Shifman: Gift Box positions himself for Horse of the Year race

April 10, 2019 09:26am

Gift Box made a major move up the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll following a 2019 debut victory in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1), a hotly contested race with McKinzie postponed from March 9 and run last Saturday at Santa Anita Park.

The John Sadler-trained winner was one of three new to my NTRA ballot this week, joining fellow Grade 1 winners Bellafina from the Santa Anita Oaks and World of Trouble out of the Carter Handicap. 
To make room for those three, X Y Jet, Prince Lucky and Zulu Alpha dropped from my Top 10.

Since transferred to Sadler, Gift Box has become a force in the Older Male Division on the West Coast after middling in allowance optional claiming company back in New York.

In December, the son of Twirling Candy, defeated
Battle of Midway in the San Antonio (G2) in his debut for new connections. When he won the stretch duel with the Bob Baffert star McKinzie in the Big ‘Cap, Gift Box became not only the division leader but also a Horse of the Year candidate.

This was a very important race to us," said owner Kosta Hronis. "He's exactly who we think he is, and I had no doubt. It is exceptional the trust with John and the team and their decision making. It is always special and it means a lot.”

For Sadler, it was a rare achievement to win the Santa Anita Handicap in consecutive years with two different horses. Many trainers have won two in a row with the same horse, but just a few have done it with two different runners. Last year, Sadler won with Accelerate and, of course, both were owned by Hronis Racing.

With another impressive victory, it was impossible to ignore
Bellafina who earned third graded stakes victory of the year. Last year, it was Monomoy Girl who blitzed the 3-Year-Filly Division, won the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and became a Horse of the Year finalist. Bellafina made short work of the field of four at Santa Anita that included Chasing Yesterday and Flor de La Mar. The Simon Callaghan trainee will head to the Kentucky Oaks as an overwhelming favorite.

Frankly, I was surprised that Bellafina did not break into the consensus Top 10 with her superior 2019 resume. Many voters not only continued to include Monomoy Girl, but 10 of them also gave first-place votes to a filly that hasn't run yet this season.

World of Trouble, the Jason Servis trainee, is unique in that he appears to be equally adept on the turf and the dirt. Remember, last year he was narrowly defeated in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. Since Servis cut him back to sprinting, that has been World of Trouble's only loss.


 Consensus Top 10

 Matt Shifman's Top 10

 1. Bricks and Mortar

 1. City of Light

 2. Gift Box

 2. Bricks and Mortar

 3. Monomoy Girl

 3. Gift Box

 4. McKinzie

 4. Coal Front

 5. City of Light

 5. Bellafina

 6. Roy H

 6. McKinzie

 7. Midnight Bisou

 7. Midnight Bisou

 8. X Y Jet

 8. Roy H

 9. Thunder Snow

 9. World of Trouble

 10. World of Trouble

 10. Omaha Beach


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Meet Matt Shifman

Matt Shifman has been on the Horse Racing Nation staff since 2011 and currently serves as Assistant Editor. Matt covers Aqueduct, Belmont Park, Monmouth Park, and Saratoga in his two HRN blogs, Racing at the Jersey Shore and New York State of Racing.

Since 2012, Matt has been a voter in the NTRA weekly polls for the Top Thoroughbred and Top Three-Year-Old.

Recently, Matt helped launch Derby Day Racing, a new 2-year-old racing partnership, that just purchased a promising Lookin At Lucky filly named Sooner Schooner.

You may also know Matt by his Twitter, Facebook, and HRN screen nameAndyScoggin.

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