Big-Race Showdown: Kentucky Derby Championship Series Visits Fair Grounds, Turfway
Bricks and Mortar had vaulted into the Horse of the Year debate with five wins in as many starts in 2019 entering the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Santa Anita Park.
The Longines Turf, which usually lures a robust, powerful international contingent, drew four European invaders but lacked the star power of 2018 winner Enable, leaving Bricks and Mortar a true standout for the 1 ½-mile race.
2019 Breeders’ Cup Turf
Bricks and Mortar began 2019 with a 2 ½-length rout in the $7 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational Stakes in January. While he won his four subsequent starts, three of those Grade 1s, the 5-year-old by Giant’s Causeway had a habit of leaving those victories in doubt until deep in the stretch as three of his wins came by margins of three-quarters of a length or less.
Nonetheless, Bricks and Mortar had not lost a single race in 2019 for trainer Chad Brown and he entered the starting gate as the even-money favorite in a 12-horse field.
But as racing fans know from experience, there is no sure thing in racing and just when you think a favorite looks like a lock, especially in the Breeders’ Cup, a spoiler emerges to make things interesting.
In 2019, Bricks and Mortar’s main challenge came not from the international contingent but rather from the host track’s own backyard as local legend Richard Mandella, who in 2003 won four of eight Breeders’ Cup races at Santa Anita, entered up-and-comer United.
Seeking his 10th career Breeders’ Cup victory, Mandella had adopted a patient approach with United that was beginning to pay dividends. The Giant’s Causeway gelding did not race until he was 3 years old and didn’t make his stakes debut until the fourth race of his 4-year-old season, running second by three-quarters of a length in the Grade 2 Charles Whittingham Stakes May 25 at Santa Anita. After an allowance win at Del Mar, United rallied from well off the pace to finish third by 1 ½ lengths in the Grade 2 John Henry Turf Championship Stakes at Santa Anita in his final prep for the Breeders’ Cup.
Still eligible for a third-level allowance race and without a stakes win to his credit, United stepped into the starting gate for the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Turf a 51.60-1 longshot.
Acclimate (41.30-1) set the pace in the Turf with two more longshots, Bandua and United, tracking from a few lengths back. Bricks and Mortar got off to a good start and settled into a comfortable rhythm in stalking position under Irad Ortiz Jr. through a half-mile in :48.44.
Entering the stretch, United and European invader Anthony Van Dyck went for the same lane three wide around the pacesetters but United beat him to the spot and accelerated willingly, surging to a narrow lead near the sixteenth pole under Flavien Prat.
Bricks and Mortar was in perfect position through the final turn but got shuffled back just a bit while angling out entering the stretch. He used his explosive finishing speed to steadily reel in United, but he found a willing challenger when he drew alongside.
United dug in gamely and fought Bricks and Mortar through the finish line, but Bricks and Mortar would not be denied in a championship performance.
“He has a will to win that separates him from other horses,” Brown told BloodHorse. “It’s remarkable.”
Bricks and Mortar completed an unblemished 6-for-6 season with his victory by a head in the Turf, adding a Horse of the Year Award as the crowning achievement to a remarkable comeback. A hock injury he suffered as a 3-year-old kept Bricks and Mortar sidelined for 14 months after a major surgery that renowned surgeon Dr. Larry Bramlage gave only a 50/50 chance to be successful.
“He had been a top 3-year-old and probably should not have lost,” co-owner William H. Lawrence told BloodHorse. “He was a good horse, and he came back a great horse … a Hall of Fame horse. A superstar. We didn’t know if he’d win one race and Chad would say he had to retire him. Instead, he came back and was so dominant. He was the best turf horse we’ve seen for a while.”
While the Turf marked the end of one brilliant career, it served as a springboard for runner-up United. He closed his season with another second in the Grade 2 Hollywood Turf Cup and then won four Grade 2 races during his 5-year-old campaign, , which ended with a a disappointing eighth-place finish in the Longines Turf at Keeneland. As a 6-year-old in 2021, he won three more graded stakes in five total starts but missed the Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar with a swollen suspensory and has not started in 2022..
** This article was originally published in October 2020 and has been updated **