J.N. Campbell’s NTRA Thoroughbred Poll Submissions: Week 17 . . . At the Half

Week 17 of Turfwriter J.N. Campbell's NTRA submission to the Top Thoroughbred Polls is here... The 1st Half of the year is in the books. See who makes the grade.
Week 17 of Turfwriter J.N. Campbell's NTRA submission to the Top Thoroughbred Polls is here... The 1st Half of the year is in the books. See who makes the grade.

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J.N. Campbell’s NTRA Thoroughbred Poll Submissions: Week 17

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 17th submission for this week’s Polls…

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

1. 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, 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.” Cox predicted that “The Beast” would be a perfect fit for the Tapit router. He was right … The gray worked at Churchill and looked impressive, taking on stablemate Bonny South. Clearly, he was ready, going off as the favorite in the Belmont Stakes (G1). A bit of a slow start did not phase him, and Luis Saez kept inching him closer along the back stretch. A powerful move helped him catch Hot Rod Charlie, and soon he was blazing past him in the 2-path. A favorite move we have seen time and time again over the course of the past year. It was a great run through the ranks. Deserved to end up on top in the end ... 

2. 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. Coming back in the Belmont S. (G1), O’Neill had him cranked up, and the colt didn’t disappoint. Setting some stiff early fractions, Prat went full-tilt … nearly, besting “EQ.” Good year, earning him 2nd best on the list.

3. 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 as Flavien Prat guided him home. Working under Todd Pletcher, trainer Mike McCarthy paid his dues, and is becoming a major force in SoCal and beyond. Though the Belmont S. (G1) was a miss in the end, he didn’t run poorly. Not a bad run for a horse that was almost sold a number of times by ownership!

4. MANDALOUN: Cox runner who won the Risen Star (G2), but failed as favorite in the LA Derby (G2). The colt came into the Derby as an overlay at 27/1. His resume and running style suited that race to a “T,” and his conditioner had him ready to roll with chief rider Flo Geroux aboard. Finishing 2nd to Medina Spirit was a game effort. Now, he seems poised to take over the Kentucky Derby 147 trophy from the beleaguered Medina Spirit. That is the capstone to quite a year, even though the legal wrangling has only begun. In the end, this colt was pretty special in the LA Series and the Derby. Cox has much to be proud of … maybe we will see him during the 2nd half of the year.

5. 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.

6. 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 …

7. SEARCH RESULTS: The Klaravich Stables filly was superb in the KY Oaks, just coming up short to Pletcher’s Malathaat. Rebounding from the devastating loss was avenged on the Belmont Stakes undercard in the Acorn Stakes (G1). It was an impressive display of speed and power down the lane. That should affirm that this filly has everything she needs to move forward. Maybe sprinting is in the cards, but maybe pointing towards the BC Distaff (G1) could be a target. Maturity and under Chad Brown’s watchful eye will out.

8. DRAIN THE CLOCK: The Saffie Joseph local runner was thought to be an outsider when it came to running against heavy favorites, Jackie’s Warrior and Dream Shake. His early speed was his key weapon, and when Asmussen’s Jackie’s missed the break, “The Clock” ticked on up front. He got away in great order, and gutted out the victory when the Warrior tried to take him on. Ending the 1st half of the 2021 Season, this young one has much to offer moving forward. Major jets in this sprinting division for years to come, if he can stay healthy. Good on Saffie … his star continues to rise!

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 at, 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 have seen him ship to New York to run in the Belmont (G1), Diodoro confirmed that wouldn’t happen. Still, we all know we will see him again at some point in the near future. Belmont could be a possibility, just later … and maybe on the turf? Hmm …

10. MEDINA SPIRIT*:  The colt remains on the Top Ten List for now because the Kentucky Horseracing Commission has yet to rule. But, for the record … it does not look promising after another positive. CDI made their move earlier this week, imposing a 2-year ban on the conditioner. Whether that sticks in court is unknown. Once the KHC decision is handed down, I would imagine that it will strip Bob Baffert of his record-setting Derby win. 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. Asterisk affixed … time is not on Baffert’s side.

Summary: Either there are copious amounts of words or none at all, to describe the 2021 Derby Trail, and subsequent Road through the Triple Crown. The spotlight shown brightly on the sport on its greatest day—the Kentucky Derby. But the Baffert Scandal has clouded the mission, and both the short-term and long-term effects are still unknown. Despite what happened to Medina Spirit, other colts and fillies rose in the ranks to much fanfare. In the end, for me, Essential Quality reigned supreme. His ability throughout the season was on full-display. Though he was caught wide in the Derby, finishing off the board, wasn’t a blemish. Victory in the Belmont was sweet, and thus the son of Tapit, trained by Brad Cox triumphed in the end. Godolphin proves it is the best too ...

