J.N. Campbell’s NTRA Thoroughbred Poll Submissions: Week 16 . . . Belmont Week Beckons

Week 16 of Turfwriter J.N. Campbell's NTRA submission to the Top Thoroughbred Polls is here...
Week 16 of Turfwriter J.N. Campbell's NTRA submission to the Top Thoroughbred Polls is here...

J.N. Campbell’s NTRA Thoroughbred Poll Submissions: Week 16

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s Top Thoroughbred and Top 3-Year-Old Categories are determined by weekly polls of the nation’s leading writers and broadcasters that regularly cover the sport. Eligible media cast our votes for their top 10 horses, with points awarded on a 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis.

The NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll is conducted weekly from February through the Monday following the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. The NTRA Top 3-Year-Old Poll is conducted weekly from February through the Monday following the Belmont Stakes, which concludes the Triple Crown Trail.

As a member of the turfwriting media, I will be posting my weekly contributions, and offering editorials about horses that rise or fall in the polls. You can look for a full list of the Polls at the following NTRA website. It should make for another exciting season of Thoroughbred racing in North America!

Here is my 16th submission for this week’s Polls…

3-Year-Old Poll w/Notes ...

1. ROMBAUER: At 11/1 in the Preakness (G1), most did not think Mike McCarthy’s runner could win on the dirt. He had wins on the turf and the All-Weather surfaces, but a MT maiden victory had eluded him at this point. Certainly, he had flashed some speed against some of the best in the division prior to coming to Baltimore, but until you score, it is just speculation. Now, all of that can be put to rest with Flavien Prat guiding him home for the victory in Baltimore. McCarthy, a trainer for continues to establish his own national name among horsemen, has finally reached an ATH. Working under Todd Pletcher, he paid his dues, and is a major force in SoCal and beyond. Already ensconced in his digs at Belmont (G1), he should be ready to go in a race that sets up to his strengths.

2. REBEL’S ROMANCE: Did you hear? There is a Godolphin blue at Belmont Park . . . no, it is not Essential Quality. This one is the Charlie Appleby-trained colt who won the UAE Derby (G2) on Dubai World Cup Day. Even though he had the Derby Points in his pocket, his celebrated ownership did not want to pit him against EQ. That is about to change now that whispers have turned into talk that Cox’s charge is coming. As for Appleby, he has executed his plan to ship to New York, and preparations are underway for the last leg of the Triple. This might prove to be a crucial decision, and wouldn’t it be interesting to see this one, get home! Was my top pick at Meydan . . . Might be my top pick in Elmont . . .

3. ESSENTIAL QUALITY: Brad Cox had many thinking that we might not see “EQ” until the Travers (G1) in the late summer at Saratoga. The discussions were reversed in the past week, as Belmont (G1) was put back on the table. Maybe some defections and/or the prospect of winning the last leg were just too inviting for the “Boys in Blue.” Lately, his works at Churchill have looked impressive, taking on stablemate Bonny South. It will be great to see the beautiful gray colt compete. I, for one, certainly hope so! He may well be the favorite, even over Rombauer! Stay tuned …

4. MIDNIGHT BOURBON: Winchell Thoroughbreds and Steve Asmussen really showed some grit by sending this colt to the Preakness. He did not disappoint. Some will say, “Well, he missed again,” but that is not the whole story. Running through the Louisiana Series, he improved on his Derby run in Baltimore at the Preakness with a 2nd place finish. Much to celebrate for this colt, who ended up with a fine finish. Once again, these connections fielded a strong competitor who really showed what he was made of. Time to take it to the barn … Asmussen should be pretty pleased with the overall effort.

5. HOT ROD CHARLIE: Doug O’Neill-trainee, who was exceptional in the LA Derby (G2), easily became Derby Week’s most fashionable pick. The story of the Brown University boys who pooled their cash, and turned the Derby into a football tailgate party in the Paddock, will go down as a Churchill memory. As for their investment, he ran well with Flavien Prat at the controls. Still, 3rd was not quite what bettors were hoping for considering how much money went towards this one’s win pool. Looks like O’Neill has worked him back at Santa Anita in preparation for the Belmont (G1), shipped in and ready to go!

