Voting for 2015′s Illinois Equine Champions

Picks & Ponderings is proud to announce that it is voting once again for equine champions in Illinois. This year’s ballot explanation be a little different than in previous years, as both halves of Picks and Ponderings have cast ballots.

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).

ITBOF  Proud to Breed and Race in Illinois

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. Our ballots are online (Paul Mazur, Nicolle Neulist), but what follow are our explanations behind them.

Two Year Old Male:

PM: 1. SHOGOOD  2. RICHIE THE BULL  3. RUNNINGFROMTHEFEDS

For the second straight year, voters are asked to determine whether winning the G3 Arlington-Washington Futurity and doing not much after (like throwing a clunker on Stars of Tomorrow 1 Day) versus dominance in Illinois-bred stakes.  SHOGOOD gets the nod this year (as Recount did at two), and it’s also due to the horse he lost to at first asking, The Zip Zip Man, was taken to Canada for frosh stakes and the horse he was well beaten by in the Street Sense was third in the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club.  The Scott Becker trainee showed more class in his form than RICHIE THE BULL, a blowout winner of the Edgar, and RUNNINGFROMTHEFEDS, stakes-placed at Laurel.

NN: 1. SHOGOOD  2. RICHIE THE BULL  3. RUNNINGFROMTHEFEDS

SHOGOOD was dazzling over the Arlingon polytrack all summer, a summer that culminated in his becoming the second straight Illinois-bred to win the (GIII) Arlington-Washington Futurity.  Though SHOGOOD was likely exposed as a straight-up polytrack sprinter, his commanding Futurity victory gets him just up over RICHIE THE BULL.  “Richie” had a solid season of his own, though.  He won an allowance at Keeneland, finished third in the Juvenile Dirt Sprint, and then outclassed the field in the Jim Edgar Illinois Futurity.  RUNNINGFROMTHEFEDS relished the slop in maiden and allowance wins at Hawthorne, and then finished third in the Marylander Stakes at Laurel behind a pair of solid horses, Vorticity and Never Gone South.

Two Year Old Female:

PM: 1. SILVER LODE  2. PARTAY  3. DELICATE LADY

Scant form and four candidates make this a tough category to evaluate.  In the Illinois-bred world where only one state-bred frosh stakes exists, the winner gets the spoils and that belongs to SILVER LODE, a resident of the Doug Matthews barn who also hit the podium in the Arlington-Washington Lassie against open foes.  None of the other three nominees boasts two wins of any sort, making her tough to topple.  It’s a coin flip between Whitworth runner-up PARTAY and DELICATE LADY, who was third in the G2 Adirondack (after a private purchase) at the Spa for the other two spots.  Edge to PARTAY for also having an additional stakes placing at Canterbury against males.

NN: 1. SILVER LODE  2. DELICATE LADY  3. PARTAY

As the only stakes winner of the Illinois-bred two-year-old crop, SILVER LODE takes this in a romp.  She won the Pat Whitworth Illinois Debutante, and closed for second in the Arlington-Washington Lassie as well.  DELICATE LADY beat males in her debut at Arlington, resurfaced at the Spa, and finished third in the Adirondack Stakes (GII).  PARTAY also faced males, finishing second in the Shakopee Juvenile Stakes behind Canterbury’s dominant two-year-old, Stormation.  She also finished a clear second in the Whitworth behind SILVER LODE.

Three Year Old Male:

PM: 1. RECOUNT  2. LEWYS VAPORIZER  3. OAK BROOK

In another clean sweep category where both Paul and Nicolle agree in all three spots, Jim DiVito trainee RECOUNT has two trump cards over LEWYS VAPORIZER.  RECOUNT beat elders twice in stakes company (though they were Illinois-breds) and won four stakes on the year to the one of LEWYS VAPORIZER – though each does own an open stakes company win.   LEWYS VAPORIZER triggered e-cigarette twitter bots all year and got on a roll after clearing the N1X condition on Pennsylvania Derby Day and won a rich stakes at Mahoning Valley.  OAK BROOK has two open stakes placings on his resume, more than the remaining candidates.

NN: 1. RECOUNT  2. LEWYS VAPORIZER  3. OAK BROOK

With four stakes wins, including a pair against older restricted company and one against open three-year-olds, RECOUNT stands head and withers over the competition here.  LEWYS VAPORIZER was the only other Illinois-bred three-year-old male to win an added-money race last year, wiring the Steel Valley Sprint at Mahoning Valley.  OAK BROOK won a classy allowance at Keeneland, finishing ahead of eventual graded stakes winner Almasty, and also notched stakes-company seconds in both the PDJF and the Woodchopper.

