Strong Group of Vox Populi Nominees

This year’s Secretariat Vox Populi Award nominees are the proverbial mixed bag of nuts…they are all totally different in size, shape, and taste, but good luck trying to pick out just one. With that admittedly offbeat analogy let’s open the bag and see what’s in there for 2023. ~ Steve Haskin

Strong Group of Vox Populi Nominees 

By Steve Haskin


We must preface this by asking is there anyone capable of preventing last year’s Secretariat Vox Populi Award winner Cody’s Wish from becoming the first back-to-back honoree, especially after his and his namesake’s story reached new heights this year, touching people around the world thanks to the 5-year old’s success throughout the year on the biggest stages?

Well, we have a brilliant bargain basement 3-year-old whose unknown trainer made history by bringing a woman into the Triple Crown spotlight and becoming the most sought after interview in racing. We have a gallant 7-year-old warrior who didn’t know what the word “quit” means and who gained popularity strictly on his longevity and perseverance. We have a striking near-white horse, who, after a declining career, joined his new trainer in mid-season, with the two becoming the most notable comeback team of the year, culminating with a victory in America’s richest race. And finally we have a bullet of a filly who not only was a major comeback story in her own right, but a former Vox Populi nominee who was able to retain her popularity two years later, especially battling back from a life-threatening injury right before what was to be her greatest moment.

Here in alphabetical order are this year’s Vox Populi nominees:

ARCANGELO – Right from the start this colt was an enigma. After all, how does a son of Arrogate, out of a Tapit mare, whose second dam is a half-sister to Belmont winner Rags to Riches, sell for only $35,000 at the megabucks Keeneland September yearling sale? And how does he wind up in the barn of the little known trainer Jena Antonucci, who grew up with show horses, worked as a veterinarian assistant, and then began rehabilitating horses, and whose only graded stakes victory as a trainer came in 2016 in a five-furlong stakes on grass at Parx?

Now here she was coming up to New York for the Grade 2 Peter Pan Stakes with a horse who had only three career starts and had broken his maiden at Gulfstream Park almost two months earlier. He would never lose again. Thanks to this steel-gray yearling who was shunned at the sale despite his impeccable breeding, Antonucci’s earnings skyrocketed from $195,000 in 2022 to over $2 million in 2023, as she became the first female ever to train a classic winner in America when Arcangelo won the Belmont Stakes and then became the first horse in 19 years to win the 1 ½-mile Belmont and the historic Travers Stakes without a race in between.

With a sure Horse of the Year title wrapped up had he closed out the year with a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, for which he was favored, he suffered a minor injury the week of the race and was retired to stud, as have been so many lightly raced top 3-year-olds in recent years. But while he was around he made a star out of his trainer, helped rewrite the history books, and built up a strong fan base around the country.

CASA CREED – His trainer Bill Mott is one of the most popular and well-liked trainers in the country and there are few owners more popular than the always engaging Lee Einsidler. But with Casa Creed it is all about the horse. At a time when the older horse divisions on dirt and grass keep getting thinner due to early retirements, here is a complete horse who has just concluded his most successful campaign at the age of 7. It was a campaign that began back in February in Saudi Arabia with a heartbreaking head defeat in the 6 ½-furlong Sprint Cup. What made the defeat even tougher was having been beaten a neck in the same race last year by the Japanese champion Songline.

Back home, he finished third, beaten one length, in the six-furlong Jaipur Stakes in a blistering 1:07 4/5. Stretching out to his preferred distance of a mile he won the Grade 3 Kelso Stakes at Belmont before winning his second consecutive Grade 1 Fourstardave Stakes, having previously finished third in 2020 and 2021. By now he had become known as “The Mayor of Saratoga,” with his fan base growing to new heights.

He ended the year with a gutsy third in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, beaten only three-quarters of a length behind two Godolphin Group 1 winners from Europe. That race raised his bankroll to over $2.6 million dollars. But what made Casa Creed so popular and earn so much respect was how hard he tried race after race, year after year. He has always given 100 percent, as indicated by the fact that 17 of his defeats were by less than three lengths, with 10 of those less than two lengths.

Racing on the grass and being dependent on pace, he has been versatile enough to win at six furlongs, seven furlongs, 7 1/2 furlongs, and one mile. He even won at seven furlongs on dirt. It is near impossible to follow horseracing without being a fan of Casa Creed.

