Picks & Ponderings is proud to announce that it is voting once again for equine champions in Illinois. Votes are made for Illinois Horse of the Year, as well as in a number of different age- and gender-restricted categories. Said voting is conducted by the Illinois Breeders and Thoroughbred Owners Foundation (ITBOF).
Voters cast votes for first, second, and third and weighted (a 5-3-1 scoring system) point values are assigned based on votes. Most points gets the glory. The ballot can be seen here but what follows is the explanation to get to it.
Updated February 6th, as new ballots were distributed and a re-vote was allowed due to the omission of RICHIES SWEETHEART from the three-year-old filly and sprinting filly categories. (The re-vote only changes in that division.)
1. RECOUNT 2. DOM THE BOMB 3. ARMANDO'S STAR
This was the toughest category to vote for in this year's balloting, as pulling apart the top two was an issue. Jim Divito trainee RECOUNT won the G3 Arlington-Washington Futurity then went into the Witness Protection Program but DOM THE BOMB won both the Illinois-bred stakes (including the Sun Power by a zip code) during the Hawthorne Fall meet. While the Arlington-Washington Futurity is an open race, it has come back with some subtle zing. Underneath Recount was Private Prospect, a stakes winner in Iowa and Bourbon Cowboy, a stakes winner at Fair Grounds. Underneath DOM THE BOMB, while a long way back, are fellow nominees GIANTSTEPSBDANCING and ARMANDO'S STAR. It's the quality of the open win for RECOUNT that gets him the nod over the impressive state-bred wins of DOM THE BOMB. ARMANDO'S STAR was second in the Sun Power gets the third place vote based on more money finishes (three to two) in the career than GIANTSTEPSBDANCING and slightly more earnings. Won't disagree with those taking GIANTSTEPSBDANCING, second in the Edgar Futurity, as the third-place vote recipient.
1. TIMEADAY 2. TIZGORGEOUS 3. ROCK MY DREAMS
Both of the Hawthorne Fall meet stakes winners get the votes here, but TIMEADAY beat TIZGORGEOUS in the Showtime Deb and TIMEADAY came back to clear the open first level allowance condition, making the John Cox trainee an easy choice to back for divisional champion hardware. TIZGORGEOUS was second to TIMEADAY in the Showtime Deb and won the Pat Whitworth going two turns to close out her frosh filly campaign. Third goes to ROCK MY DREAMS. She's racked up nine starts already at two, but seven times she's hit the podium and did graduate in open company - albeit for a tag - in the final days of Arlington. Was third in both of the two-year-old filly stakes at Hawthorne, the Showtime Deb and the Pat Whitworth.
1. I GOT IT ALL 2. AFORTABLE 3. URBAN COOL
Winner of both Illinois-bred stakes, the Land of Lincoln and the Springfield, I GOT IT ALL was ambitiously tried by Tom Swearingen in the G3 Iowa Derby, but that race ended up being his only clunker in a consistent campaign and one that could be disregarded due to conditions. I GOT IT ALL returned to the Prairie State and pulled down the open Straight Line on Million Day, then shipped and annexed a tough Keeneland allowance against stakes winner COOL COWBOY. He capped the year with a third in the Lightning Jet back on 35th. AFORTABLE got stuck with outside posts in his last three starts in stakes company, but he was third in the G3 Arlington Classic chasing a loose on the lead filly in Istanford while knocking down allowance conditions at Keeneland (N1X) and Arlington (N2X). Urban Cool found his form at the end of the year, and out of town. After a short early-Autumn break he won a first-level allowance at Hawthorne, then hit the board in a second-level allowance at Gulfstream Park West and pulled in another third place finish in a minor stakes at Gulfstream.
