by Jon White
January 29, 2020
The first polls of 2020 conducted by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) are not far away.
The NTRA early each year begins disseminating a Top Thoroughbred Poll and a Top 3-Year-Old Poll.
The Top Thoroughbred Poll ends on the Monday following the Breeders’ Cup. That means this year the final poll will be on Nov. 9 following the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland on Nov. 7 and 8.
The Top 3-Year-Old Poll ends on the Monday following the Grade I Belmont Stakes. That means this year the final poll will be on June 8 following the June 6 Belmont Stakes.
These rankings are indicative of who might be crowned a divisional champion and, moreover, Horse of the Year. The rankings are based on votes cast by members of the media who regularly cover Thoroughbred racing. The voters select their Top 10 choices on a 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 points basis.
Horses are to have raced at least once in North America. A horse who may have retired during the current calendar year remains eligible. Additionally, a horse can receive a vote even though the horse has not made a start in the new calendar year so long as the said horse is scheduled to race in the new calendar year.
The first NTRA polls in 2016 were announced on March 7. But the first polls in 2017 were much earlier. That was because the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park was inaugurated in 2017. Due to the introduction of the Pegasus World Cup, a $12 million race won by Arrogate early in 2017 on Jan. 28, the first NTRA polls started that year on Jan. 30.
The first NTRA polls in 2018 were announced on Jan. 29 after that year’s $16 million Pegasus World Cup won by Gun Runner on Jan. 27. The first polls in 2019 were announced on Jan. 28 after that year’s $9 million Pegasus World Cup won by City of Light on Jan. 26.
Mucho Gusto won this year’s $3 million Pegasus World Cup on Jan. 25. According to Alicia Hughes, director of NTRA communications, the first NTRA polls of 2020 will be on Feb. 17.
“This way, it allows for a little more substance for voters to consider, especially on the 3-year-old side of things,” Hughes wrote in an email to explain this year’s later start to the polls.
As a longtime voter in the NTRA polls, I went ahead and decided how I would have voted in the Top Thoroughbred Poll if there had been one this week. Here is that Top 10:
1. Maximum Security
2. Mucho Gusto
4. Midnight Bisou
7. Spun to Run
8. Code of Honor
9. Zulu Alpha
10. Gift Box
As the only one of the three 2019 Horse of the Year finalists scheduled to return in 2020, Maximum Security gets the top spot on my Top 10. The other two Horse of the Year finalists, Bricks and Mortar and Mitole, have been retired to stud.
Maximum Security currently is in training with trainer Jason Servis in Florida at Palm Meadows. The plan, according to Gary West, who owns the colt in partnership with his wife, Mary, is for Maximum Security to make his 2020 debut in what now will be the world’s richest horse race, the $20 million Saudi Cup on Feb. 29.
Voted a 2019 Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male, Maximum Security won six of eight starts last year. Three of his 2019 victories came at the Grade I level. He took the Grade I Florida Derby at Gulfstream in March, Grade I Haskell Invitational on a brutally hot July day at Monmouth and Grade I Cigar Mile at Aqueduct in December.
In one of Maximum Security’s two losses last year, he crossed the finish line first in the Grade I Kentucky Derby on May 4, but then was disqualified by the stewards and placed 17th for causing interference on the final turn. In Maximum Security’s only other 2019 defeat, he stumbled at the start and finished second in Monmouth Park’s Pegasus Stakes on June 16.
When Maximum Security won the Haskell, the runner-up was Mucho Gusto, who lost by 1 1/4 lengths. Yes, that’s the same Mucho Gusto who, in a sparkling performance, won last Saturday’s Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream by 4 1/2 lengths.
Inasmuch as Maximum Security and Mucho Gusto finished one-two when they met last year in the Haskell, I feel quite comfortable putting them one-two, in the same order, on my Top 10.
McKinzie, a Kentucky-bred son of Street Sense, concluded his 2019 campaign by finishing second to Vino Rosso in the Grade I, $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 2.
Like Maximum Security, McKinzie and Mucho Gusto both have designs on the inaugural Saudi Cup.
Like Bricks and Mortar and Mitole, Vino Rosso has been retired from racing to embark on a new career as a stallion.
Hall of Famer Bob Baffert trains Mucho Gusto and McKinzie in Southern California at Santa Anita.
By the way, three of the first four editions of Gulfstream’s Grade I Pegasus World Cup have been won by a SoCal-based runner -- Arrogate in 2017, City of Light in 2019 and Mucho Gusto in 2020.
