Who is the best handicap horse in 2021?
The handicap division is about to get exciting.
Though there have been few occasions where the best have clashed, there are some very good horses in the division, including five in the top 10 of the NTRA poll.
Let's meet the top contenders, and then we'll let you decide — who is the best horse in the handicap division?
Usually, a horse who is winless in a season isn't in this conversation come June. However, Charlatan's most recent win was an impressive score in the Malibu S. (G1), a few days before the turn of the calendar. His only start in 2021 was a strong second behind Mishriff in the Saudi Cup (G1).
His racing future is uncertain. In May, he was sent to Margaux Farm for a layoff, after he missed a scheduled start in the Churchill Downs S. (G1).
If he comes back at his best, he has shown as much talent as anyone at the top of the handicap division.
At the beginning of the year, Knicks Go looked like the big dog in the handicap division. He was undefeated in three starts at four and looked like a new horse since a move to the Brad Cox barn for his 2020 campaign.
He began 2021 as the heavy favorite in the Pegasus World Cup (G1) on Jan. 23. He ran to that money, set the pace, and skipped home 2 3/4 lengths clear of Jesus' Team.
However, things have not gone as well for Knicks Go since.
He finished fourth behind Mishriff in the Saudi Cup, where he confronted Charlatan into the far turn but flattened out in the later stages. He also came in fourth in the Metropolitan H. (G1), where he led early but was caught in upper stretch.
He returned to the work tab at Churchill Downs on June 18 and may benefit from a return to a two-turn race.
Though his two-year-old and three-year-old seasons were punctuated by more layoffs than racing action, he has stayed healthy and put together a real four-year-old campaign.
In his 2021 debut, he earned a romping victory in the Mineshaft S. (G3). Though a try in the 1 1/4-mile Santa Anita H. (G1) brought Maxfield the first defeat of his career, he bounced right back with a decisive score in the Alysheba S. (G2). That set him up for the Stephen Foster (G2) on June 26.
Mystic Guide has raced just twice in 2021, but he has done everything asked of him.
He made his four-year-old debut in the Razorback H. (G3) on Feb. 27. Despite a wide trip, Mystic Guide romped by six lengths, with Silver Prospector and favored Owendale in his wake.
The Godolphin homebred then traveled to the United Arab Emirates to represent the home team in the Dubai World Cup (G1). Unfazed by the ship, he tracked just off a comfortable pace, reeled in pacesetter Hypothetical in upper stretch, and drove clear to win by 3 1/2 lengths.
He has yet to race since that March 27 effort, but he has worked regularly at Fair Hill Training Center since the beginning of May and is being aimed at a return in the Suburban H. (G2) at Belmont Park on July 3.
He was a good three-year-old last year and ended the season with a pair of allowance wins, but Silver State has been golden at four.
He won all three stakes races he entered at Oaklawn Park through the winter and spring. His three wins at Oaklawn came in workmanlike fashion.
He had to fight to win the Fifth Season S. by a nose, he battled again to win the Essex H. by a neck, and he kept giving five wide in the Oaklawn H. (G2) to win by a half-length.
Five wins in a row were enough to earn him his first shot in Grade 1 company, in the Met Mile. On the biggest stage, he posted his sixth consecutive win and his most convincing this year. He drove up the rail to lead a furlong out and held off By My Standards to win by a length.
Who is the best handicap horse in 2021?
Last week, we asked you to tell us Wesley Ward's best winner at Royal Ascot. One horse ran away with the poll as convincingly as she ran away with not one but two races at Royal Ascot. Lady Aurelia, winner of the 2016 Queen Mary S. (G2) and the 2017 King's Stand S. (G1), took an astonishing 83% of the vote!