Three Year Old Female:

PM: 1. PRADO’S SWEET RIDE  2. AMERICA MON AMIE  3. MILITARY ANGEL

After a down year last year in the division, plaudits to the Chris Block trainee for taking this division with the G3 Regret winner.  Toss in superfecta finishes in the G3 Pucker Up on Million Day and G3 Valley View at Keeneland for good measure.   AMERICA MON AMIE was fourth in the Pucker Up, and has an open stakes victory in Minnesota as well.  She also has two additional superfecta-finishes in other sophomore sod stakes.  MILITARY ANGEL was a horse you didn’t see in the states, as she’s raced in Ireland.  But while eligible for an American-based N1X she does have three runner-up finishes in stakes company – one of them at the Group Two level.  PUNTSVILLE gets a mention as a sophomore who beat elders and found new life on dirt, but she’s the fourth nominee in a three-horse race.

Explanation.

NN: 1. PRADO’S SWEET RIDE  2. PUNTSVILLE  3. AMERICA MON AMIE

Last year, I had to write in my vote for PRADO’S SWEET RIDE for third place in her division.  This year required no such extreme measures to get her on my ballot.  She won the Regret Stakes (GIII) at Churchill, becoming sire Fort Prado’s first graded stakes winner, and also hit the board in the Pucker Up (GIII).  PUNTSVILLE emerged as a talented sprinter.  In eight races, her only subpar efforts were her two turf mile tries.  This versatile filly won sprints on dirt, poly, and turf, and finished the year beating older in the Pershing Handicap.  AMERICA MON AMIE beat open three-year-old fillies in the Northbound Pride Oaks, and finished fourth beaten less than a length in the Pucker Up.

Older Male:

PM: 1. THE PIZZA MAN  2. WORK ALL WEEK  3. SWEET LUCA

Being the first Illinois-bred to win the Arlington Million – a well-acknowledged Grade One – should earn any Illinois-bred their share of the awards.  For the first time in this piece, THE PIZZA MAN and conditioner Roger Brueggemann take the stage.  Toss in wins in the Opening Verse, G3 Stars and Stripes, and G2 Hollywood Turf Cup and the Midwest Thoroughbreds homebred rose to the top of the class.  In fact, it’s a Midwest exacta as incumbent Illinois Horse of the Year Work All Week danced the graded sprint dances in the second half of the year.  Sure his only win was on West Virginia Derby Day, but he still turned on credible efforts with troubled lines.  SWEET LUCA closed out his year in a blanket finish on Pattison Day in Canada in the G2 Nearctic that was preceded by a win at Kentucky Downs in a listed stakes and two podium finishes at the state-bred level.

NN: 1. THE PIZZA MAN  2. WORK ALL WEEK  3. YANKEE DEALER

Winning the Arlington Million alone would give THE PIZZA MAN enough to take this division, and his resume has three more stakes wins (two graded) as extra toppings.  WORK ALL WEEK was not quite the monster he was in 2014, but he had a stakes win and three more graded stakes placings to his credit through the year.  Even his worst race was no cause for shame — he finished not even two lengths behind Runhappy, a monster, and came out of that race injured.  His significantly stronger schedule gives him the nod for second over YANKEE DEALER, who had his best year yet.  He won five times during the year, including a pair of stakes races on the Chicago circuit as well as an allowance at Saratoga.

Older Female:

PM: 1. RICHIES SWEETHEART  2. DIVA’S DIAMOND  3. CABANA

Even though DIVA’S DIAMOND is G1 placed, her second in the G1 Apple Blossom behind Untappable strikes this voter more as a token effort.  Anyone would be happy with a second in a graded race during the Racing Festival of the South.  But to this voter, someone had to be second and it was her.  Away from that, she’s a listed stakes type and so is RICHIE’S SWEETHEART.  Yet listed stakes on turf are a tough higher in caliber (out of lack of grades) than the dirt ones, and RICHIE’S SWEETHEART was at a higher level.  On my ballot she wins three categoies, but I won’t turn away those endorsing DIVA’S DIAMOND, who won two listed stakes in Iowa and nearly took down a third on Delta Jackpot Day.  CABANA took down two stakes as well, but one was for Ilinois-breds – the Spellman Memorial at Arlington.  Still, she gets points for hitting the super behind past Chicago graded stakes winners Frivolous and Flashy American.