Midnight Bisou, who won seven of eight starts in 2019, is No. 4 on my Top 10. She is yet another headed to the Saudi Cup. The daughter of Midnight Lute currently is in training with Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen in Louisiana at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.
The lone blemish on Midnight Bisou’s 2019 record was when she ran second to Blue Prize in the Grade I BC Distaff at Santa Anita on Nov. 2. Midnight Bisou was voted a 2019 Eclipse Award as champion older dirt female.
Covfefe and Uni, both on my Top 10, also were 2019 Eclipse Award winners. Covfefe, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Into Mischief, was voted champion 3-year-old filly and champion female sprinter. Uni, a Great Britain-bred daughter of More Than Ready, was voted champion female turf horse.
Trained by Brad Cox, Covfefe won the Grade I BC Filly & Mare Sprint at Santa Anita on Nov. 2.
Uni, whose trainer is Chad Brown, captured the Grade I BC Mile, also at Santa Anita on Nov. 2.
In 2019 Eclipse Award balloting, Uni received 126 first-place votes compared to Sistercharlie’s 61 and Got Stormy’s 33.
To be perfectly frank, I feel kind of bad for not putting Sistercharlie or Got Stormy on my Top 10. Sistercharlie was voted a 2018 Eclipse Award as champion female grass horse, then was a three-time Grade I winner in 2019. Got Stormy was a two-time Grade I winner in 2019 and was runner-up to Uni in the BC Mile.
I ultimately made the decision to not have three horses from the same female grass division taking up three of the 10 spots.
I have Spun to Run ranked No. 7. The high point of his 2019 campaign was a 2 3/4-length victory against Omaha Beach and company in the BC Dirt Mile at Santa Anita on Nov. 2. In Spun to Run’s final 2019 start, the Juan Carlos Gonzalez-trained Hard Spun colt finished second to Maximum Security in the Cigar Mile.
Spun to Run was withdrawn from last Saturday’s Pegasus at Gulfstream owing to a skin disease.
Code of Honor, one of the three finalists along with Maximum Security and the now-retired Omaha Beach for a 2019 Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male, is No. 8 on my Top 10.
Last summer at Saratoga, Code of Honor won the Grade I Travers Stakes for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey. The Kentucky-bred Noble Mission colt then finished first in the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park on Sept. 28, but he was disqualified and placed second for causing interference to Vino Rosso during the stretch run. Vino Rosso was declared the winner.
In Code of Honor’s final 2019 start, he never threatened and wound up seventh in the BC Classic. Daily Racing Form’s Brad Free reported last Sunday that McGaughey said Code of Honor would be joining his Payson Park string in Florida “in about a week” after “spending early winter at Margaux Farm in Kentucky.”
I believe that Zulu Alpha deserves inclusion on my Top 10 off his two-length triumph in Gulfstream’s Grade I, $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf last Saturday in an 11-1 upset. Michael Maker trains the Kentucky-bred son of Street Cry.
Rounding out my Top 10 is Gift Box, who won Santa Anita’s Grade II San Antonio Stakes with authority by 3 3/4 lengths on Dec. 28. Trained by John Sadler, the Kentucky-bred son of Twirling Candy won the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap in 2019.
FINAL NTRA TOP THOROUGHBRED POLL OF 2019
With the first 2020 NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll just around the corner, here is a look back at the final poll for 2019:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 438 Bricks and Mortar (42)
2. 388 Mitole (2)
3. 332 Vino Rosso
4. 297 Midnight Bisou
5. 157 McKinzie
5. 157 Sistercharlie
7. 151 Uni
8. 109 Covfefe
9. 102 Blue Prize
10. 90 Maximum Security
Also receiving votes: Code of Honor (50 points), Omaha Beach (34), Imperial Hint (18), Higher Power (16), Spun to Run (15), Got Stormy (14), Elate (10), Iridessa (10), British Idiom (8), Vasilika (7), Belvoir Bay (4), Storm the Court (2), World of Trouble (2), Four Wheel Drive (1).
When last year’s Eclipse Award winners were announced last week, it was revealed that Bricks and Mortar had been elected 2019 Horse of the Year.
MY LATEST KENTUCKY DERBY TOP 10
Storm the Court, who was voted a 2019 Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male, is atop my Kentucky Derby Top 10.