CODY’S WISH – As we all know there is no set formula in determining the popularity of a horse. In the case of Cody’s Wish, this looks like the perfect example of a horse who had all the qualities on and off the track to make him popular with the fans and the human interest story behind him to thrust both into the national spotlight.

There is no denying it was Cody Dorman’s inspirational story that helped make Cody’s Wish popular. But if the horse, who had the personality to connect immediately with the young boy, hadn’t turned into a winning machine with back-to-back dramatic victories in the Breeders’ Cup global spotlight and a stunning score in the Met Mile on Belmont Stakes day, who knows if the Cody Dorman story would have had such a long shelf life and continue to scale the emotional heights it has this year?

It doesn’t really matter because history played out the way it was meant to and now both Codys will be remembered for many years to come. It is important, however, that the horse also be remembered for all his courage, consistency, and overall achievement on the racetrack to go along with all the human interest and emotion that followed him throughout his career.

Now it is up to the voters to decide whether the initial impact of his story is just as strong as last year, or perhaps soared even higher this year, with a gut-wrenching ending that is the stuff of which movies are made.

ECHO ZULU – This filly’s popularity began in 2021 when she was just a 2-year-old and proved to be a whirlwind, blowing away her opposition in all four of her starts at four different distances by an average margin of 5 ¼ lengths. And she did it on both coasts. Whether it was at 5 ½ furlongs at Saratoga or 1 1/16 miles at Del Mar in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, her blazing speed proved too much for her opponents.

Much was expected of her as a 3-year-old in 2022, but she wound up running only four times and showed she really wasn’t a true two-turn horse, then failed to get to the lead early in the 2022 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint and had to settle for second behind Goodnight Olive.

Echo Zulu returned this year at 4, but had pretty much fallen off the radar screen. In her first three starts, however, she proved once again to be unbeatable. Following two wire-to-wire romps by 5 ¾ and 7 ¼ lengths in 1:08 4/5 and 1:08 3/5 in the Honorable Miss Stakes at Saratoga and Winning Colors Stakes at Churchill Downs, respectively. She then  got her revenge on Goodnight Olive winning the Grade 1 Ballerina Stakes at Saratoga by dashing to the lead and drawing off to win by 2 ½ lengths in a rapid 1:20 4/5 for the seven furlongs, establishing herself as the clear-cut favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprints.

However, while training at Santa Anita she fractured the sesamoids in her left front fetlock and underwent extensive surgery that has gone well so far, but it’s still a long road to recovery ahead. Fortunately she has been the ideal patient and has taken care of herself keeping weight off the leg. And when Goodnight Olive romped in the Breeders’ Cup it confirmed just how special Echo Zulu was. Her fan base has continued to grow as she progresses toward what is hoped will be a complete recovery.

WHITE ABARRIO – Will the popularity of the 4-year-old White Abarrio be determined by how people view his trainer Rick Dutrow? As we all know, Dutrow has always been a polarizing figure. He returned from a 10-year suspension this year and took over the training of White Abarrio, who then romped in the Whitney before winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Whether you are a fan of Dutrow’s or not there is no doubting his ability and his love for his horses, and it took a lot of work by him, his staff, and farrier/foot specialist Ian McKinlay to get White Abarrio back to his early 3-year-old form when he scored victories in the 2022 Holy Bull Stakes and Florida Derby. So we know the colt has always had ability and under Dutrow’s care he not only has demonstrated that ability once again with the help of glue-on shoes he has far surpassed it, having filled out and gotten much stronger during the current racing season.

White Abarrio’s former trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. had actually started the ball rolling in early March when he put the colt won a seven-furlong Gulfstream Park allowance race after pressing a :44 4/5 half and then drawing off to win by 4 ½ lengths in a sharp 1:22 flat following a dreadful performance in his previous race — the Pegasus World Cup. Recurring foot problems could very well have accounted for his inconsistency, but he finally was able to put together a series of big performances, including a strong third to Cody’s Wish in the Met Mile in his first start for Dutrow.

Prior to the Whitney, it had been decided by the owners to keep him around one turn and he was being pointed for the seven-furlong Forego Stakes, but when Dutrow was informed by NYRA that they only had three horses for the Whitney they changed plans, feeling it was worth a shot at the richer and more prestigious race. That decision would change the entire course of the Breeders’ Cup Classic and influence the Eclipse Award voting.