NN: 1. DIVA’S DIAMOND  2. RICHIES SWEETHEART  3. CABANA

DIVA’S DIAMOND and RICHIES SWEETHEART both had solid claims for the top spot.  DIVA’S DIAMOND won a pair of open dirt route stakes races at Prairie Meadows, and RICHIES SWEETHEART won a trio of open turf sprint stakes through the year.  DIVA’S DIAMOND gets the slightest of nods for her Grade I placing; she rallied to finish second behind Untapable in the Apple Blossom.  CABANA showed her versatility by winning a pair of stakes: the Mari Hulman George on the Indiana Grand dirt, and the Mike Spellman Memorial on the Arlington grass.

Turf Male:

PM: 1. THE PIZZA MAN  2. SWEET LUCA  3. YANKEE DEALER

Being an Eclipse nominee on a national level makes THE PIZZA MAN a lay-up in this category.  SWEET LUCA’s exploits in Autumnal turf sprints at Kentucky Downs and Woodbine were on the open level, giving him an edge over YANKEE DEALER.   While the latter won a twice-other-than allowance at Saratoga, the Black Tie Affair, and the Cicero (through dead-heat), his lone foray into open stakes company was an over-matched sixth on Preview Day in the G3 Stars and Stripes.  SWEET LUCA was beaten by YANKEE DEALER in a photo, but his exploits beyond the Illinois-bred ranks on the turf give him a narrow edge.

NN: 1. THE PIZZA MAN  2. YANKEE DEALER  3. SWEET LUCA

For reasons already discussed, THE PIZZA MAN was upper crust among Illinois-bred turf horses.  YANKEE DEALER won five of his eight turf races in 2015, including both of his stakes victories.  SWEET LUCA only ran three of his six 2015 races on turf, but all three were strong efforts.  He missed by a head to YANKEE DEALER in the Black Tie Affair off only a week’s rest, won the open Kentucky Turf Dash, and then rallied to be beaten less than a length in the Nearctic (GII) at Woodbine.  Connally Turf Cup (GIII) winner COALPORT merits a brief mention, as he was the only graded stakes winner in this division other than THE PIZZA MAN.  With only two races all year, and the other being a flat fifth in a stakes at Fair Grounds, his yearlong resume does not stand up to the likes of YANKEE DEALER or SWEET LUCA.

Turf Female:

PM: 1. RICHIES SWEETHEART  2. PRADO’S SWEET RIDE  3. AMERICA MON AMIE

Unless you’re at Woodbine, trying the downhill course at Santa Anita, or racing against males then you’re not going to be running in graded stakes as a filly and mare turf sprinter.  RICHIES SWEETHEART didn’t go against males or go to Santa Anita or ship to Canada.  But she won three listed stakes, which were not age restricted.  While PRADO’S SWEET RIDE won the G3 Regret in June, she never tackled elders like the Larry Rivelli trainee did.  She performed at a high level and danced dances in races with fewer restrictions.  PRADO’S SWEET RIDE had a fine summer and fall of the G3 Regret win, a third in the G3 Pucker Up, and a fourth in the G3 Valley View – all things that make her a sound choice in the sophomore filly category.  Just as PRADO’S SWEET RIDE bested AMERICA MON AMIE in the three-year-old filly category, she gets the edge in the daisycutter category and her open stakes win with placings gives an edge over restricted stakes winner LOVELY LOYREE.

NN: 1. RICHIES SWEETHEART  2. PRADO’S SWEET RIDE  3. LOVELY LOYREE

Though PRADO’S SWEET RIDE was the only graded stakes winner in this division, it was not RICHIES SWEETHEART’s fault that she races in a distaff turf sprint division basically devoid of graded stakes.  She won three stakes at three different tracks, all dashes on the grass, and was in strong form all year.  LOVELY LOYREE, last year’s Illinois Champion Three Year Old Filly, only raced three times.  But, she did the right things.  She posted a gritty allowance second at Churchill, finishing a game neck behind next-out G3W Cash Control.  Second in the de facto allowance prep, she turned the tables on Lots o’ Lex when it counted, posting a decisive wire-to-wire victory in the Stickney Handicap.