Trained by Peter Eurton, Storm the Court won the Grade I BC Juvenile when last seen under silks at Santa Anita last Nov. 1. The Kentucky-bred Court Vision colt is gearing up for his first 2020 start in Santa Anita’s Grade II San Vicente Stakes at seven furlongs on Feb. 9.
Here is my current Kentucky Derby Top 10:
1. Storm the Court
2. Dennis’ Moment
4. Honor A.P.
5. Thousand Words
7. Tiz the Law
9. Independence Hall
There are three races on the Road to the Kentucky Derby this Saturday.
The Road to the Kentucky Derby is a series of races that awards points to the Top 4 finishers in each race toward a berth in Churchill Downs’ 146th running of the $3 million Kentucky Derby at 1 1/4 miles on May 2.
Saturday’s trio of Grade III races offering Kentucky Derby points are Gulfstream’s Holy Bull Stakes, Aqueduct’s Withers Stakes and Santa Anita’s Robert B. Lewis Memorial. The first four finishers in those races earn points toward the Kentucky Derby on a 10-4-2-1 basis.
Tiz the Law heads a field of seven entered in the 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull. Trained by Barclay Tagg, the New York-bred Constitution colt won last year’s Grade I Champagne Stakes by four lengths at Belmont. In his only start since the Champagne, Tiz the Law finished a close third in Churchill’s Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club on a sloppy track when he had a troubled trip.
Shotski, winner of Aqueduct’s Grade II Remsen Stakes on Dec. 7 in his most recent start, is expected to be the favorite in the Withers, a 1 1/8-mile race that has attracted a field of eight. Jeremiah O’Dwyer trains the Kentucky-bred Blame colt.
Thousand Words, No. 5 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10, probably will be a heavy favorite in the Lewis. Six are entered in the 1 1/16-mile Lewis. Undefeated in two starts, Thousand Words is coming off a victory in the Grade II Los Alamitos Futurity on a wet track Dec. 7. Baffert trains the Kentucky-bred Pioneerof the Nile colt.
Baffert also has High Velocity entered in the Lewis. The Kentucky-bred Quality Road colt finished third in the Los Al Futurity after winning Del Mar’s Grade III Bob Hope Stakes on Nov. 16.
What happens in the Holy Bull, Withers and/or Lewis quite likely will have an impact on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 next week.
WILLIAM HILL’S KENTUCKY DERBY ODDS
Horseracingnation.com is doing a good job of weekly posting the William Hill Sports Book’s Kentucky Derby future book odds. William Hill has 26 horses listed at 50-1 or lower as of Jan. 27. They are:
8-1 Tiz the Law
12-1 Dennis’ Moment
12-1 Storm the Court
12-1 Thousand Words
15-1 Eight Rings
24-1 Anneau d’Or
25-1 Independence Hall
30-1 Three Technique
35-1 Azul Coast
35-1 Silver State
40-1 Ancient Warrior
40-1 Answer In
40-1 Blackberry Wine
40-1 Chance It
40-1 Gouverneur Morris
50-1 Express Train
50-1 Honor A.P.
Nadal, who is No. 3 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10, is 75-1.
ECLIPSE AWARD PREDICTIONS SCOREBOARD
When I made my annual Eclipse Award predictions last week, I had 15 correct and two wrong.
I wrote last week that it could be a close vote in the older dirt male category between Grade I BC Sprint winner Mitole and Grade I BC Classic winner Vino Rosso. Not only was I wrong with my prediction that Mitole would win it, it turned out Vino Rosso won by a fairly wide margin. Vino Rosso received 129 first-place votes compared to Mitole’s 108.
I also incorrectly predicted Julio Correa would be voted champion apprentice jockey. The award went to Kazushi Kimura. I am especially kicking myself for being wrong in this category because I voted for Kimura. In what I found to be a very tough category to try and forecast the winner, I guessed Correa would get the most first-place votes. I guessed wrong. Kimura received 74 first-place votes compared to Correa’s 60.
The first year that I made Eclipse Award predictions for Xpressbet.com was for racing that was conducted in 2011. Now including 2019, my Eclipse Award predictions have proven to be correct 91.4% of the time:
2011: 15 correct, 2 wrong
2012: 16 correct, 1 wrong
2013: 16 correct, 1 wrong
2014: 17 correct, 0 wrong
2015: 14 correct, 3 wrong
2016: 16 correct, 1 wrong
2017: 16 correct, 1 wrong
2018: 16 correct, 1 wrong
2019: 15 correct, 2 wrong
Total: 141 correct, 12 wrong