1. LOVELY LOYREE 2. RICHIES SWEETHEART 3. COUNTESS CASHMERE
Only six fillies were on the ballot (yeesh) and only two of them have cleared the open N1X condition (double yeesh). LOVELY LOYREE cleared said condition in October at Hawthorne while also cashing third place checks in the Hatoof Stakes (Division Two) on Arlington Million Day and in the Illini Princess Handicap against state-bred elders. She leapfrogged the allowance conditions to take down a third level allowance, and the Michelle Boyce trainee chalked up four wins on the year. RICHIES SWEETHEART found some nice spots and to climb the allowance conditions ladder, and was good enough to set a record clocking for five panels on Arlington grass and win a Saratoga first-level allowance. Exposed for a lack of passing gear in the Powerless in the Fall, it's worth noting she did clear the same three-other-than condition that LOVELY LOYREE did. Edge to the Boyce trainee for two stakes placings to the one of RICHIES SWEETHEART. the three-year-old stakes winners get some attention here, but COUNTESS CASHMERE beat PISTOLS DRAWN in the Purple Violet at Arlington and PISTOLS DRAWN's race came on a dead-rail day at Hawthorne. Worth noting that LOVELY LOYREE beat COUNTESS CASHMERE in a state-bred twice-other-than allowance in the summer at Arlington. With the new ballot, both move down a spot and PISTOLS DRAWN goes off the podium. One of the state's weaker divisions.
1. WORK ALL WEEK 2. RIVER BEAR 3. SWEET LUCA
Quality of wins was the argument used in the frosh male division, and that argument in this division makes WORK ALL WEEK the winner here. No one else in the division won a graded race and the Roger Brueggemann-conditioned WORK ALL WEEK took down two of them. His only loss on the year was in the Cammack Handicap at Arlington where he was forced to tote 130 pounds, tantamount to running with a cinder block tied to your foot. He checked in with a very respectable second in the Cammack on synthetic, not his preferred surface unlike the dirt that saw him win four open stakes - the Hot Springs, the Iowa Sprint, the G3 Phoenix, and the G1 Breeders' Cup Sprint. RIVER BEAR's stylish win in the Molaro Handicap on Illinois Derby Day at Hawthorne made him good enough to try graded company and open company during the summer at Churchill, and he closed out his year with a third in a deep Hawthorne allowance and a fourth in the Lightning Jet. SWEET LUCA did fine work on the grass in the Buck's Boy, but he handed WORK ALL WEEK his only loss on the year and had two additional podium finish at one turn. I GOT IT ALL did fine work in the three-year-old group, but only a singleton third against elders doesn't get him on this ballot.
1. MY OPTION 2. LION D N A 3. FIRE TRICKS
Even though MY OPTION had only one win in 2014, it was an authoritative one as she won the G3 Chicago Handicap at Arlington. Tried in some ambitious spots through the year like the G2 Masters, the Chris Block trainee gets the nod as she also started the year with an okay third in the Third Chance at Hawthorne. Her graded win shines bright in a division that saw most everyone take turns. LION D N A never raced in the Prairie State and is unseen since July at Delaware Park, but got on a tear in the first half of the year and took down three open stakes. Two of her stakes triumphs were at Aqueduct, another on Preakness Day. The Illinois-bred stakes in this division, the Third Chance, Isaac Murphy, and Powerless, saw three different non-favorite winners take the races. Edge to FIRE TRICKS who, unlike the other two winners, scored in an open allowance in addition to her stakes triumph.
1. THE PIZZA MAN 2. SUNTRACER 3. COALPORT
Both THE PIZZA MAN and SUNTRACER each won a G3 this year, but THE PIZZA MAN beat SUNTRACER head-to-head in their only meeting on Arlington Million Preview Day in the G3 Stars & Stripes, and the THE PIZZA MAN has an additional open stakes victory (the American St. Leger, now upgraded to G3 for 2015) and an Illinois-bred win in the Black Tie Affair. Put on a barnstorming tour after the Arlington Million and this Roger Brueggemann trainee closed out the year with a Grade Two placing on Thanksgiving at Del Mar. SUNTRACER's graded stakes score came at Kentucky Downs on their undulating course in the G3 Kentucky Turf Cup. It was his only win on the year and first since 2012. Worth noting he was only beaten a head in the G3 Louisville as well. COALPORT won the other Illinois-bred grass stakes on the year, the Buck's Boy at Hawthorne, but he was classy enough to win a tough Keeneland allowance and be first, pre-disqualification, in a $75K stakes on Super Derby Day.
