J.N. Campbell’s NTRA Thoroughbred Poll Submissions: Week 20 ... Letruska and Maxfield hold serve

Week 20 of Turfwriter J.N. Campbell's NTRA submission to the Top Thoroughbred Poll is here...
Week 20 of Turfwriter J.N. Campbell's NTRA submission to the Top Thoroughbred Poll is here...

J.N. Campbell’s NTRA Thoroughbred Poll Submissions: Week 20

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 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!

Now that the 3-yr-old Poll is in the books, here is my 20th submission for this week’s action…

Top Thoroughbred Poll w/Notes …

1. MYSTIC GUIDE: With a stellar performance in the Razorback (G3) @OP, that led to trainer Mike Stidham to ship this talented runner to Meydan for the Dubai World Cup (G1), which he won convincingly; 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 next week’s running of Suburban Handicap (G2) at Belmont. It will be interesting to witness that resumption of running. Leading candidate to “win” the BC Classic, from where we sit now …

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. 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. Gutierrez then got bold, sending her unexpectedly to the Grade II Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs. She won easily, scoring an automatic bid to the Breeders’ Cup. Now, moving forward she has the potential for both a run at Saratoga and to be the favorite in the Distaff (G1) at Del Mar. Sky is the limit …

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 very 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, and he can get there …

5. 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. See him at the Travers (G1)?

6. MAXFIELD: Brendan Walsh and Godolphin Racing possess a superb runner in “Max,” and it looks like he can run with authority during the 2nd half of races. A useful skill to be sure … His only foible so far was in the Big ‘Cap at Santa Anita, when he just didn’t seem to take to the track. His late gait, a valuable resource, was non-existent. Rebounding on the Oaks undercard, he rolled in the Alysheba (G2), and decimated the field that assembled in the Stephen Foster (G1). Both performances beg the question … how good is this runner? Pretty amazing … short answer. Moving forward, Walsh has him elevating, and that makes him a candidate for the BC Classic. It’s the long game.

7. 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)?

8. COUNTRY GRAMMAR: Bob Baffert’s senior members of his barn are few and far between. Even more so now, as news broke that WinStar Farms has officially moved their runner to Todd Pletcher's Stable. It was the correct move considering Baffert's ban in New York. Out of Tonalist, this one looks more than promising. Last out, in the Hollywood Gold Cup (G1), the colt was superb. Winstar Farm has quite a talent on their hands, and after working with his new outfit, we could very well see him appear in the Suburban (G2) next week against Mystic Guide. That is a "Win and You're In" contest ... the chance is just too much to pass up. The 4-yr-old could be a major player in the dirt route division for males moving forward. Stay tuned ...

9. 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 the Suburban (G2) seems like a target. Quality runner from one of the best outfits in the country …

10. CAMPANELLE: Wesley Ward’s accomplished sprinter came to Royal Ascot looking to notch another victory for his conditioner in the Commonwealth Cup (G1), and with Frankie Dettori aboard he nearly lost a squeaker to Archie Watson’s Dragon Symbol. If it were not for a few bumps down the stretch by jockey Oisin Murphy who was aboard his rival, the steward’s ruling would not have gone Ward and Co.’s way. After deliberation, the Dragon was taken down, and Ward’s prized charge was elevated to the winner’s enclosure. Now, moving forward, it looks like a stay in Europe might be in order. He makes the list after this proper “win.” The Breeders’ Cup may well be in his future once again …

Summary: The major news over the weekend emanated from Churchill Downs where the lady Letruska, and the gentleman Maxfield, did what everyone expected them to do … just win. Each circumvented the famous dirt oval in fine style, and schooled fields that paled in comparison. Both their trainers were pleased with the efforts, and it will be intriguing to see where the show next. Letruska will have a few months off, now that her BC ticket was officially punched. As for “Max,” his options are plentiful. Moving forward, as far as the list goes, on deck is the return of Mike Stidham’s Mystic Guide who will run at Belmont next week. His entry in the starting gate will be a highlight, as the calendar heads into July. Much to anticipate, as the next stage unfolds …  

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