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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 … Luis Saez once again takes a Godolphin runner to the top!

2. LETRUSKA: Fausto Gutierrez’s ace looked like she was going to run out of her horseshoes in both the Houston Ladies Classic (G3) @SHRP, all the way to the Apple Blossom (G1) @OP; she did not disappoint, besting Monomoy Girl down the stretch in that last one. She spring-boarded into the Top Ten based on that gutsy performance. Then she took on some of the best in the division in the Ogden Phipps (G1) at Belmont. It was one of the highlights of the day. Now, moving forward she has the potential to be the favorite in the BC Distaff (G1) at Del Mar. If Gutierrez can manage her time over the next few months, then she can win that as well.

3. SILVER STATE: The victor in the celebrated Met Mile (G1) was the ultimate high for this Steve Asmussen runner. Jockey Ricardo Santana guided him home in impressive fashion against a couple of short-priced favorites. When you win a race as big as this one, then you have achieved something veru special. Most bettors thought Knicks Go would be the champ, but this seasoned runner proved them all wrong in the end. A special runner with a powerful kick, it will be interesting to see him emerge in the 2nd half of the year.

4. 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. Then, Brown sent him to the Manhattan S. (G1) at Belmont. It was an impressive array of timing, power, and finesse down the stretch. Prat lived up to the billing, and he is the class of the division. BC Turf is the long game.

5. EXTRAVAGENT KID: Brendan Walsh’s turf sprinter finally broke into the Poll with a magnificent win in the AL Quoz Sprint in Dubai back in late March. After running in stateside 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… A testament to Walsh’s versatility, and his ability to train the best that is out there.

6. 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 …

7. 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 could be Belmont or even at Saratoga … makes sense. One of the leaders in the turf mile division in North America.

8. BY MY STANDARDS: The Bret Calhoun hoss is one big horse. Once he gets moving, he can be a force to be reckoned with. The 5-yr-old out of Goldencents came off the bench in the Oaklawn Mile and won. That was impressive, especially since at the end of last year he missed in the BC Classic (G1) @KEE and the Clark Hcp (G1) @CD. Clearly this one is progressing, since the Met Mile (G1) was a quality effort—2nd. He easily outran his odds. His conditioner will have some major opportunities moving forward. Another run in the BC Classic (G1) is in order. Stay tuned …                                                                                                        

9. COUNTRY GRAMMAR: Bob Baffert’s senior members of his barn are few and far between. With the retirements of Authentic and Max Security, he tried to reload, but it didn’t take. Others have tried to go forth, like Gamine or Roadster, but they do not seem to be up to scratch. This one, out of Tonalist, looks most promising. Last out, in the Hollywood Gold Cup (G1), the colt was superb. Winstar Farm has quite a talent on their hands, and I would imagine we are going to be hearing from this one later in the season. That is, as long as California will let Baffert run. We will see …

10. HAPPY SAVER: Few are undefeated, but this one is … Todd Pletcher had the chance to run this homebred out of Happy Saver along the Derby Trail as a 3-yr-old last year, but the timing never materialized. Late in the season at Belmont, the colt proved his mettle in the Jockey Club Gold Cup S. (G1) with a gutsy performance. Going to the pasture for the wintertime, he was back in training in the late spring, and won easily in his debut a couple of weeks ago … once again at Belmont. He should be gaining steam as the summer unfolds, and Saratoga seems like a target. Quality runner from one of the best outfits in the country …

Summary: The first half of the Thoroughbred year is in the books, and it is time to take stock. We saw some impressive performances, which was capped by Mystic Guide’s success in the Dubai World Cup. Moving forward, he is the class of the Top Ten List. Mike Stidham has a true gem on his hands for leader Godolphin … As for the rest, the older female routers were the ones that provided the most excitement. Monomoy Girl, Swiss Skydiver, Letruska, Bonny South, Shedaresthedevil, and Valiance are all powerful shooters. Amazing that Brad Cox runs 3 of them … Seeing them all depart from the gate at Del Mar in the BC Distaff (G1) would be a dream come true. As for the turf runners on this list, clearly Domestic Spending rose to the upper echelons after wins in the Turf Classic (G1) and Manhattan (G1). The BC Turf (G1) looks 100% viable. Soon, Belmont will give way to Saratoga, and Del Mar will get cracking once Santa Anita is complete. That is just the start of what promises to be an amazing 2nd half!  

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