique. She's rapidly moving up the list of the best U.S.-based females this division has had in many years.

Vasilika – The wins keep piling up, with her latest score in the Gamely Stakes (G1). It’s hard to envision her losing to her California rivals in this form, but you have to wonder about trainer Jerry Hollendorfer's status out West. We could see her next in the Beverly D. (G1) at Arlington.

Rushing Fall – Was second best to Sistercharlie in the Diana, and can’t envision her beating the No. 1 anytime soon.

Magic Wand – Did well running against the boys here in the U.S., and recently posted runner-ups in Royal Ascot's Wolferton Stakes and the Juddmonte's Pretty Polly Stakes (G1) 10 days later.

Uni – Finally made her 2019 debut in the Perfect Sting Stakes and came through with her fifth straight win at Belmont Park. Prior to that, she was last seen defeating Vasilika last fall at Del Mar.

Next 5: Rymska, Homerique, Beau Recall, Concrete Rose, I’m So Fancy.

Male Sprinters

Mitole – It will take an extraordinary effort to defeat this one in a sprint, and his connections feel he can go longer if needed, too.

World of Trouble – Would love to see this guy go against Mitole and the others this summer. His Jaipur (G1) score made him a Grade 1 winner this year on turf and dirt. Readying for a race at Saratoga.

Promises Fulfilled – Got some class relief in the John A Nerud (G2), and he came through with an easy win. The Breeders’ Cup Sprint or the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile are his long-range goals. The August 24 Forego (G1) at Saratoga should be next.

Roy H – Since scratching from the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1), he's getting back into the swing of things and is expected to point to the Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G1) before another title defense in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

X Y Jet – After two near misses and multiple knee surgeries, he put it all together to finally win the Dubai Golden Shaheen, looking like a force on the front end. As with Roy H, hasn’t been seen on the work tab since.

Next 5: Bobby’s Wicked One, Whitmore, Imperial Hint, Catalina Cruiser, Imprimis.

Female Sprinters

Marley’s Freedom – A model of consistency the last two seasons, she was back in the winner's circle in the Great Lady M. Stakes (G2) at Los Alamitos. Next, it's back to Saratoga for a defense of the Ballerina (G1).

Mia Mischief – Defeated Covfefe and Marley’s Freedom in her last two starts. Three for four on the year, she will run Wednesday at Saratoga in the  Honorable Miss H. (G2)

Spiced Perfection – The Madison (G1) winner finished fourth in the Humana Distaff (G1) at Churchill Downs.

Break Even – The 3-year-old is still unbeaten after her sixth straight win in Saratoga’s Coronation Cup on the grass. Will go next in either the Test (G1) at seven furlongs on Aug. 3 or the Prioress (G2) going six furlongs on Aug. 31, both at Saratoga.

Dream Pauline  Easily took care of business in her first start this year, the Hurricane Bertie (G3). Champion Shamrock Rose was among those left her in wake. Hasn’t been in action since.

Next 5:, Amy’s Challenge, Late Night Pow Wow, Covfefe, Anonymity, Royal Charlotte.


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Meet Chip Gehrke

Chip Gehrke has been with Horse Racing Nation since 2015 and currently serves as a Featured Writer. Based outside of Chicago, Chip can be found in the press box many weekends during the Arlington Park meet. The On The Air With Dr. Derby name originates from his local sports radio show appearances as an on-air racing expert. Now also a weekly contributor on FOX Sports radio's "The Fast Track," Chip can be heard giving his thoughts on the racing world every weekend.

In 2017, Chip was chosen to be a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association. As a part of the NTWAB, Chip became a voter for the year-end Eclipse Awards, something he takes very seriously. Some of Chip's favorite writings from the last couple of years is the best way to get to know him, along with following him on Twitter at @doctorderby.

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