Who’s the next horse, Tom?

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Racing fan Nick Cerza relaxed with a cheese plate and a pint from a legendary Vermont brewery as he presented the question of the season – or maybe the year – Saturday night just outside the warmth and orange glow from the Henry Street Taproom fireplace Saturday night.

The conversation prior to Nick’s meaty question meandered from his new adventures in fatherhood to local news to marathon running.

When the back-and-forth wound its way to the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland it got serious, or at least as serious as it can get when the big debate 10 minutes earlier was whether to order the Harlan IPA from Hill Farmstead Brewery or Another One IPA from Maine Beer Co. We both went with the Harlan, to start.

“Who’s the next horse, Tom?”

After a few seconds as I racked my brain to think of a name, any name, of a horse that might be recognizable or pique my friend’s interest, I could only offer one response.

“Now that’s a good question.”

The retirement of American Pharoah after his dismantling of the Breeders’ Cup Classic is the reason for such a question, and there are plenty more people than Nick who are curious about the answer.

So who is the heir apparent, if you want to call it that, to the horse that I wrote prior to the Saratoga Race Course meeting “casts a big shadow over all of racing?”

American Pharoah was definitely the life of the party in 2015, setting the tone for a festive scene wherever he went, turning in gallops and breezes in front of hundreds and sometimes thousands of fans and getting shown off back at the barn almost like an animal in a petting zoo.

Racing’s biggest star is now gone, and a few others that could have filled his shoes are also retired and bedded down at Central Kentucky farms getting ready for the next breeding season. Honor Code and Liam’s Map chief among that group; they could have been big names to look forward to in 2016.

California Chrome is coming back. So, too, is Shared Belief, so I guess they could be the answer to Nick’s question. They don’t really qualify as “next” though, since they’re well established stars.

It still seems a little early to get pumped for the 2-year-olds that will soon turn 3 and even though Songbird was a total standout in the paddock prior to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies – maybe the best looking horse of the weekend – she’s in a division that’s a notch below the top in terms of popularity.

So where does that leave racing fans searching for a star?

Maybe you can help answer Nick’s modified question.

Who’s the next horse, people?