The Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita was not kind to a couple of the top horse of the year candidates, but the races did thin the field. Bricks and Mortar, both literally and figuratively, solidified his place as the top contender with a stirring win in the $4-million Turf championship.
The 5-year-old horse led in the most recent horse of the year voting conducted by the National Throughbred Racing Assn. And neither of his closest challengers, Midnight Bisou and Sistercharlie, won in their races Saturday.
Sistercharlie suffered her first loss in four starts this year, finishing third in the Filly & Mare Turf championship won by 13-1 shot Iridessa. Midnight Bisou, which had won all seven of her starts this year, closed too late in the 1 1/8-mile Distaff championship and finished 1 1/2 lengths behind 8-1 shot Blue Prize.
Bricks and Mortar needed all he had to survive an even longer longshot in winning his sixth race in as many starts this year. United, who went off at odds of 50-1, led the 1 1/2-mile race for a short time during the stretch and battled the winner to the end, losing by a head.
Trainer Chad Brown was most concerned when Bricks and Mortar lost ground to the leaders between the half-mile pole to the quarter pole. “I said, ‘Well, maybe he’s not going to go on.’ I couldn’t really tell,” Brown said. “But once he saw daylight, he kicked into gear again, grabbed the bit and showed his patented kick.”
Bricks and Mortar was also nominated to run in the Breeders’ Cup Mile — which is also run on turf, but Brown chose the longer race. Good thing, too. He won that race earlier in the day with the 5-year-old mare Uni.
“Thankfully, as a team we made the right decisions,” Brown said. “The horse showed up, and he showed up every time he’s ever run his whole career.”
Bricks and Mortar has a seven-race winning streak that dates to December of last year, when he won after taking more than a year off from racing to recover from surgery on a hock (leg) ligament.
Sprint champ in fast company
Mitole might have joined the conversation for horse of the year with his win in the six-furlong Sprint championship.
The 4-year-old colt won for the sixth time in seven starts this year with an impressive 1 1/4-length victory over Shancelot.
Ironically, Mitole’s candidacy was strengthened because of a surprise loss suffered by a barnmate. His trainer, Steve Asmussen, also saddled Midnight Bisou.
Mitole has never not paid his backers, with 10 wins, a pair of seconds and a pair of thirds in 14 lifetime starts.
Espinoza still a winner
It wasn’t so long ago that Victor Espinoza was atop the horse racing world.
Four years ago, he was aboard American Pharoah when he won the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup Classic — the sport’s grand slam.
But then came the serious accident that almost killed him. During a training run at Del Mar in July of last year, his horse broke down and Espinoza came away partially paralyzed after being thrown to the ground.
He returned to racing in March, but is now rarely called upon for the biggest moments. Espinoza, 47, winner of more than 3,200 races in his career, did not have a mount in any of the 14 Breeders’ Cup events.
However, he did ride four horses in non-Cup races over the two days — and won twice.
He won the $100,000 Damascus Stakes on Saturday with even-money favorite Flagstaff, and won the $200,000 Golden State Juvenile on Friday, going wire-to-wire aboard 14-1 longshot Tap Back.
“I feel great,” he said after Flagstaff bested Roadster by a nose in a driving stretch duel. “I’m ready to roll again.”