August 11, 2020

Bricks and Mortar established as 2019 Horse of the Year

Bricks and Mortar captures the Arlington Million (G1) at Arlington Park under jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. on Saturday, August 10, 2019 (c) Coady Photography/Arlington Park

Reviving from nearly career-ending setbacks, Bricks and Mortar compiled a perfect season to garner 2019 Horse of the Year honors and reign as the unanimous champion turf male. He also helped all of his human connections to sweep Eclipse Awards at Thursday night’s Gulfstream Park gala, with owners Seth Klarman’s Klaravich Stables and William H. Lawrence, breeder George Strawbridge Jr., trainer Chad Brown, and regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr. earning awards in their respective categories.

Bricks and Mortar’s lifetime past performances courtesy of Brisnet

Klarman often names his horses with a nod toward his celebrated career as a billionaire investor. Thus it’s tempting to view Bricks and Mortar’s trajectory through the lens of his namesake. Bricks-and-mortar retail was thought to be finished off by online competition, but the savvy adapted to survive. So did the equine Bricks and Mortar have to weather storms that almost put him out of business.

By the “Iron Horse” Giant’s Causeway, the $200,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase was already a half-brother to four black-type performers by the time he entered the sales ring. His dam, the French Group 2-placed stakes winner Beyond the Waves, by Ocean Crest, was responsible for 2011 Glens Falls and Waya (G3) heroine Emerald Beech, Pennsylvania-bred stakes scorer Beyond Smart, Irish Group 3-placed Sir Ector, and French stakes-placed Waterview.

Bricks and Mortar burst onto the scene as a 3-year-old in 2017. In four successive starts, Bricks and Mortar swiftly climbed the ranks through a Gulfstream debut, an entry-level allowance and the Manila S. at Belmont Park, and Saratoga’s National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame (G2). Both stakes victories came despite less than favorable trips.

Difficult passages in the last two outings of his sophomore campaign, however, proved insurmountable. Bricks and Mortar lost his perfect mark in the in the 2017 Saranac (G3), where he was compromised at the break, and an aggressive middle move took him out of his game. Nevertheless he soldiered on for a game third. Bricks and Mortar showed similar resolve in the Hill Prince (G3) back at Belmont, but might have done better than third if he’d gotten more breathing room in tight quarters. Those two losses, each by three-quarters of length, would turn out to be the only blemishes on his resume.

Bricks and Mortar had to wait a long time to set the record straight. Not long after the Hill Prince, he reportedly developed such a severe case of stringhalt that he had to undergo surgery. Hopes of returning to action were postponed by further setbacks, and virtually the whole of 2018 elapsed before he could mount a comeback.

Finally resurfacing at Gulfstream on Dec. 22, 2018, Bricks and Mortar looked like he’d never been away. The blaze-faced bay quickened to get up as the 9-5 favorite in the mile allowance, and earned himself a crack at the inaugural Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1). Bricks and Mortar, improving from his tightener, drove to a convincing 2 1/2-length tally over Aidan O’Brien’s Magic Wand in the $6.7 million affair.

On paper, the March 26 Mervin Muniz Memorial (G2) at Fair Grounds was an easier spot, but the combination of the weights and a dawdling pace made it a much closer call. Bricks and Mortar, under 125 pounds, outdueled the 62-1 Markitoff who got brave on the front end carrying 116. Although the pace scenario was again unhelpful in the Old Forester Turf Classic (G1) on Kentucky Derby Day, Bricks and Mortar again asserted his class to nab Qurbaan by a half-length.

The next logical step was the 1 1/4-mile Manhattan (G1) on Belmont Day, and Bricks and Mortar rolled in a snappy 1:58.11. Now he was not only the nation’s leading turf male, and building a Horse of the Year candidacy, but stringing together an historic winning spree.

Bricks and Mortar made it six straight in the summer’s most prestigious turf fixture, the Arlington Million (G1). Briefly on hold awaiting room turning for home, he got the split and surged past familiar foe Magic Wand in 1:59.44.

The Breeders’ Cup loomed as his grand finale, but which race? While Bricks and Mortar hadn’t tried the 1 1/2 miles required in the Turf (G1), he was 3-for-3 at a mile. Those wins came earlier, though, and his progression through 2019 suggested he’d look for a step up rather than a cutback. Brown wrestled with both options until deciding for the Turf. That turned out to be the right move for Bricks and Mortar, since he handled the added ground just fine, and his stablemate Uni blitzed them in the Mile (G1).

In a fitting conclusion to a career characterized by overcoming adversity, Bricks and Mortar was jostled around in the pocket early, shrugged it off, lengthened down the lane, and won the war of wills. The 51-1 United, another son of Giant’s Causeway, put up a spirited fight, but Bricks and Mortar was too strong.

The first reigning Manhattan winner to capture the Breeders’ Cup Turf, Bricks and Mortar is the second to turn the Million/Turf double after Little Mike (2012). Only one other Million hero has gone on to take a Breeders’ Cup race in the same season, Steinlen in the 1989 Mile.

Bricks and Mortar joins the exclusive club of turf campaigners to earn Horse of the Year honors. Since the Eclipse era began in 1971, John Henry (1981 and especially in 1984), All Along (1983), Kotashaan (1993), and Wise Dan (2012-13) won the golden statuette for turf rather than main-track prowess.

An even rarer distinction unites John Henry and Bricks and Mortar. As Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman noted, they’re the only two to lift their breeder, owner, trainer, and jockey to Eclipse Awards during Horse of the Year campaigns. Since John Henry achieved the feat in 1981, Cigar carried his human connections in three categories in 1995-96. His breeder missed out both years, but since he was an Allen Paulson homebred, the owner trophy was consolation enough.

With Japan’s famed Shadai Farm having acquired his breeding rights, Bricks and Mortar retires to stud in Hokkaido boasting a mark of 13-11-0-2 and $7,085,650 in earnings.

Brown has commented that he should have been unbeaten. But any regrets on that score are overshadowed by the gratitude of having Bricks and Mortar come back at a spectacular level. Even if he’d made it back to the races, there was no guarantee he could return to his old form, let alone reach even higher peaks.

For that reason, Brown has consistently credited his surgeon, Dr. Larry Bramlage, and Ian Brennan of Stonestreet Stables for his long work in getting Bricks and Mortar fit to rejoin the barn. If not for Bramlage’s surgical artistry and Brennan’s horsemanship, the comeback would never have gotten off the ground.

The Bricks and Mortar story, as ever, depends upon getting the fundamentals right and laying a solid foundation.

HORSE OF THE YEAR FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP 3)
BRICKS AND MORTAR 204
Mitole 19
Maximum Security 14
TURF MALE FIRST-PLACE VOTES
BRICKS AND MORTAR 241