So this should now be mostly about White Abarrio and his dramatic surge to prominence. With his near-white color, his newly found consistent brilliance, and, yes, Dutrow’s remarkable comeback story, you can bet there are many racing fans who have flocked to White Abarrio and can appreciate the colt’s return to glory following a decline to mediocrity last year.

Photos courtesy of NYRA/Coglianese, Godolphin/ and Ryan Thompson

Racing historian, author, and award-winning retired journalist for the Daily Racing Form and The Blood-Horse, Steve Haskin was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame’s Media Roll of Honor in 2016. Known for his racing knowledge and insightful prose, he has been an exclusive contributor to since 2020.



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73 Responses to “Strong Group of Vox Populi Nominees”

  1. Bill Dawson says:

    Bentornato, by Valiant Minister, out of a Put It Back mare, is an undefeated 2yr. colt (4 for 4), that’s been running in the Florida Sires Stakes races. He’ll be stretching out to 8.5 furlongs in the Florida Sire In Reality Stakes on Saturday, 12-2, in a field of seven Florida bred colts. It remains to be seen if he has the class to compete against tougher competition in the upcoming GP Stakes races such as the Holy Bull, FOY and the Florida Derby. At any rate, he’s a colt worth watching moving forward, IMO.

    • Bill Dawson says:

      The only negative that I can spot so far, he has trouble switching leads. In his last two races, he stayed on his left lead, until he reached the 1/8 pole, before switching to the right lead.

  2. Lynda King says:

    Equinox received a timeform of 136.
    He goes back to SomethingRoyal in two lines via his damsire King Halo.
    I think he just the most sublime horse!
    Have watched race replay several time. Christophe sat chilly the whole way.
    No decision made yet if he will be retired or race in 2024.

    In other news read this morning Mage has been retired. Minor issue but would result in delay returning to the track next year.
    Rich Strike undergoing additional treatment for his tendon issues at Margeaux Fsrms. Uncertain future. Wish his owner would do right by Richie and geld and retire him. I feel very bad for this horse.

  3. Ms Blacktype says:

    We saw a lot of good two year olds in action at Churchill on Saturday. The two most impressive winners to me were Honor Marie, of course, who blew by his field from the back after a slow early pace; and Track Phantom. Track Phantom ran just a bit slower than Honor Marie, but everything went his way. Should get a fat Beyer. One of the Fanduel announcers mentioned in passing that Honor Marie had just run an excellent ThoroGraph figure before the race, but there were no other details. Perhaps Steve will enlighten us early next week!

    I was also pleased to see Just Steel break out and win a stakes. He’s been a bit in-and-out in his performances, but he has a beautiful pedigree. A son of Justify, his dam is an Australian 1000 Guineas winner from the family of Reine de Course mare Fall Aspen. Honor Code’s family isn’t too shabby either. He’s by champion and Met Mile winner Honor Code, and his second dam produced English St. Leger winner Rule of Law. Like the mile and a quarter potential of both.

    • Davids says:

      Yes, Ms Blacktype, some very interesting 2 year olds indeed. There are half a dozen or so 2 year old Constitution colts running on dirt & turf that might make a noise next year on the Derby trail. Not stakes tested yet but I prefer the slow developing types than the precious types that often falter as 3 year olds after showing a lot of promise.

      Honor Marie has an exciting pedigree and should find 10f within his range but time will tell. The happiest chaps yesterday were probably Yushun Stalion Station, what an advertisement to introduce their latest stallion prospect – Honor Code. Will Lane’s End regret their decision?

      • Ms Blacktype says:

        A shrewd move on the part of Yushin. I hadn’t realized Honor Code moved to Japan.

        • Davids says:

          Speaking of Honor Code, another 2 year old colt, Wind Rider, dusted off the $1,400,000 Gun Runner colt, Hall of Fame, by two lengths at Churchill Downs on Sunday. Hall of Fame is owned by Coolmore et al so Wind Rider could be another string to Honor Code’s chances of siring another prominent 3 year old for the Derby next year.

          Betsy, this could be your year in 2024.

          • Betsy says:

            Hi David – I hope so – that would be a nice parting gift for HC. I loved what I saw from Honor Marie – the long, sweeping, sustained move he made was very impressive, as was his gallop out.