1. LA TIA 2. ALETTE 3. KEPI
While THE PIZZA MAN got a stakes placing during the relocated-to-Del Mar Hollywood Turf Festival, LA TIA got a stakes win. LA TIA took down the G1 Matriarch from Armando De la cerda's shedrow while out there and used that race to cap a quality season that featured an additional graded grass score in the G3 Athenia. The prestigious G1 Beverly D. ended up being a key race in the filly-and-mare grass division at large, and she was in the thick of it, fourth beaten only a length and a quarter. ALETTE and KEPI traded stakes triumphs and seconds in two other stakes in the division, the on-turf Illini Princess and the off-turf Lincoln Heritage (where LA TIA was second). Both Illinois-bred daisycutters, ALETTE and KEPI, had similar seasons: a stakes win and a stakes second in Illinois-bred company and both finished in the back half of the G3 Modesty field. Edge to ALETTE who won the on-turf race over KEPI while KEPI won the off-turf race.
1. WORK ALL WEEK 2. THE PIZZA MAN 3. SUNTRACER
These three Illinois-bred males won graded stakes and they rise to the top of this division. WORK ALL WEEK also won a G1, something that neither THE PIZZA MAN nor SUNTRACER did, but the Roger Brueggemann stablemates go 1-2 on this ballot, sprinter over turfer, as WORK ALL WEEK also had two graded stakes triumphs to THE PIZZA MAN's one, four to two if the count expands to open stakes. The champion sprinter's campaign makes him easy to endorse. For the same reasons as dictated in the male turf division, THE PIZZA MAN goes a spot over SUNTRACER.
1. LA TIA 2. MY OPTION 3. DIVA'S DIAMOND
Just as in the male division, winning a graded stakes puts you at the head of the class of the older females. That puts sod star LA TIA and MY OPTION at the top, with LA TIA having taken down four graded stakes throughout the year, the G3 Arlington Matron, G3 Ontario Matron, G3 Athenia, and G1 Matriarch. A nifty campaign for the Armando de la Cerda-conditioned mare. MY OPTION's graded score came in the G3 Chicago Handicap, but she spent her year in open stakes company all year after a third at Hawthorne to start her 2014 and finish third in an undercard event on Indiana Derby Day. Open stakes winner Diva's Diamond left town once the local meet switched to polytrack from dirt, but the Peach of It winner also took down the Iowa Distaff at Prairie Meadows and was second in another open stakes in Oklahoma.
Horse of the Year: WORK ALL WEEK.
With a photo from his win in the Breeders' Cup Sprint (courtesy of America's Best Racing), WORK ALL WEEK certainly had a season that makes him a worthy Illinois-bred Horse of the Year. WORK ALL WEEK defended his title as Illinois-bred Horse of the Year in 2014 and became the first Illinois-bred to win a Grade One race since Giant Oak's in 2011's G1 Donn Handicap and the first to win a Breeders' Cup race since Buck's Boy in 1998's Breeders' Cup Turf. He accomplished both feats in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, preceded by wins in the G3 Phoenix, the Iowa Sprint, and the Hot Springs. A perfect five-for-five on dirt this year. Crowning him as the 2013 Illinois Horse of the Year may have raised eyebrows (this voter admits not voting him as 2013 Illinois Horse of the Year) as he didn't win a single open race all year. Crowning him as the 2014 Illinois Horse of the Year - despite solid campaigns from LA TIA and THE PIZZA MAN - makes sense.
Take a bow, Midwest Thoroughbreds, Roger Brueggemann, Florent Geroux, and WORK ALL WEEK. You've earned it.
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