6. JACKIE’S WARRIOR: In the Pat Day (G2), Steve Asmussen’s former Derby Trail dropout was stellar down the lane, as he returned to a shorter distance. It was a resounding victory, and affirmed his status as a future star in this division. Well-bred, his exploits in last year’s 2-yr-old “Triple” at NYRA were clearly not an aberration. The Pat Day was a thriller down the lane against Dream Shake, and we are all hoping that a rematch is headed our way! That should come this Saturday in the Woody Stephens (G1), which could be one of the major highlights on the card. Can Jackie’s best Dream Shake, Caddo River, Drain the Clock, Nova Rags, and others? Going to be interesting …

7. MALATHAAT: Todd Pletcher’s march towards his inevitable HOF induction was further strengthened when his filly lived up to her short 5/2 price in the KYO at Churchill. It was a thrilling race, as she dueled down the stretch with the Klaravich runner, Search Results. Now, the connections have confirmed that we will not see her run again until July at Saratoga. The Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) will be her target. We will wait with much anticipation for that to arrive. Pletcher is doing what he does best … thinking about the long game. Could the Breeders’ Cup Classic be on his radar? It depends … I certainly would not rule it out, considering older horses that are game are in short supply. See you at the SPA …

8. PROMISE KEEPER: This Pletcher runner was awfully strong in his Peter Pan (G3) performance, but most will criticize that field . . . Sure, it came up short with only 5 runners drawn in, but the way he ran was still pretty impressive. The Pan (G3) is a good litmus test, and can be a springboard to the Belmont (G1). With a conditioner holding a strong hand already, just add this one to the list. He could be “live” when it comes to surveying the entries for running at “The Beast” of Belmont.

9. KEEPMEINMIND: In defeat, there was still much to be pleased with for trainer Robertino Diodoro. His Laoban colt tried hard in the stretch down the lane at Pimlico. He just needed more to run into, and the pace scenario just was not present. Still, Diodoro’s charge was impressive, and the fact that he has now completed a pair of Triple Crown races speaks to his ability. Even though I would have liked to see him ship to New York to run in the Belmont (G1), Diodoro confirmed on Monday’s holiday, that it will not happen. Still, we all know we will see him again at some point in the near future. Belmont could be a possibility, just later …

10. MEDINA SPIRIT*:  The colt remains on the Top Ten List for now because the Kentucky Horseracing Commission has yet to receive the results from the split sample. But, for the record … it does not look promising. Once the decision is handed down, I would imagine that it will strip Bob Baffert of his record-setting Derby win. Will a ban also result? Unknown . . . This low-cost colt did not run well in the Preakness, thus averting what many believed to be a Triple Crown disaster in-the-making. The sport may still suffer because of the imperial hubris of Baffert, but that remains to be seen. The future has yet to be written . . . I doubt we will see this son of Protonico rear his head in New York, or Baffert’s face around Long Island. Asterisk affixed … time is ticking … tick, tick, tick …

Summary: The Road to Belmont is approaching its conclusion, and it is almost time to put this list to bed. Once again, the Derby Trail brought us major highs and low lows. Through it all, we found some real gems, and backed a number of duds. As you can see from the list above, I am honoring the effort of Mike McCarthy’s Rombauer in the Preakness Stakes. The colt was impressive, and should vie for favoritism with Essential Quality. I am happy to see him drawn in because it really gives this race some punch. My gaze is falling on Charlie Appleby’s Rebel’s Romance, who looks fresh and ready to fire. The Belmont Stakes and its undercard are taking shape … it is going to be a fabulous week! Oh … p.s. … yes, we are still waiting to hear about Medina Spirit. The elongated and meandering saga is only at the beginning … hold the credits!

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Top Thoroughbred Poll w/Notes ...

1. MYSTIC GUIDE: stellar performance in the Razorback (G3) @OP led to shipping into Meydan for the Dubai World Cup (G1), which he won convincingly for Mike Stidham; awfully good performance under some challenging pre-race conditions in the paddock and on the way to the gate. Back in training, his conditioner has him slated to return in the July running of Suburban Handicap (G2) at Belmont. It will be interesting to witness that bow. Leading candidate to point towards the BC Classic . . .

2. LETRUSKA: Fausto Gutierrez’s ace looked like she was going to run out of her horseshoes at Oaklawn in the Apple Blossom (G1); she did not disappoint, besting Monomoy Girl down the stretch; she springboards into this spot based on that gutsy performance . . . more to come, as she takes this division by storm in this week’s Ogden Phipps (G1) at Belmont.

