If it wasn’t clear before Saturday’s Arlington Million (G1), it is crystal now. Bricks and Mortar is the indisputable leader in the race for 2019 Horse of the Year.
Granted, he didn’t beat anyone of note that he hadn’t already beaten in Arlington’s famed 1 1/4-mile event, but that tends to happen with horses of his stature the deeper you get into the season.
Rarely are pure grass performers even considered for Horse of the Year, much less with more than a quarter of the season remaining. The only ones to earn the honor due exclusively to their accomplishments on turf were Fort Marcy (1970), All Along (1983), John Henry (1984), Kotashaan (1993), and Wise Dan (2012-13). Of that handful only Wise Dan, in 2013, could be considered to have been the Horse of the Year favorite at this point in the season.
There is certainly truth to the observation that turf-oriented Horses of the Year are such by default. We are still a dirt-dominated racing country, and the only way a grass horse even wins is when the more marquee divisions, such as three-year-old male and older dirt male, are muddled.
That is presently the case. McKinzie is trying to make the case for himself after a brilliant victory in the Whitney (G1), but has work remaining to offset three earlier losses this season. The three-year-old male division is still a bit of a wreck after an inconclusive and controversial Triple Crown series. Beyond that, female division leaders like Midnight Bisou and Sistercharlie are unlikely to become leading candidates with no apparent open stakes targets on their agenda.
If you’re the connections of Bricks and Mortar, the question now is: How do you maintain the advantage you have in part created?
This is the tricky part. As has been widely discussed in recent weeks, the Arlington Million is/was the last major hurrah of the season for top-level grass horses in the nine-to-10 furlong range, which Bricks and Mortar excels at. By winning the Million he earned an automatic entry into the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) over 1 1/2 miles, a distance he has not yet come close to trying.
The other option would be to shorten up for the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1). Bricks and Mortar is undefeated in five starts going a mile or 1 1/16 miles, but wasn’t exactly facing the best distance specialists in the land at the time.
Both paths are fraught with potential danger — of losing, that is. But that’s the nature of the game, and one shouldn’t be afraid to lose. However, you want to make the right choice in terms of a Breeders’ Cup prep and not wish you had gone in a different direction if it doesn’t turn out the way you wanted.
A logical prep for the Turf would be the $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) in Bricks and Mortar’s own Belmont Park backyard. However, if the Mile is the more alluring option, the lucrative $1 million Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) at Keeneland might be the best way to gear up for it. Bricks and Mortar has had a pretty good record in seven-figure stakes of late.
It’s a tough call. If it were up to me I’d lean toward the Mile, even with the recent emergence of Got Stormy into a potential Tepin-like foe. At this point, I’d be more concerned with the possibility of a tough trip going a mile on a tighter Santa Anita course than I would the potential domestic and international competition. I have the opposite feeling about the Turf. Even if Bricks and Mortar hypothetically passes a Joe Hirsch Turf Classic test with flying colors, awaiting him at Santa Anita could be a horse like Crystal Ocean, who gave Enable a run for that legend’s money at Ascot last month.
There’s a less risky but more sporting option out there. As proposed by Alan Carasso of the Thoroughbred Daily News on Saturday evening:
I’m starting the petition now. Bricks and Mortar to the Tenno Sho. Who’s with me? What better way to show him off? In all seriousness, I am just not convinced (and don’t think connex are either) that he’s going to stay 12f.
— Alan Carasso (@EquinealTDN) August 10, 2019
The Tenno Sho Autumn (G1) at Tokyo on October 27 makes sense on a number of levels. For one, Bricks and Mortar’s breeding rights were just sold to Japanese interests last week. He’ll be heading to the Orient fairly soon regardless. Secondly, the Tenno Sho is worth approximately $2.9 million, less than the Turf but more than the Mile. Lastly, it’s over 1 1/4 miles.
I would think, from an Eclipse Awards voter’s perspective, that Bricks and Mortar would have little to lose taking a swing at one of the leading races in Asia. If it works out, great. If it doesn’t, well, Kotashaan wasn’t penalized after Kent Desormeaux’s faulty ride in the 1993 Japan Cup (G1).