Four division champs vie for 2019 Horse of the Year honors

December 30th, 2019

When January rolls around and finalists for the are announced, the battle for will be among the most intriguing.

It’s not that the title is particularly up in the air. One standout star has emerged as the favorite to win, but it’s noteworthy that 2019 saw four horses compile worthy campaigns. In a different year any one of them might have claimed the title. Only three can be named finalists, though, and it goes without saying each will be a clear-cut winner of their own division.

Leading the charge is expected champion turf male Bricks and Mortar, who almost surely will become the first horse since Kotashaan in 1993 to claim Horse of the Year honors after racing exclusively on grass. It can be tough for turf horses to secure the title, since dirt racing is dominant in the United States, but Bricks and Mortar’s unblemished 6-for-6 season could prove too strong for voters to overlook.

North, south, east, west—Bricks and Mortar traveled the country in 2019 and made his way to virtually every major racing jurisdiction. He never ran at the same track more than once, with races at Gulfstream Park, Fair Grounds, Churchill Downs, Belmont Park, Arlington Park and Santa Anita. That’s six different tracks in six different states.

Along the way Bricks and Mortar won five grade 1 races. An easy triumph in the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) thrust him into the spotlight, and he followed with victories in the Mervin H. Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap (G2), Old Forester Turf Classic (G1), Manhattan Stakes (G1), Arlington Million (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1). In the latter race—which he needed to win to cement his Horse of the Year credentials—Bricks and Mortar was rank early and boxed in behind horses, but nevertheless produced his trademark burst of acceleration to win by a head.
The speedy Mitole, a shoo-in to be named champion male sprinter, was almost as successful as Bricks and Mortar in 2019. Champion sprinters rarely secure Horse of the Year honors—Forego in 1974 was the last to claim both titles—but Mitole would be a worthy addition to an elite club.

In seven starts this season, Mitole reached the winner’s circle on six occasions. No one could match his brilliance in the Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3), Churchill Downs Stakes (G1), Metropolitan Handicap (G1), Forego Stakes (G1) or Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1), and he had valid excuses when he came in third after a sluggish start and a tough trip in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (G1) at Saratoga.
The outstanding filly Midnight Bisou also strung together an impressive series of triumphs in 2019. Between January and September she won seven consecutive graded races, including the Apple Blossom Handicap (G1), Ogden Phipps Stakes (G1) and Personal Ensign Stakes (G1). In the latter race Midnight Bisou unleashed a tenacious rally down the homestretch to win by a nose.
Midnight Bisou ended her season with a runner-up effort in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1), a defeat that will likely prevent her from vying for Horse of the Year honors. But unlike Bricks and Mortar and Mitole, Midnight Bisou will continue racing in 2020, a delightful treat for racing fans impressed by her consistency and dance-every-dance approach to racing. She'll be a clear choice as champion older dirt female.

Joining Midnight Bisou for the 2020 season is the probable champion 3-year-old male Maximum Security, who would have made a serious run at Horse of the Year if not for his controversial disqualification from victory in the Kentucky Derby (G1). Maximum Security’s impressive victories in the Florida Derby (G1), Haskell Invitational (G1), Cigar Mile (G1) and Bold Ruler Handicap (G3) could give him the nod over Midnight Bisou for the third finalist spot.
Who would receive your vote for 2019 Horse of the Year?