By Dick Jerardi
There were 241 votes cast for Horse of the Year, Bricks and Mortar, unbeaten in 2019 with five Grade I wins and six wins overall, got 204 of the votes. Mitole, voted champion sprinter, got 19 H/Y votes. Maximum Security, voted champion 3-year-old, got 14 H/Y votes.
Hard to argue with a horse that started his year in January with a win in the January 26 Pegasus Turf Invitational, ended it with a win in the November 2 Breeders’ Cup Turf and earned $6,723,650.
I voted for Bricks and Mortar based on his perfect record and not just because I cashed a very nice exacta when he beat 51-1 United in the Breeders’ Cup.
My vote may have been very different if Mitole had not caught a dead rail and finished third in the Vanderbilt at Saratoga. It was his only loss in a year that included four Grade I wins in races from 6 furlongs to 1 mile. His wins in the Met Mile and Breeders’ Cup Sprint were among the best performances of the year.
If it’s close between a really good grass horse and a really good dirt horse, I go with the dirt horse. In the end, a perfect season is a perfect season. And Bricks and Mortar was perfect.
I actually voted Maximum Security second and Mitole third for Horse of the Year. I have to believe Maximum Security would have gotten way more than 14 votes if he had not been disqualified from first in the Kentucky Derby. Whatever one thought of the stewards’ decision, there is no argument that Maximum Security was brilliant in the slop and the gloaming at Churchill Downs. He battled for the lead the whole way and then ran away from the field in the final quarter mile. It was a powerhouse performance lost in the aftermath.
Maximum Security ran eight times in 2019 and finished first seven times. The only time he was actually beaten came in the Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park where he missed the break and finished second behind King for a Day, a horse he crushed five weeks later in the Haskell. Maximum Security also won the Florida Derby, Bold Ruler and Cigar Mile. He almost certainly would have won the Pennsylvania Derby if he had not been scratched due to a very serious bout of colic the week of the race.
Mucho Gusto, second in the Haskell, just won the $3 million Pegasus at Gulfstream Park. Parx hero Spun to Run, third in the Haskell, came back to win the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, Smarty Jones, M.P. Ballezzi Appreciation and finish second to Maximum Security in the Cigar Mile.
In the end, the voters, including me, went with the perfection of Bricks and Mortar whose connections were all rewarded with Eclipse Awards as well _ trainer Chad Brown (20 Grade I wins, $30 million in earnings), jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. ($32 million in earnings) and owners Seth Klarman and William Lawrence. Parx Hall of Famer George Strawbridge Jr, who bred Bricks and Mortar, was honored as leading breeder, giving the Bricks and Mortar people a rare sweep of the individual awards.
In a golden era for sprinters at Keystone in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Al Battah was one of the best. He won the Allegheny Stakes as a 2-year-old in 1977, the Bensalem and Garrison Handicaps in 1979 and 1980 and the Gallant Bob Handicap in 1979. All told, the horse won 21 races from 57 starters and $370,539.
Al Battah’s trainer Bill Prickett was also one of the very best. A native of Vincentown, N.J., whose father was a dairy farmer, Prickett trained horses in the Delaware Valley from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s.
He very likely won more than 1,000 races. Equibase statistics, which only go back to 1974, have him with 719 wins from 5,429 starters. He won 131 races in 1976. The Prickett-trained Return of a Native won the 1976 Ohio Derby. Keep Shining was the king of the starter handicaps at Delaware Park.
Prickett was one day shy of his 82nd birthday when he died of cardiac arrest at Delaware’s Christiana Hospital on Jan. 8.
Patience Gowan went to work for Prickett in 1975. She went out on her own for a few years before they reconnected in the early 1980s. They were together for nearly 40 years and had a son in 1985.
“I signed for him to get his first trainer’s license,’’ said Eddie Gager, the famed equine dentist who basically grew up with Prickett. “We travelled all over the country together, bought a lot of horses together. He was a good guy…His father was a dairy farmer. In fact, his father set a world-record with a Guernsey Cow with milk production. Billy grew up on a farm.’’
According to Gager, Prickett’s training career ended at a relatively young age because he had some medical issues. Prickett, however, was not unwilling to take on other challenges.
“When he was 60-years-old, he said to me: `I’m going to Alaska and do some prospecting,’’’ Gager remembered.
So he did.
“He gave $15,000 for a piece of equipment and it cost him $10,000 to get it there,’’ Gager said. “The best day he had up there was about $1,800 in gold. He said if the thing broke down, you were like two weeks getting the parts for it. When he left, he left the machine up there. For $10,000, he wasn’t going to bring it home. That was kind of a bust.’’
But Bill Prickett’s training career was anything but a bust. Anybody who went to Garden State Park, Atlantic City, Monmouth Park, Liberty Bell, Keystone and Delaware Park, among other tracks, during his years as a trainer, always knew he would not be hard to find. Just look to the winner’s circle.