Voting for 2017's Illinois Champions

itbofPicks & Ponderings is proud to announce that it is voting once again for equine champions in Illinois. Both Paul Mazur and Nicolle Neulist are casting ballots — as always, we each do so independently.

Votes are made for Illinois Horse of the Year, as well as in a number of categories organized by age, sex, distance, and surface. As always, the Illinois Breeders and Thoroughbred Owners Foundation (ITBOF) conducts this vote.

On the ballot we mark our first, second, and third place horses in each division, and weighted (a 5-3-1 scoring system) point values are assigned based on those votes. Most points gets the glory; first-place votes break the tie. Our ballots are online (Nicolle Neulist, Paul Mazur); what follow are NN’s explanations behind their votes.

2-Year-Old Male

PM: 1. PASS THE GRAVY 2. GHAALEB’S WINNER 3. CALEB’S HEIR

NN: 1. PASS THE GRAVY 2. GHAALEB’S WINNER 3. CALEB’S HEIR

PASS THE GRAVY is the only Illinois-bred male to win any stakes race — and he won two, sweeping both the Sun Power and the Jim Edgar Illinois Futurity. Though he faltered in his one open allowance try, his pair of state-bred stakes wins are enough for a top vote. GHAALEB’S WINNER never won a stakes race, but with an open N1X win, a third-place finish in the Arlington-Washington Futurity, and third-place finishes in both Illinois-bred two-year-old male stakes, he had the best resume of any of the other state-bred juvenile males. The other three finalists, CALEB’S HEIR, SIR ANTHONY, and STROLL IT, each have a second-place finish in a stakes race. All but STROLL IT have broken their maidens, but CALEB’S HEIR has a close second in an open N1X to to along with his second in the Sun Power. That’s enough for a third place vote.

2-Year-Old Female

PM: 1. ARTISTIC DIVA 2. COWGIRL CALLIE 3. RICHIE’SLILWILDCAT

NN: 1. ARTISTIC DIVA 2. RICHIE’SLILWILDCAT 3. COWGIRL CALLIE

ARTISTIC DIVA emerged as the class of the Illinois-bred two-year-old filly crop. She was undefeated in two starts last year against open company in California, including an open stakes victory in the Anoakia at Santa Anita. RICHIE’SLILWILDCAT was exposed in the Pat Whitworth Illinois Debutante as a pure sprinter — but a nice sprinter she was, with wins against Illinois-bred company in the Showtime Deb as well as against open company in an N1X at Churchill. Third was a tight call between Hastings/Emerald filly MY AUNT MO and local runner COWGIRL CALLIE, each of whom has one stakes win and one stakes placing. MY AUNT MO’s stakes win and placing both came in open company, but I have questions about the strength of her foes, particularly at Hastings.  COWGIRL CALLIE’s came against state-breds.  But, COWGIRL CALLIE showed a bit more versatility throughout the season: while MY AUNT MO ran three times, all in dirt sprints, COWGIRL CALLIE had strong efforts over both poly and dirt, and over both sprint and route trips.  Advantage, COWGIRL CALLIE.

3-Year-Old Male

PM: 1. SMOKE ‘N’ GLOAT 2. DEVILEYE 3. BLUE SKY KOWBOY

NN: 1. SMOKE ‘N’ GLOAT 2. DEVILEYE 3. BLUE SKY KOWBOY

Though DEVILEYE won the head-to-head over SMOKE ‘N’ GLOAT in the Arlington Heights Stakes, SMOKE ‘N’ GLOAT gets the slight nod here on form against open company. He won four races out of eight starts, including the Springfield Stakes and a pair of open allowances, and also finished second against open-company sophomores in the Bruce D Memorial Stakes. DEVILEYE was solid in all four starts on the year, all of which came against Illinois-breds. He won an allowance against older as well as the Arlington Heights Stakes, and chased home the older (and lightning-fast) Goneghost in a pair of stakes at Hawthorne. BLUE SKY KOWBOY has yet to win a stakes race, but he finished second against open company in the Hawthorne Derby, and ran well against older Illinois-breds at Arlington all summer long.

