The Best of Illinois Racing in 2015

The Best of Illinois Racing in 2015
Photo: Heidi E. Carpenter

It’s that time again. I may have moved down to Kentucky mid-year, but I will never give up following the runners from my former home state of Illinois. Whether they were running at Arlington Park, Hawthorne Race Course, Fairmount Park, or racetracks outside the state, I always enjoy keeping track of those bred in the Land of Lincoln, and led by a big win in the Arlington Million, it was another great year for the Illini-breds. Who were the top thoroughbred horses bred in Illinois in 2015? Here are my selections on the 2015 Illinois Champions ballot ...

Two-Year-Old Male:

Richie The Bull, Shogood, Runningfromthefeds

This was quite possibly the toughest decision of the whole ballot. Shogood ran three very good races at Arlington Park, including a nice win in the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Futurity. It wasn’t exactly a strong edition in 2015, though, and a last place finish in the Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs helped tip the scales in favor of the other obvious contender, Richie the Bull. The son of Benny the Bull won 3-of-4, including a runaway victory in the Jim Edgar Illinois Futurity to close the season. Even his only loss, a game third in the Juvenile Dirt Sprint Stakes at Keeneland, was a very good effort. Coincidentally, Richie the Bull will get another class test in tomorrow’s Grade 2 Swale Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

Two-Year-Old Filly:

Delicate Lady, Silver Lode, Partay

A little easier decision here, although none of the Illinois-bred juvenile fillies of 2015 knocked my socks off. In the end, a nice debut win at Arlington followed by a third-place finish in the Grade 2 Adirondack Stakes at Saratoga, albeit a well beaten third, were enough to give the edge to the daughter of Thunder Gulch over the top two from Hawthorne’s Debutante.

Three-Year-Old Male:

Lewys Vaporizer, Recount, Oak Brook

Admittedly, he has not won any stakes race outside of Mahoning Valley, but I am still a big believer in the son of Lewis Michael. He won 5-of-9 last year, including that nice win in the $200,000 stakes race in Ohio. He also was beaten just a half-length in the Perryville Stakes at Keeneland. Look for him to only get better at four, starting with tomorrow’s King Cotton at Oaklawn Park. Recount has been a nice runner for two seasons now, but was well beaten by Lewys in their only meeting of 2015.

Three-Year-Old Filly:

Prado’s Sweet Ride, Puntsville, American Mon Amie

Another division that was less than stellar last season. Puntsville finished off the season in style in three consecutive sprints at Hawthorne, but that was still not enough for me to choose her over the Chris Block turfer, Prado’s Sweet Ride. The daughter of Fort Prado was only 2-for-6, but back-to-back Grade 3 performances, in which she won the Regret at Churchill Downs, and then was beaten only a half-length in Arlington’s Pucker Up, was enough to carry the day.

Older Male:

The Pizza Man, Work All Week, Looks to Spare

No surprise here. The Pizza Man won 4-of-6, including becoming the first Illinois-bred to ever win the Grade 1 Arlington Million. Personally, as you probably already know, I believe that he is the best American turf horse currently in training. Work All Week, also a Midwest Thoroughbreds runner, won this award last year, and was solid again this year, until his physical setback caused him to miss a chance to repeat in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

Older Female:

Richies Sweetheart, Diva’s Diamond, Cabana

Void a true standout in this division, it was not too tough to land on the fleet footed Richies Sweetheart. Like Lewys Vaporizer, she won 5-of-9 during the year, and was not afraid to take her show on the road. A stakes winner in Indiana, Florida, and Pennsylvania in 2015, her biggest win came in the $200,000 Turf Amazon at Parx, by an impressive two lengths. She’s not there yet, but she is also not far either, from being one of the best turf sprinting females in the nation.

Male Sprinter:

Work All Week, Lewys Vaporizer, Recount

It may not have been a repeat of his amazing season of 2014, but still, in only four races, Work All Week proved to be one of the top sprinters in the land. His only win came in dominating fashion against some fast sprinters on West Virginia Derby day, while his three losses came in game performances against some of the best American sprinters, including two graded runner-up finishes, and a 1 3/4-length loss at the hands of Runhappy at Keeneland. 2015 certainly could have been better for him, but it was still good enough to outpace the up and coming Lewys Vaporizer.

Female Sprinter:

Richies Sweetheart, Puntsville, Perfect Step

While I have her on top in three separate categories, this is the one where Richies Sweetheart is most at home. She can win on any surface, although turf seems like her best, and she is proven against classy horses, but it is her speed that sets her apart from most. In winning races like the Brandywine, Turf Amazon, and Lightning City, the Larry Rivelli trained filly has demonstrated her ability to beat anyone at five furlongs on the grass. I look for much more from her in 2016.

Male Turf Horse:

The Pizza Man, Yankee Dealer, Sweet Luca

The Pizza Man won four stakes races this year at Churchill Downs, Arlington Park, and Del Mar, including the Million. In his only two losses in 2015, he missed winning the Grade 1 Shadwell Mile by a single jump, and then came back a little sick after fading to fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. His lifetime turf record is 25-16-2-2. Enough said.

Female Turf Horse:

Richies Sweetheart, Prado’s Sweet Ride, Lovely Loyree

For reasons already explained, the daughter of Bring the Heat joins The Pizza Man as a three-division choice for me on the 2015 Illinois Champions ballot.

Horse of the Year:

The Pizza Man, Work All Week, Looks to Spare

I’m still not thrilled with how little respect he gets on a national stage … looks like the best of Illinois will just have to do it again in ’16!

Meet Brian Zipse

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, American Pharoah and Justify. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. His new racing partnership venture, Derby Day Racing, invites more fans to experience the thrill of racehorse ownership.

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, created the popular racing show, HorseCenter and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as hosting HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.

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