By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
John Henry. Manila. Paradise Creek. Gio Ponti. Some
mighty fine turf horses have won the $1
million Arlington Million (gr. I) through the years, and if #3 Bricks and Mortar runs as I expect
he will in Saturday's renewal of the 1 ¼-mile race, his name might eventually
rank among the best horses to ever win the Million.
Regular readers of this blog know that I've been a big
fan of Bricks and Mortar since his three-year-old season. In his first four
starts, the son of Giant's Causeway kept winning races he simply shouldn't have
won. Over and over again he contested slow-paced races with fast finishes, which
put his stalking/late-running style at a disadvantage. Yet time and time again,
Bricks and Mortar unleashed these freakish bursts of acceleration to roll past
his rivals and prevail against the odds.
He wasn't just visually impressive—his fractional splits
were spectacular. In his debut traveling 1 1/16 miles at Gulfstream, Bricks and
Mortar sprinted the final five-sixteenths in :28 4/5. In a one-mile allowance
race at Belmont, he flew home the final quarter in :21 4/5. Then he somehow
improved his finishing speed to :21 2/5 in the one-mile Manila Stakes, which he
won by a neck with a dramatic late surge. Finally, he defeated future Grade 1
winner Yoshida in the 1 1/16-mile National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes
(gr. II) while rocketing the final five-sixteenths in :27 4/5.
On those last three occasions, Bricks and Mortar rallied right
through speed-favoring pace scemarios as determined by RacingFlow.com, a
remarkable feat that stamped Bricks and Mortar as a truly exciting prospect
with a bright future.
However, a troubled start and a huge mid-race move
compromised Bricks and Mortar's finishing speed in the Saranac Stakes (gr.
III), and he came up short by less than a length against Voodoo Song and
Yoshida. He then endured a traffic-filled trip in the Hill Prince Stakes (gr.
III) and again finished third by less than a length against Yoshida and
Lucullan, after which he was sidelined by stringhalt, which nearly ended his
Fortunately, Bricks and Mortar recovered and returned to
action in December 2018 as a genuine turf superstar. A comfortably allowance
victory at Gulfstream served as a steppingstone to a career-defining triumph in
the $7 million Pegasus World Cup Turf (gr. I), where he rallied powerfully over
an unfamiliar yielding turf course to score by 2 ½ lengths against a high-class
Back on firm turf for the Muniz Memorial Handicap (gr.
II) at Fair Grounds, Bricks and Mortar again showcased his ability to overcome
unfavorable pace setups. Forced to adopt pace-tracking tactics in an incredibly
slow-paced race, Bricks and Mortar gallantly sprinted the final three furlongs
in :35 flat (about as fast as you'll ever see at Fair Grounds) to defeat the
pacesetter by a nose.
Comparatively speaking, the Old Forest Turf Classic (gr.
I) at Churchill Downs and the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap (gr. I) at
Belmont Park were easy triumphs for Bricks and Mortar. He had to wait to make
his rally in the Turf Classic, but closed fast when in the clear to prevail by
a comfortable half-length. Then in the Manhattan—his first start over 1 ¼ miles—Bricks
and Mortar took a scenic journey around the track, rallied to the front on cue,
and easily defeated the 2018 Arlington Million winner Robert Bruce by 1 ½ lengths.
So let's review: Bricks and Mortar has won over firm,
good, and yielding turf courses. He's won over fast-playing courses like
Belmont and Gulfstream and slower courses like Churchill Downs and Fair
Grounds. He's won while tracking the pace and while rallying from far behind.
He's repeatedly overcome difficult pace scenarios to win comfortably, and when
he gets a fair setup, he wins convincingly, as in the Manhattan and the Pegasus
World Cup Turf. Notably, those were also his two longest races to date, so the
1 ¼-mile distance of the Arlington Million should only help his chances.
Taking all of this together, how can anyone beat him? Just
looking at the morning line odds, Bricks and Mortar has already defeated his
three key Arlington Million rivals (#1
Robert Bruce, #2 Magic Wand, and
#10 Bandua) with ease this year. He's
also drawn well in post three, which should allow him to save ground early on,
and let's not forget trainer Chad Brown has won the Arlington Million three
times, including the last two editions.
I'm hardly alone in my opinion that Bricks and Mortar
will triumph in the Arlington Million, but I'll go a step further. I believe
this race will help guide Bricks and Mortar to Horse of the Year honors, and—ultimately—recognition
as one of the greatest turf horses ever produced in North America. That's how much
confidence I have in Bricks and Mortar's ability.
If you're playing the race and want to boost the
potential payoff (Bricks and Mortar won't
pay much on the win end), I suggest playing him on top of a cold exacta with stablemate
Robert Bruce underneath. This five-year-old Chilean-bred might not be in quite
the same league as Bricks and Mortar (and he's certainly pickier when it comes
to course conditions) but he was an impressive winner of the 2018 Arlington
Million, gaining five lengths in the final furlong to swallow the field and prevail
by half a length.
Robert Bruce has lost his four starts since then, but
three came over rain-soaked courses, and he showed improvement over firm turf
in the Manhattan Stakes, gamely chasing Bricks and Mortar down the lane to
finish second by 1 ½ lengths. He should be poised for a big effort in his third
start of the season, and with a clean trip, I expect him to finish clearly best
of the rest.
Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Arlington
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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.