3-Year-Old Female

PM: 1. BABYBLUESBDANCING 2. SHAR RAN 3. SHEZAHOTMAMA

NN: 1. BABYBLUESBDANCING 2. SHAR RAN 3. SHEZAHOTMAMA

BABYBLUESBDANCING dominated a pair of Illinois-bred stakes at Arlington, the Purple Violet and the Rolling Meadows. She also held her own against open company, finishing second in the Grade 3 Iowa Oaks and third in the listed Remington Oaks. SHAR RAN ran down the older Puntsville to upset the Powerless Handicap, against older state-bred fillies and mares, and followed that up with a convincing victory against one-other-than company at Gulfstream. SHEZAHOTMAMA had an up-and-down year with respect to both form and class, but she did hit the board behind BABYBLUESBDANCING in both the Purple Violet and the Rolling Meadows.

Older Male

PM: 1. DOMAIN’S RAP 2. OAK BROOK 3. RECOUNT

NN: 1. OAK BROOK 2. DOMAIN’S RAP 3. CAMMACK

OAK BROOK had a breakout summer: he wired the Black Tie Affair Handicap, finished a close second behind Ghost Hunter in the Grade 3 Arlington Handicap, and did not disgrace himself being beaten just over two lengths in the Grade 1 Arlington Million. DOMAIN’S RAP could not have had a more solid Oaklawn meet: he won the listed Fifth Season and an open allowance, and hit the board in all three of the track’s graded stakes for the handicap division. CAMMACK gets the slight nod over GONEGHOST for the third slot; both finished the year with a pair of stakes wins amid some other solid allowance performances, but CAMMACK has an open stakes win in the Les Ahrens Memorial — a race in which he turned the tables on OAK BROOK, to boot.

Older Female

PM: 1. STREAMLINE 2. PRADO’S SWEET RIDE 3. PUNTSVILLE

NN: 1. STREAMLINE 2. PRADO’S SWEET RIDE 3. PUNTSVILLE

STREAMLINE is the only Illinois-bred to win a graded stakes last year, as she triumphed in the Grade 2 Azeri Stakes at Oaklawn last year. She also placed in both the Bayakoa (G3) and the Apple Blossom (G1) there, as well as the La Troienne (G1) at Churchill Downs. PRADO’S SWEET RIDE won a pair of stakes, the open New Orleans Ladies Overnight on grass as well as a washed-off edition of the Illini Princess Handicap against state-breds. She finished second a length behind Dona Bruja in the Grade 3 Modesty Handicap, and also hit the board in three other stakes races through the year. PUNTSVILLE never finished out of the exacta in five starts through the year, and won a pair of open stakes: the Richard Scherer Memorial at Arlington and the Hoist Her Flag at Canterbury.

Sprint Male

PM: 1. RECOUNT 2. GONEGHOST 3. SMOKE ‘N’ GLOAT

NN: 1. RECOUNT 2. GONEGHOST 3. DEVILEYE

No Illinois-bred male won an open sprint stakes this year. RECOUNT did finish second in the open King Cotton at Oaklawn last February, won a top-shelf allowance in Hot Springs later in the meet, and romped against Illinois-breds in the Robert S. Molaro in April. GONEGHOST was excellent at both sprints and routes; on the sprint side, he won the Lightning Jet Handicap with ease, finished third in the open Jeff Lynn Memorial, and also romped in an Illinois allowance at Arlington. DEVILEYE was the only other Illinois-bred to win a stakes race at a sprint distance, winning the seven-furlong Arlington Heights Stakes. (This is where the head-to-head between DEVILEYE and SMOKE ‘N’ GLOAT really comes into play; SMOKE ‘N’ GLOAT had a stakes win and a stakes second at a one-turn mile, but cutting shorter for that seven-furlong trip, DEVILEYE had his number.) Though that stakes win for DEVILEYE came against state-bred sophomores, he held his own against older horses with a sprint allowance win and a second-place finish in the Lightning Jet.