            WR looked good – showed speed and gameness in drawing away from that other horse. The million dollar colt had a much better gallop out, but I’m not sure how important that is. Calumet supported HC faithfully – they deserve a good HC

            • Davids says:

              Betsy, fingers crossed they both progress over winter and next year Honor A. P.’s first 2 year olds will start running. Hopefully, Honor Code crosses well with all the Sunday Silence blood in Japan and his progeny will invade from afar to take the roses one day or the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

              The progeny from Honor Code/Sunday Silence and his sons should be stunning – the return of the black stallion. Dream, dream, dream.

  4. Davids says:

    Equinox wins the Japan Cup from Liberty Island, Stars on Earth and Do Duece. It’s a pity Equinox didn’t attempt the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. It would have been an interesting battle between Equinox and Ace Impact.

    Maybe next year Equinox will attempt the Arc challenge.

    • Matthew W says:

      Especially since the Arc was firm….last night the course looked very hard–2:21??? Whaaa?…But, yes….that would have been a race!….

      • Davids says:

        Not to forget that the full-brother to the Arc winner Sottsass, Shin Emperor by Siyouni, won the Group 3 Radio Nikkei Hai Kyoto Nisai Stakes on his second start and remains unbeaten. Beautiful colt.

  5. Matthew W says:

    Steve did you see Honor Marie?….Dawdling pace, in last place …powered around the field in under :30 for last 5/16…. that’s good for older horses, very good for a two year old..

    • Matthew W says:

      There’s talent there…..and maybe a story there—about that name..

      • Matthew W says:

        Plus….he likes Churchill……

        • Bill Dawson says:

          I went with Real Men Violin in this race. He was making a strong move along the rail, but due to traffic issues, the rider had to check off, losing momentum. Considering his rough trip, I thought his 2nd place finish was impressive, and should be of benefit as he moves forward with his career. By Mendelssohn, out of a Tapit mare, Real Men Violin appears to have the pedigree to improve as the distance increases, IMO.

          • Matthew W says:

            Yes he ran well …but the winner was in last—and pace was soft as warm butter …he made a sustained run, and was twenty clear on the gallop out, “Violin” was making his first two turn start, so there’s upside…and he came home fast, too….

      • Davids says:

        Honor Marie is a May colt as well which is a bonus all things considered.

    • Davids says:

      Matthew, I took note of Honor Marie from his first appearance and expected him to do well here, which he did. Honor Marie beat Just Steel in his previous race and Just Steel won the Ed Brown Stakes today so there’s some confidence there.

      One to follow.

      • Matthew W says:

        Every time I Watch his debut race it looks like he’ll be lucky to finish fourth, and he got up ..

        • Davids says:

          Exactly Matthew, it’s those type of achievements that make you believe in the horse. You probably remember Rags to Riches win in the Las Virgenes Stakes, she should have lost that race, it was impossible for her to win but she did. That race convinced me she would win the Belmont Stakes even after the stumble.

          Zenyatta, of course, was incredible in this respect.

  6. Linda Mooradian says:

    Girl power for the win, Jenna & Archangelo for the win. I also think Idiomatic should have been nominated 9 starts 8 wins and 1 2nd. 1st Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff – 2023

    • Steve Haskin says:

      This isnt an Eclipse Award. Record has little or nothing to do with it. Do you believe Idiomatic was one of the most popular jhorses in the country?

  7. Matthew W says:

    Maple Leaf Mel was a NY bred winner of six of seven…..always on the lead….by Cross Traffic, out of a City Place mare …I LOVE that! Love the being NY bred, and taking it to the elite big money fillies, I loved that about Mel….I’m the same with Cal breds….

  8. Linda Rowell says:

    Cody’s Wish

  9. Jessica Deering says:

    Sure wish Maple leaf Mel was in the running.

    • ChiefsCrown says:

      Sure wish Maple Leaf Mel was still alive! I think she would’ve been a force if not the winner of this years BC Distaff, that’s how much untapped talent she had and should have been a name listed for the VP.
      RIP Mel…


  10. Lisa Olsen says:

    It’s sad that Maple Leaf Mel isn’t on the list of nominees.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Would you consider her as popular as the 5 nominees before the Test Stakes? As tragic as it was I would hate to think people would vote for her because she died. If you feel she was popular with most of the country before that that then I can see it.Same goes for New York Thunder.

