Is Horse Of The Year Clear?

September 10, 2019

Is Horse Of The Year Clear?

Midnight Bisou noses out Elate at the wire in the Personal Ensign Stakes (Grade 1) on August 24th, 2019. Photo: Steve Heuertz

After the rocky Triple Crown and the first half of the racing calendar concluded front runners for Eclipse Horse of the Year began to emerge. Bricks and Mortar and Mitole appeared to be the strongest contenders. Now that the summer circuit has ended and we head into fall and closer to the Breeders’ Cup, let’s take a look at how these horses and others have progressed in their campaigns. 

Bricks and Mortar breezed four furlongs in 50 seconds flat on September 1 at Saratoga. The 5-year-old son of Giant’s Causeway last raced in the 1-1/4 mile Arlington Million (G1T) where he beat the Irish filly, Magic Wand, to the wire by 3/4 of a length with an Equibase speed figure of 121. So far in 2019 Bricks and Mortar has a perfect five for five record (with four grade 1), his sixth straight win, and is highest in money with $4.52 million .

As noted by Ed DeRosa in Brisnet, Bricks and Mortar is the leader based on the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) poll garnering 84.1 percent of the first-place votes in the August 26 poll, a decrease from 92.3 percent the previous week. 

But does Bricks and Mortar need to win on dirt to secure the title? It’s rare for turf runners to receive Horse of the Year honors. In the 48-year history of the Eclipse Awards, only four turf horses have received the top prize: All Along in 1983, John Henry in 1984, Kotashaan in 1993, and Wise Dan twice, in 2012 and 2013. With a Breeders’ Cup win Bricks and Mortar could solidify his place in history as number five. 

Regardless of the outcome, the Breeders’ Cup will be Bricks and Mortar’s last race. In early August, it was announced that Teruya Yoshida’s Shadai Farm had purchased the breeding rights for Bricks and Mortar. He will be shipped to Shadai Farm in Japan following the Breeders’ Cup Championships.

Midnight Bisou has a perfect six for six (with three grade 1) in 2019. The four-year-old daughter of Midnight Lute had her last start in the Personal Ensign Stakes (G1) at Saratoga on August 24. Competing at 1-1/8 miles on the dirt, Midnight Bisou beat Elate by a nose for the win with an Equibase speed figure of 115. 

The dark brown filly hasn’t had a workout since August 19 when she breezed four furlongs in 49.72. Although she has won graded stakes, Midnight Bisou’s wins were all against fillies and mares. She may have to beat the boys to claim her prize. Midnight Bisou’s money is considerably lower than Bricks and Mortar at $1.68 million. Midnight Bisou is being offered in Fasig-Tipton’s November sale on November 4 in Lexington, Ky.

There have only been thirteen American female horses who have won Horse of the Year: Miss Woodford (who won the title twice), Imp, Beldame, Regret, Twilight Tear, Busher, Moccasin, All Along, Lady’s Secret, Azeri, Havre de Grace, Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra. There might have been two more if not for two very strong colts in the late 1980s. Personal Ensign, who won thirteen out of thirteen races, most of them grade 1 stakes, was beaten out for the 1988 Thoroughbred crown by Alysheba. The following year, Bayakoa won seven grade 1 races and was nosed out by Sunday Silence, who won just five, but they included the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and the Breeders’ Cup Classic.*

Mitole’s last start was in the seven furlongs Forego Stake (G1) at Saratoga on August 24 where he beat Firenze Fire by three lengths setting a stakes record with an Equibase speed figure of 117. Mitole’s last workout was before the Forego when he breezed four furlongs in 49.90. His winnings are on par with Midnight Bisou’s at $1.65 million. 

As a sprinter and miler, many have commented that Mitole has yet to be challenged with two turns. To contend for the top honors Mitole may have to stretch his talents with a win a two turn grade 1 race. 

  1. Wayne Hughes’ Spendthrift Farm has acquired the breeding rights for the three-year-old son of Eskendereya who is set to retire at the end of this year and enter stud in 2020 at the Lexington, Ky., farm.

Ed DeRosa also remarked only three other horses have slim chances at Horse of the Year with Whitney Stakes (G1) winner McKinzie (Street Sense) in front of the pack with a 2019 record of 5: 2-3-0. The others are Derby DQ Maximum Security (New Year’s Day) with a 2019 record of 6: 4-1-0, pointed toward the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) at Parx on September 21, and Code of Honor (Noble Mission-GB) whose next start is possibly the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) at Belmont on September 28. Maximum Security breezed four furlongs at Monmouth in 53.40 on August 28 after his last win on July 20 in the heat-delayed Haskell (G1). With a 2019 record of 6: 3-1-1, Code of Honor had his last workout at Saratoga on August 19 breezing four furlongs in 49.27 before his Runhappy Travers (G1) win on August 24. 

McKinzie maintains minor support in the NTRA poll and with a win in the Awesome Again (G1) at Santa Anita on September 28 could become a contender. Any of the three would also need to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic to clinch Horse of the Year. 

To review, our top contenders are a turf specialist, a filly, a sprint-miler and three possibles who likely need to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic. A perfect scenario would have all six running in the Classic for the ultimate showdown. Giddy up! 

Maribeth Kalinich is a racing enthusiast and racing historian from Maryland. 

Feature Image: Horse of the Year contender Bricks and Mortar winning the Arlington Million XXXVII Stake (Grade 1) at Arlington International on August 10th, 2019. PHOTO: Steve Heuertz

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