Sprint Female

PM: 1. PUNTSVILLE 2. MY MERTIE 3. SHAR RAN

NN: 1. PUNTSVILLE 2. MY MERTIE 3. SHAR RAN

PUNTSVILLE never finished out of the exacta in five 2017 starts. She won three times, including a pair of open stakes, and finished second in a pair of state-bred sprint stakes. MY MERTIE won the Isaac Murphy Handicap against Illinois-bred company.  She also finished second in the open Minaret Stakes at Tampa, and third in the state-bred Isaac Murphy Handicap. There are a few who gained consideration for the third slot. STEVIE MAC is a stakes winner against open company, but the level of competition at Assiniboia Downs doesn’t typically stack up to Chicago form, and her one foray outside of Manitoba had her ninth and last behind PUNTSVILLE in the Hoist Her Flag at Canterbury. BABYBLUESBDANCING won a seven-furlong stakes, but that was against sophomore state-breds, and her open form came at a route. Both SHAR RAN and ONE LIZ won state-bred sprint stakes, and both upset PUNTSVILLE in those triumphs. The nod goes to SHAR RAN — ONE LIZ’s only sprint all year was the Murphy, whereas SHAR RAN went short all year long and won an open two-other-than at Gulfstream in December.

Turf Male

PM: 1. OAK BROOK 2. CAMMACK 3. THE PIZZA MAN

NN: 1. OAK BROOK 2. CAMMACK 3. SUPER SOLDIER

For the reasons discussed in the “Older Male” section, OAK BROOK and CAMMACK earn the top two slots in the turf male division. They were the only Illinois-bred males to win stakes races on the grass last year. The third slot was tough. THE PIZZA MAN was considered off his second-place finish in the Grade 3 Stars and Stripes Stakes, but it’s hard to give the nod to a horse who did not win all year. SHOGOOD was consistent all year, never off the board in six starts, but only two of them came on the grass. BLUE SKY KOWBOY’s season focused on the grass, but his wins came against state-breds, and his open stakes placing came against three-year-olds. Though older veteran SUPER SOLDIER’s stakes placing came against state-breds, he was a close third behind OAK BROOK and CAMMACK (and ahead of THE PIZZA MAN), and had turf wins in open allowance-optional company at both Tampa Bay Downs and Arlington. He gets the slight nod.

Turf Female

PM: 1. PRADO’S SWEET RIDE 2. LOVELY LOYREE 3. BE PLAYFUL

NN: 1. PRADO’S SWEET RIDE 2. LAUR NET 3. LOVELY LOYREE

For the reasons discussed in the “Older Female” section, PRADO’S SWEET RIDE gets top billing here. LOVELY LOYREE and LAUR NET each won one restricted stakes during the course of the year; LOVELY LOYREE beat state-breds (including PRADO’S SWEET RIDE) in a boggy edition of the Mike Spellman Memorial; LAUR NET won a stakes at Delaware that was restricted to horses who had started in non-stakes races last year at Delaware. The field LOVELY LOYREE beat was a bit stronger — but she only raced twice all year, and finished fourth in the Steve Morgan Memorial in her other start. LAUR NET gets the slight nod between the two only because she raced a bit more. She had one other win, an optional-claiming three-other-than at Tampa Bay Downs. The only other time she hit the board was in an allowance at Delaware, and that was by disqualification. Still, she was bothered in that start, and she turned the tables on that race’s winner Borealis when she won the George Rosenberger Memorial later in the meet.

Horse of the Year

PM: STREAMLINE

NN: STREAMLINE

STREAMLINE was the only Illinois-bred to win a graded stakes this year, with a victory in the Grade 2 Azeri at Oaklawn. That race was no fluke. She been in form since debuting in the summer of 2015, and looking specifically at 2017, she finished in the money in all five of her starts last year. Four of those starts came in graded stakes, and she was Grade 1-placed at both Oaklawn and Churchill Downs.  The daughter of Straight Line exuded class and consistency for trainer Brian Williamson and owners Nancy Vanier and Cartwright Thoroughbreds, and she deserves the honour of Illinois’s Horse of the Year for 2017.

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