J.N. Campbell’s NTRA Thoroughbred Poll Submissions: Week 26 ... A Whitney win for Knicks Go ...

Week 26 of Turfwriter J.N. Campbell's NTRA submission to the Top Thoroughbred Poll is here...
Week 26 of Turfwriter J.N. Campbell's NTRA submission to the Top Thoroughbred Poll is here...

J.N. Campbell’s NTRA Thoroughbred Poll Submissions: Week 26

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!

Here is my 26th submission for this week’s action…

Top Thoroughbred Poll w/Notes …

1. 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 (Grade 1 Personal Ensign S.), and to be the favorite in the Distaff (G1) at Del Mar. Sky is the limit; holds the top spot …

2. ESSENTIAL QUALITY: Trainer Brad Cox said a little less than a year ago that this Tapit colt and Godolphin homebred had all the tools to get the 1½ distance in the Belmont Stakes … he did. Race after race, he has met a series of challenges and with Luis Saez along for the ride, he just keeps going and going … The Kentucky Derby (G1) was the only blemish on what has been a perfect record. Though he was caught wide, he still was game. The same happened this past weekend in the Jim Dandy (G2). But “EQ” responded with a score. Now, he seems poised to take the Travers (G1). Come one … come all …

3. 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 proved his mount is the class of this grass division. BC Turf is the long game, and he can get there …

4. KNICKS GO: Brad Cox’s front-running ace came back strong on Saturday ... clearly that race at Prairie Meadows was just the ticket to round him into shape. Joel Rosario did what he needed to do … get to the front … and the rest was history. This is a special horse because few can run like he does. It is the “Catch Me If You Can” approach … If he makes the lead, then it could well be over. How that will play out at Del Mar in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) will be insanely interesting. The Korean Horse Racing Authority has quite a runner from a barn that just continues to churn out victories.

5. MAX PLAYER: The Steve Asmussen-trainee out of Honor Code cracks the Top Ten after a command performance in the Suburban (G2) at Belmont. It was an impressive win, as he was taking on fellow 4-yr-olds Mystic Guide and Happy Saver. Jockey Ricardo Santana wait for just the right moment as the stretch arrived for the “ask,” and his mount did not disappoint. Now, with BC Classic tickets in his saddle, Asmussen has options moving forward. He can test the waters of Saratoga, and that makes him a dangerous runner as we head towards the second half of the summer. Maybe he is a “player” that we need to consider as a major contender in the Classic ranks.

6. EXPRESS TRAIN: Trainer John Shirreffs never quits … he continues to work hard and condition the next generation of champions. Here is one that continues to move forward, despite the occasional setback. The now 4-yr-old cracks the Top Ten after a gutsy performance at Del Mar in the Grade II San Diego Handicap. Beating out the likes of Rushie and the heavily-favored Royal Ship (BRZ), was nothing short of impressive. Now, the 4-yr-old looks to be one of the frontrunners to contest the TVG Pacific Classic to be held later this summer. Union Rags’ offspring can run, as his earnings nearly top $660k … one to watch.

7. ALTHIQA (GB): International training superstar Charlie Appleby brought a small, but a strong string of Godolphin runners over to NYRA to compete in the summer months. A pair of fillies have already made an impact going 1-2 in the Just a Game (G1) and the Diana (G1). Althiqa (GB) (translates to “confidence” in Arabic) rolled late to score both times against her stablemate, Summer Romance (IRE). Whether it was Mike Smith or Manny Franco, the filly did the work to get home in amazing fashion. Her ability at 1 Mile was equally as assured as at 1 1/8th. Appleby continues to prove why he, his team, and Godolphin are global leaders in the sport.

8. SHEDARESTHEDEVIL: Trainer Brad Cox has always had a “good one,” in this older filly. She is the KYOaks champ from 2020 after all … She lost a tough one to Letruska in the Odgen Phipps (G1) on the Belmont Stakes undercard. Cox then recalibrated, and shipped her to SoCal for the Clement L. Hirsch (G1). That nice win gave her Qatar and Flurry Racing an automatic bid to the BC Distaff (G1), which just happens to be at Del Mar! That could give her an inside “track,” against what should be some stiff competition. A rematch with Letruska … could be in the cards.

9. MANDALOUN: Another Cox-trainee who is back on the list after others have falling by the wayside. His win in the Haskell Invitational (G1) was a tough win based on the “DQ” of Hot Rod Charlie. Still, this one has become a seasoned runner, and he should be a major player in the Classic Division. His conditioner has figured out ways to keep “EQ” and this Juddmonte homebred from facing one another. The only time it has happened … KYD147. With the Travers (G1) pending, it will be interesting to see where each of these lands. The inevitable of a BC showdown could be coming, plus the addition of Knicks Go who punched his ticket with a Whitney win … wow … all that can be said … wow!

10. MAXFIELD: Brendan Walsh and Godolphin Racing possess a superb runner in “Max,” and his ability to run with authority during the 2nd half of races is a useful skill to be sure. His only foibles so far were the Big ‘Cap at Santa Anita and the loss to Knicks Go in the Whitney (G1). His late gait, a valuable resource, was not present in either. It makes one think that the score on the Oaks undercard, when he rolled in the Alysheba (G2), and then the next month decimated the field that assembled in the Stephen Foster (G1), were against “soft” fields. Walsh will get this one back on track … after all, nobody was going to catch “Knicks.” Seeing this one in the BC Classic (G1) is still on the table.

Out: Silver State, By My Standards

Summary: The Brad Cox training machine was on full display Saturday with Knicks Go bringing home the win in the Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga. It was an impressive display of early speed and power down the lane. I have kept “Knicks” off the list after his return from Saudi Arabia seemed to sputter. He just proved that he belongs among the best. As for Maxfield, he remains on the list since his effort was impressive in defeat. As we approach the final weeks of the Saratoga and Del Mar Meets, with their signature races looming (plus other key events at other venues), who will rise and fall next?

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