Sprint Male:

PM: 1. WORK ALL WEEK  2. SWEET LUCA  3. RECOUNT

It may have come on a day when the rail was radioactive, but WORK ALL WEEK’s win gave believers hope the tank wasn’t empty after runner-up spots int he G3 Aristides and G2 Smile.  But the former was doomed by a bad break and the latter by unintentional gate issues, as the Roger Bruggemann trainee closed his career with a podium finish behind next-out winner and BC Sprint hero Runhappy.  SWEET LUCA has only win on the year, but it was an open stakes at Kentucky Downs and  he was among a blanket finish in a G2 in Canada.  RECOUNT’s resume earns him top honors in the sophomore division, but RECOUNT in open company had only a win on Million Day going a one-turn mile.  Success in open company gives the edge to SWEET LUCA over RECOUNT for the silver medal.

NN: 1. WORK ALL WEEK  2. RECOUNT  3. SWEET LUCA

A decisive stakes win, plus graded placings against the likes of Alsvid and Runhappy, should equal a repeat win for WORK ALL WEEK here.  RECOUNT’s strong season, discussed in the three-year-old male second, came all at one turn.  SWEET LUCA is a versatile sort with form in both sprints and routes, but five of his six starts last year (including his stakes win at Kentucky Downs) came going short.

Sprint Female:

PM: 1. RICHIES SWEETHEART  2. PUNTSVILLE  3. ROYAL POSH

Her work may have been on grass, but RICHIES SWEETHEART took down open stakes from Indiana to Tampa Bay to Parx and gets the call in a division that saw the local stakes divided among three different foes.  The Larry Rivelli trainee could easily win two divisional titles, as her work makes her a candidate in the turf female category.  PUNTSVILLE won a restricted stakes (Illinois-preferred) stakes at Hawthorne in the fall and beat ROYAL POSH in the summer, giving her a head-to-head trump card over the latter that won the Isaac Murphy over the Arlington poly.  Open stakes winner PERFECT STEP gets a mention, but you have to wonder what she was beating in the summertime at Gulfstream.

NN: 1. RICHIES SWEETHEART  2. PUNTSVILLE  3. PERFECT STEP

With three sprint stakes scores, RICHIES SWEETHEART wins this division with as much authority as she ran away with the Turf Amazon last September.  PUNTSVILLE marked herself a sprinter to watch last year.  She won five of her six one-turn races.  She won allowances on turf, poly, and dirt, and capped off her season with a commanding victory against Illinois-preferred company in the Pershing Handicap last November.  PERFECT STEP was always solid enough in the Illinois allowance and higher-priced claiming ranks, but really turned a corner in Florida.  She fired off a streak of four consecutive turf sprint wins at Gulfstream last summer, culminating in a victory in the Hard Worker Stakes.

Horse of the Year:

IMG_8566

THE PIZZA MAN, with Florent Geroux aboard, following his G1 Arlington Million triumph. Photo courtesy Four Footed Fotos.

PM: THE PIZZA MAN

Richard and Karen Papiese, the principals of Midwest Thoroughbreds, should consider building a bigger trophy case.  Along with the hardware they got the last two years for WORK ALL WEEK (including an Eclipse), they’ll need to display the wares of THE PIZZA MAN.  Yes, he won the Arlington Million but he came within a neck of making the East Coast mile turf division look lukewarm when hitting the podium during FallStars.  A winner on the year from a mile and a sixteenth to a mile and a half and with three graded stakes wins to his credit, he answered the bell on the highest stage and induced headline writers to season their articles with comestible puns.  Like fellow homebred Work All Week, he should win this division with aplomb given he was also an Eclipse finalist.

NN: THE PIZZA MAN

Once again, a Midwest Thoroughbreds homebred in the Roger Brueggemann barn should bring home the Illinois Horse of the Year award.  Becoming the first Illinois—bred to win the Arlington Million (GI) would likely be enough for THE PIZZA MAN to clinch this award, but to cite that alone as the reasoning sells one of the best and most consistent competitors in the national turf male division incredibly short.  In six starts between May and November.  THE PIZZA MAN defended his Stars and Stripes (GIII) title, rallying from off the pace despite Roman Approval absolutely crawling on the front end.  He showed he wasn’t exclusively a long-distance type, falling just one stride short of catching Keeneland turf mile dynamo Grand Arch in the Shadwell Turf Mile (GI).  He capped off his year by winning the Hollywood Turf Cup (GII), in which he could not have outclassed his competition more clearly.  THE PIZZA MAN faced the meatiest company of any horse bred in Illinois this year, and dependably took home the dough.

***

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