3. SHEDARESTHEDEVIL: she was super sharp coming off the bench @OP in the Azeri (G2) against a small, but strong field that included rival Letruska; Brad Cox’s tactics to go to the lead made the difference, and would again. In the Grade 1, $500,000 La Troienne @CD on Oaks undercard, it was another resounding frontrunning victory. Who is better in Cox’s midst . . . Monomoy or this one? Hmm . . . In the meantime, we might see this one square off against Swiss Skydiver and Letruska in the Ogden Phipps (G1) on the undercard during Belmont Stakes Day. Should be fun!

4. COLONEL LIAM: coming into the Turf Classic on Derby Day, this turf router was at the very top of the routing food chain, and probably still is. Facing his toughest test to date, Pletcher’s son of Liam’s Map took on a well-matched field of SoCal imports, and some KY-NY mainstays. With some coming off-the-bench, it was going to be a challenge. Jockey Irad Ortiz weaved through traffic and made the call to cut to the Rail. If it were not for Flavien Prat and Domestic Spending, the day would have been his. Storming at the end, the Turf Classic ended in a Dead Heat. Wow, comes to mind . . . 

5. DOMESTIC SPENDING: Last fall, this Del Mar entrant came across the country for Chad Brown and was awfully good in the Hollywood Turf Cup (G1). After a winter layoff, he arrived at Churchill with hope for much success. Flavien Prat subbed in for Irad Ortiz, and he chased the Eclipse jock all the way to the wire. Sticking his horse’s nose just in time, it was a thrilling end to the TC. Now, NYRA races beckon, and the sky is the limit moving forward, as we could see a rematch with Colonel Liam in the Manhattan (G1) on Belmont S. Day.

6. EXTRAVAGENT KID: Brendan Walsh’s turf sprinter finally broke into the Poll with a magnificent win in the AL Quoz Sprint in Dubai over a week ago. After running in States-side contests, and missing on several occasions, this son of Kiss The Kid bested Charlie Appleby’s prize burner—Space Blues; will be interesting to see where he appears next…

7. MAXFIELD: Some of the rumblings around Brendan Walsh’s outfit is that “Max” will be headed to the Stephen Foster (G2) at Churchill Downs next month. That would be an interesting play, and I am sure he would end up being the one to beat. That is, if Mike Stidham does not send Mystic Guide that way. If that is the case, it could be a whole different ballgame! Still, major ability with this one, and maybe, the best is yet to come …

8. RAGING BULL: What a nice win in the Maker’s Mark Mile (G1) at Keeneland after 2 previous misses back in April; the Chad Brown veteran came off the bench, and exhibited a strong turn-of-foot down the lane to win a race his connections have chased for some time; nice way to start 2021, to say the least… Now, we await his next shot, which looks to be out at Santa Anita on the grass in the celebrated Shoemaker Mile (G1).

9. KNICKS GO: The seasoned Brad Cox runner was last seen in Saudi Arabia, when he finished 4th. Back in training, Cox wanted to point him to the Met Mile (G1), since he would appreciate the cutback, and it would be an excellent entry point after 3 months off. If he is sharp up front, and ready to fly, he will prove that he belongs on this list. If not … he might not return for some time. Cox knows how to prepare runners that are coming into hostile environments, and the Kentucky-based runner will have his hands full with By My Standards, Mischievous Alex, Silver State, Dr Post, and Lexitonian. Time to race!

10. BLOWOUT: Trainer Chad Brown's 5-yr-old mare is poised for Grade 1 greatest as she is entered in the Just A Game Stakes this week on the Belmont undercard. Last out, in the Distaff Turf Mile (G2) at Churchill Downs, the Peter Brant-owned grass specialist was superb against a short field of 6. She continues to exhibit talent, and she should vie for favoritism. A rematch is brewing with many of her old foes. Should be a great contest ...

Summary: Belmont Stakes Week is headed our way, and we should have some significant shifts in our list by next Sunday. The only substitution I made was replacing John Sadler’s Flagstaff with Brad Cox’s Knicks Go. It seemed appropriate considering a pair of factors … 1) Sadler’s horse testing positive for a drug dating back to last Fall 2020, and 2) that Knicks Go is ready to roll in the Met Mile. As for the remainder of the tally, I am personally looking forward to the running of the Odgen Phipps (G1) where we will see a number of powerful older females contest the pace at 1 1/16th. Letruska, Swiss Skydiver, Bonny South, Shedaresthedevil, and Valiance will go head-to-head … we have a classic in the making!

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