Penny Tweedy had a vision when she came up with the idea of the Vox Populi Award. We already had an award for Horse of the Year, based purely on accomplishment, but the most accomplished horse does not necessarily equate to the most popular. Often it is the horses closest to our heart that endure and whose memory lingers the longest.
Vox Populi is a Latin phrase that means “the voice of the people.” But what criteria do we use to determine which horse best represents the people and affects them emotionally? It takes one kind of horse to excel on the racetrack to the point where they are voted the Horse of the Year. And it takes another kind of horse who can capture the hearts of the public, whether through their courage, resilience, charisma, backstory…the list goes on and on.
In some years we are fortunate to have a horse that possesses all the attributes to win both awards. There is an excellent chance this will be one of those years. Bricks and Mortar has already won the Vox Populi Award and is the favorite to add Horse of the Year.
How one determines who wins the Vox Populi Award is something that can only be answered by each individual voter. Only they can attempt to explain their feelings and emotional attachment to a particular horse.
So, it is impossible to state emphatically why Bricks and Mortar, who did most of his running in the early and middle part of the year and never seemed to connect to the public to the extent of being their sentimental favorite, was bestowed such an honor.
It is hoped by those connected with the Vox Populi Award that it is not simply given out to the most accomplished horse. That certainly wasn’t the case when Rapid Redux and Paynter won. And who can explain why so many Americans became attached to Winx, an Australian mare who they never saw live and had to stay up until midnight to 3 a.m. to see compete on the other side of the world? That’s what makes the Vox Populi award so unique. There is no formula to determine what is in one’s heart.
Again, we don’t know why the public chose Bricks and Mortar, who on the surface looks like a top-class, consistent grass horse who has proven to be a winning machine. But where is the sentiment and emotional attachment that normally comes with the award? Perhaps they felt there was no one else worthy of the honor.
But like everything, when you strip away the layers you often will find hidden treasures you never knew existed. And that is the case with Bricks and Mortar, whether the public was aware of them or not when they voted.
There is no way anyone watching French invader Talismanic (GB) win the 2017 Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf could have imagined that two years later this race would nail down at least one and possibly two Eclipse Awards, including Horse of the Year, for a horse who was beginning what would be a 14-month layoff with a serious hock injury and given a 50-50 chance of ever racing again. For him to return, go undefeated in seven starts (six in 2019), including five grade 1 victories, and end a four-year drought by U.S. horses in the Turf was unthinkable.
As his trainer, Chad Brown, said in the BloodHorse, “He has a will to win that separates him from other horses. It’s remarkable. It’s an amazing story.”
To demonstrate his will to win, his average margin of victory in those seven races was three-quarters of a length.
The one person who can really appreciate what Bricks and Mortar accomplished is Ian Brennan, who trained him on his road to recovery at Stonestreet Farm in Ocala, Fla. before sending him to Brown with a clean bill of health. Brennan had been close to the son of Giant’s Causeway right from the beginning and knew him as well as anyone.
“We got him in September of his yearling year and we got him going,” Brennan said. “He was very immature at the time and just needed a lot of time mentally and physically, so I turned him out in March of his 2-year-old year and gave him a couple of months off and let him mature and fill out. I didn’t send him to Chad until August or September of that year.
“But after a few good races he came down with stringhault, which is when the tendon at the back of the hock gets contracted, so when they walk they have to lift their leg really high. His case was so bad he would lift his leg and would be unable to put it back down, so it was obstructing his walk. Some horses can get away with it, but his was so bad he needed surgery.”
Dr. Larry Bramlage performed the surgery and Brennan began rehabilitating him. But when he started training him he wasn’t moving well at all and, as Brennan said, he was very tight all over and had no action.
“His ears were always back and he wasn’t a happy horse,” Brennan added. “He was always a tough horse who liked to train and was always a good mover, so I sent him for a bone scan and it showed he had remodeling in all four ankles, which is bone bruising. I told Chad if rest didn’t help we’d probably have to retire him. You could tell he wasn’t himself at all, so I gave him another 60 days off and brought him back on the Equi-Ciser. After that he was moving super and he started getting really comfortable with himself.
“We have a big seven-furlong hill gallop on grass and I took him up there and that got him back fit. His couple of works were really impressive so I called Chad and him told he’s doing really well and it was time to go back.”
Naturally, Brennan takes great pride and joy in seeing Bricks and Mortar return to become a champion. “If you had seen the horse a year ago you would have said there was probably no way he could make it back. But he’s always been easy on himself and always a sound horse and when we brought up to the big hill he thrived on it and was moving great.”
It doesn’t surprise Brennan that Bricks and Mortar was able to win so many close finishes. “He was always competitive and aggressive, even as a yearling,” he said. “He’s a tough horse with a lot of heart.”
And now you know the real Vox Populi winner. So, to all those who voted for Bricks and Mortar, many of you might not have been aware of his story when you voted, but as it turned out, you done good.