      • Todd Vaughn says:

        I kind of think she was. The Melanie Giddings story was huge racing news going into the Test. Not quite Cody, but still emotional and uplifting, which only multiplied the horror of what happened. Exceller was somewhat famous for providing Seatle Slew his defining moment, but the indignity of dying in a slaughterhouse made him immortal.

        • Deacon says:

          Todd: I was thinking of her as well but if you nominate her don’t you have to nominate New York Thunder. The Melanie Giddings story was important but this award is about the horse not just to the connections to the horse. What about all the other nice horses who broke down this year. I agree with Steve on this one. Those 2 races at Saratoga were gut-wrenching to watch.
          Once retired many race horses are treated with the same disrespect as retired pro athletes. Cast off & tossed aside.
          For those who remember, go back to the 1960’s & 1970’s. Rex C. Ellsworth & Mish Tenney
          s operation. in east L.A. Mal-nourished horses, horrendous living conditions, almost no attention given to these thoroughbreds.
          It was a big here in the west at the time. Ellsworth & Tenney raced many a good horse in their day.
          Swaps, Candy Spots, Prove It, Terrang, Olden Times, The Scoundrel & Prince Royal to name many.
          Swaps was an all time great.

      • Jiffy says:

        Yes, I would consider her as popular as four of the five nominees, even before the Test Stakes. As Todd pointed out, her story was a moving one that grabbed everyone’s attention. And after the Test Stakes she would have been even more popular if she hadn’t died. She had the race won and the headlines would have glorified her, her trainer, and her story. Granted, her death got attention, but her victory would have, too. If she had lived, she almost certainly would have been on this list, and I wonder if one reason she’s not on it is because people want to forget what happened to her and they forget her along with it.

      • Matthew W says:

        Steve …would you consider Arcangelo’s popularity more because of his trainer, than because of the horse? Don’t they have an award for Jenna? Would Arcangelo be on the ballot, had he been trained by Pletcher?..

    • Todd Vaughn says:

      I went ahead and wrote in Maple Leaf Mel. She certainly had the biggest impact on me this year. Yes, NY Traffic was equally horrible for the horse, but there were questions over his training and whether he should have been racing. Not to dwell on negative moments, because they can be found every day if you choose to look, but Maple Leaf Mel was a gut punch.

      • Jiffy says:

        Agreed. Maple Leaf Mel’s death had a huge impact on me, too, but so did her life. I don’t see any similarities between her and New York Thunder except for the manner of their deaths and that’s not what we’re voting on. I haven’t voted yet–I haven’t decided how to vote–but for me it’s between Cody’s Wish and Maple Leaf Mel with nobody else even close. No offense to the others–they belong on a top ten list but not a top two.

        • Matthew W says:

          I agree! Maple Leaf Mel’s story came to a crashing end, but I was into her story BEFORE the Test….she has been forgotten some, not by me and not by many others….

  11. Pat Fragassi says:

    While all the horses nominated, I believe that Cody’s Wish is the most deserving… He proved himself as a true race horse and more important as a true ambassador of the animal world with his connection to Cody Dorman… as those of us that have had that connection with our pets, be them dogs, cats, horses….. all animals…

  12. ChiefsCrown says:

    This years Vox award is a bottom of the ninth walk off home run….Cody’s Wish! With this horses story with Cody Dorman’s death how can he NOT win the VP?
    My order of finish….
    1, Cody’s Wish
    2, Casa Creed
    3, Arcangelo
    4, Echo Zulu
    5. White Abarrio…


  13. Casey Phillips says:

    Each of these horses would win in any given year. I have to go back to the Inaugural year and WHY Penny Chenery created the Vox Populi. She believed that because of her solo defeat in the 2010 Classic, Zenyatta would not receive HOY honors though she well deserved it in 2009. I was fortunate to speak with Ms Chenery that year at the VP presentation. She told me she felt that there needed to be a special award for the horse that brought people to their feet, to the stands, and told the story of the greatness of thoroughbreds. Zenyatta did all that. So, going back to her reasoning for the VP, I voted for Cody’s Wish. The horse himself has a strong story, but when combined with the connection he had with Cody Dorman, and how they each communicated with each other is incredible. If I hadn’t seen it both last year and this year, I wouldn’t have believed it.

  14. mark f kennedy says:

    Cody’s Wish will always be sentimental but Archangelo’s story is pretty cool as well.