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Bravo, Bravazo!

by Jeremy Plonk

November 26, 2018

We give ribbons to third-grade spelling bee participants knocked out before the five-letter round in this society, so don’t feel bad about your appreciation for Bravazo. The sophomore tallied only 2 victories from 11 starts this year and went 0-9 beyond February. But, still, there’s a level of kudos worthy of such a horse in 2018.

Bravazo danced his 11 dances over the course of 11 months, spanning the calendar from the Triple Crown preps, the entire Triple Crown series, both mid-summer sophomore showcases, the Breeders’ Cup and last Friday’s Clark Handicap. Victories were few, of course, namely an Oaklawn allowance in January and the Grade 2 Risen Star at Fair Grounds in his follow-up start. But he placed in the Preakness, Haskell, Travers, Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and narrowly missed as runner-up in the Clark.

Conventional cliché, often accepted as the gospel in horse racing based on feel, not fact, tells you that Triple Crown warriors who compete three times are chewed up for the year. But don’t let the facts get in the way of a good message board post or Tweet from both industry ‘experts’ and everyday observers alike. Instead, recall that Will Take Charge braved all three spring events and ran second in the 2013 Classic by a nose to Mucho Macho Man; California Chrome ran third in the Classic by a nose and a neck in 2014 after nearly sweeping the Triple Crown; and American Pharoah polished all four trophies in his historic 2015 run through the spring and fall majors. Now add Bravazo to that list after surviving the spring trio en route to a Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile placing.

That makes 4 times in the last 6 years we’ve seen a horse run in all 3 Triple Crown legs and hit the board in the Breeders’ Cup. The years without a horse during that span included 2016, though Exaggerator did add the Grade 1 Haskell title after joining Lani as the only Triple Crown complete-series veterans. And in 2017, Lookin At Lee was the only to participate at Churchill, Pimlico and Belmont. He didn’t go on to do much, but continued on with 8 starts since, including a 6-race campaign at age 4. And you don’t have to go back much farther to horses like Shackleford in 2011 to find more examples of three-race Triple Crown performers later adding Breeders’ Cup success and beyond, including a victory in the Preakness and runner-up that fall in the Dirt Mile.

Bravazo won’t be remembered for much, or by many, in 2018. He’ll be near and dear to me as a horse who helped propel me to a Triple Crown Fantasy League victory over the national media in a year when we drafted our stables before a certain pony named Justify had even started. While Justify hogged the major points and all of us so-called ‘professionals’ saw them go unclaimed, it was horses like Bravazo who plugged along and piled up the minor awards and an occasional score. Yes, Bravazo was good to me. But he was good to his owner even more so. He banked $1,162,600 this year for Calumet Farm. Only Justify and Good Magic earned more this year among the sophomore boys on dirt.

In sports, you often hear the phrase: Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing. But that’s not true in the specific case of Bravazo, or the larger picture of horse racing. The exacta and trifecta pools rival the money in the win pool in nearly every race run in America. The superfectas also are an intra-race exotics factor, though to a smaller degree. You don’t hit many winners with horses like Bravazo, as his record indicates. But you can’t connect any exactas, trifectas or superfectas without horses like him. They are as important a cog in the wagering wheel as those fashionistas who wind up posing for the cameras in the winner’s circle.

So raise a toast this awards season for Bravazo. He’s not going to make the ballot anywhere, but there’s a participation ribbon with his name on it. And quit believing that the Triple Crown burns up all those who dare try to complete its challenge.