By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
It's not every week that I single out a listed stakes
race as the feature race for an Unlocking Winners blog post, much less a rather
obscure one-mile turf race at Aqueduct on a quiet weekend in November. But when
I examined the entries for the $150,000
Artie Schiller Stakes—a race that could well be a Grade 3 based on the
excellent quality of this year's field—I knew I had to feature the race because
a horse I've been waiting months to see back in action is among the expected
That horse is Bricks
and Mortar, a four-year-old son of Giant's Causeway who came within 1 ½ lengths
of going undefeated in six starts last season. And truthfully, he showed so
much promise in those six starts that I thought he had the potential to be a
superstar miler in the making.
Indeed, for a time, it seemed as though Bricks and Mortar
was immune to unfavorable pace setups, because his turn-of-foot in the
homestretch was so stellar that he repeatedly snatched victory from the jaws of
defeat. His debut going 1 1/16 miles at Gulfstream Park was arguably the least impressive of his victories, which
is saying something considering that he flew home the final five-sixteenths of
a mile in less than :29 seconds to win going away.
But yes, Bricks and Mortar only got better from there. In
a one-mile allowance race at Belmont Park, he finished the final quarter-mile
in less than :22 seconds to beat the capable Snap Decision by three-quarters of
a length, and in the Manila Stakes going the same distance a month later, he
was dead last at the quarter pole, but somehow defied the limits of feasibility
to finish in around :21 2/5 and win by a neck. For good measure, he came right
back to win the 1 1/16-mile National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes (gr.
II), running the final five-sixteenths in about :27 4/5 to defeat none other
than the future two-time Grade 1 winner Yoshida by three-quarters of a length.
It was a freakish display of talent backed up by the race
ratings produced by RacingFlow.com, which revealed that the final three
victories in Bricks and Mortar's win streak came in races that ranked among the
top 5% of speed-favoring events. All things being equal, Bricks and Mortar
should not have been able to win any of those races, let alone all three. But
all things weren't equal—Bricks and Mortar was simply that much superior to his
very capable rivals and won regardless of his poor setups.
Unfortunately, circumstances brought Bricks and Mortar's
win streak to an end in the Saranac Stakes (gr. III) at Saratoga. A poor start
left the colt much farther off the pace than usual, and he was further hampered
by unleashing a huge mid-race move that saw him rally from ten lengths off the
lead to a mere half-length off the lead in the span of a quarter-mile. Understandably,
Bricks and Mortar couldn't quite sustain the move, though he fought on gamely
in the homestretch to be beaten less than a length by the future Grade 1 winner
Voodoo Song (the winner) and his previously-conquered rival Yoshida.
Bricks and Mortar again encountered difficulties in the
Hill Prince Stakes (gr. III) at Belmont Park. While he was able to stay closer
to the pace, he had to fight his way through a very narrow opening on the rail turning
for home, and even once he got through he found himself racing in between
horses with very little room to run. His finishing speed was still powerful—he came
home the final three furlongs in around :33 2/5, an excellent fraction—but the
more forwardly-placed Yoshida and Lucullan got the jump on him, and with his
traffic difficulties in the homestretch, Bricks and Mortar couldn't out-kick
those two when it counted and he had to settle for third place, beaten
three-quarters of a length.
To date, that remains Bricks and Mortar's most recent
start. Following a half-mile workout on October 28th, 2017, he
disappeared to the sidelines and did not return to training until August, when
it was too late for him to make a run at the 2018 Breeders' Cup. But since
returning to trainer Chad Brown's barn, Bricks and Mortar hasn't missed a beat
in his workouts and will finally return to action in the Artie Schiller Stakes.
Overall, this is a pretty deep field, with the graded
stakes winner Qurbaan, Blacktype, Proforma, and Projected ensuring
that Bricks and Mortar won't find himself out for a morning stroll in his first
start since last October. But Bricks and Mortar has already held his own
against high-class company—Yoshida and Voodoo Song are no slouches—and if Chad
Brown has this colt ready to roll off the layoff, I'm not particularly
concerned about the class of the race or the quality of competition. If Bricks
and Mortar comes back as good (or better) than he was last year, I still think
we could be looking at a superstar miler in the making, so even with the layoff,
he's my choice to win on Saturday.
Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Artie Schiller
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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.