There’s two ways of looking at this: Admiration for the horse who dances every single dance, or … how much racing is too much racing?
Only one horse in 2018 ran in each leg of the Triple Crown, as well as the Breeders’ Cup. Yes, Bravazo is a modern day iron horse. The son of Awesome Again is not the first for trainer D. Wayne Lukas. We only have to recall the schedule of his remarkable filly Lady’s Secret, before she finally went off form, to understand his penchant for letting his runners run.
Of course, horse racing is viewed (and judged) a little differently than it was back in the day of the “Iron Lady”. Doing what’s best for the health of a horse is arguably more important today than it’s ever been, both from a public relations standpoint, and out of compassion for this majestic creature.
While the good intentioned majority fights to do what they believe is right, racing grapples with another issue. The early retirement or lack of racing of our stars make it a more difficult sport in which to love. It would seem that the Calumet runner, Bravazo, trained by the legendary, and decidedly old school Lukas, is a poster boy for these two opposing issues within the industry.
Whichever way your tendencies lean, we can point to Bravazo as an ideal example. Good enough to compete against the very best, and hearty enough to do it on a regular schedule, there have been no vacations for the dark bay since beginning his career at Saratoga 16 months ago.
Bravazo did not run well that afternoon in Upstate New York, but his racing career quickly took an upturn in his second career start when he romped home an easy winner going a mile at Churchill Downs. His next three starts, his final three as a juvenile, all came in stakes races, with the first of the three being clearly the best.
He ended his 2-year-old season with one win from five starts, including a second-place finish in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity. Within 3 1/2 months, he had gone from an unraced maiden to a horse with three stakes attempts. It was an ambitious start to his racing career, but nothing really unusual.
Bravazo returned early in his 3-year-old season, and earned a hard fought victory in an allowance/optional claiming race at Fair Grounds in January, and has not looked back since. In fact, in the next ten months the Calumet homebred has competed in ten consecutive graded stakes races.
He earned his first, and only, stakes win next time out in the Grade 2, $400,000 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds. If he wasn’t already, that victory placed him squarely on the Kentucky Derby trail. He actually had only one start in the 2 1/2 months between the Risen Star win and the Run for the Roses on May 5, which came with a disappointing result in the Louisiana Derby. On Kentucky Derby day, though, Bravazo ran well, finishing sixth in the field of 20 without the best of racing luck.
Next came the Preakness Stakes, where he may have run the best race of his career. Through the fog and the slop, Bravazo emerged as the biggest threat to the Justify’s march to the Triple Crown. Closing stoutly down the lane, he almost caught the Derby winner, before ultimately settling for second place. It’s worth noting that this excellent performance came in the shortest gap between races (two weeks) in his racing career.
And so it has gone for Bravazo. A sixth-place finish in the Belmont Stakes was followed up by good performances to finish second in the Haskell Invitational Stakes at Monmouth Park, and then third in Saratoga’s Travers Stakes. His worst result of the year came next when seventh in the Pennsylvania Derby, but he followed that up with a solid third in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
Most recently, Bravazo ran one of the best races so far when he just missed in the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs. The narrow defeat to Leofric was his ninth straight race without making it to the winner’s circle. It was also his eighth consecutive attempt in grade 1 racing.
After a 3-year-old season that saw him dance every dance, Bravazo is now at Oaklawn Park working out for his next major assignment. With a record of 11-2-3-2 in 2018, he earned $1,162,600. That total would be dwarfed should he win the $9 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational next month.
Every horse is different, and as a well bred horse who has proven quite durable, Bravazo should be the type which American breeders welcome with open arms, but it’s often hard to tell when a busy racing schedule has crossed the line of being too much. Hopefully his connections will know when the time comes.
Photo of Bravazo courtesy of Hodges Photography/Amanda Weir