Bricks and Mortar Stands Out in Arlington Million

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, 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 career.

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 field.

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 Million?


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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

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