Division rankings: Female sprint division gains strength

Division rankings: Female sprint division gains strength
Photo: Maryland Jockey Club

The 3-year-old males have occupied the spotlight for the last few weeks, but other divisions have storylines that also bear watching.

Last weekend on the Preakness undercard we saw another potential contender in the female sprint division, Maple Leaf Mel. This gal easily won the Miss Preakness Stakes, a sprint race restricted to 3-year-old fillies. Maple Leaf Mel is now unbeaten in four starts, and she may very well be a contender in a division that seems to be getting deeper and more interesting by the week.

Before I get to Maple Leaf Mel and the growing list of contenders who will try to unseat the reigning female sprint champ, Goodnight Olive, let's take a look at the updated rankings below that saw several changes after the results last weekend.

Older dirt males

1. Stilleto Boy. This guy holds down the top spot for now. It's really pretty simple, he did all the running last out in the Oaklawn Handicap (G2), and fell just short at the wire to lose by two noses to Proxy, a horse he defeated in his previous two starts this season. Given that, he has to be ranked ahead of Proxy. Recency bias doesn't exist in these rankings, so the head-to-head record along with his Grade 1 win matters here.

Proxy. He closed well to score his first stakes win of the season and second of his career in the Oaklawn Handicap. But I need to see much more from this guy. The Oaklawn was his first win of the season after an off-the-board finish in the Pegasus World Cup (G1) and his runner-up finish to Stilleto Boy in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1).

3. Smile Happy
. Super impressive on Kentucky Oaks day, defeating several ranked below when winning the Alysheba (G2). Now 2-for-3 this season, he should be a player in this division in races up to nine furlongs. I just can't see him being a serious threat when, and if, he is forced to run 10 furlongs.

4. Art Collector. Ran well in the Alysheba to finish runner-up to Smile Happy. Previously he was runner-up to West Will Power in the New Orleans Classic (G2). Clearly, he is in the best form of his career but like Smile Happy, I question how effective he will be going longer than nine furlongs.

5. West Will Power. Disappointed as the favorite in the Alysheba when finishing third. Previously he was an easy winner over Art Collector in the New Orleans Classic. Not sure what to make of this guy just yet, but we will find out this summer when he likely will make one or more starts at Saratoga.

Next 5: Cody's Wish, Defunded, Last Samurai, Rattle N Roll, Hopper.

Older dirt females

ClairiereRan down Secret Oath last out in the Apple Blossom (G1) to take over divisional leadership for now. Previously she was runner-up to Secret Oath in the Azeri (G2) at Oaklawn. Will run next in the Ogden Phipps (G1) on Belmont Stakes day. A win in the Phipps will give her distance over the others in this division.

2. Secret Oath
. Ran strong again in defeat, this time in the La Troienne (G1) when she was runner-up to Played Hard. She maintains this spot despite her loss. Probably will run in the Phipps as well.
3. Search Results
. Came back well when a close third, beaten two heads in the La Troienne. She is once again a major player in this division and will go next in the Ogden Phipps (G1) at Belmont Park, her home base.

4. Played Hard
. This gal made her seasonal debut in the La Troienne (G1) a winning one. She now has won three graded stakes in her career and was off the board only two times in 15 career starts. She will run next in the Fleur de Lis (G2) on July 1 at Churchill Downs.

5. A Mo Reay
. Started the season off right winning two stakes, including the Beholder Mile (G1) at Santa Anita. She then had a shot to move up here but she didn't get the job done in the La Troienne last time out and finished fourth, beaten two lengths. She didn't run badly, but she didn't run as well as expected. Look for trainer Brad Cox to wheel her back soon, perhaps the Phipps or a race at Saratoga. Next 5: Nest, Pass the Champagne, Fun to Dream, Adare Manor, Frost Point.
3-year-old males

1. Forte. Pay no attention to the other 3-year-old male rankings. Don't fall into that trap, you know, the recency bias part. This guy was the clear No. 1 before the Kentucky Derby and nothing that has happened since can remove him the top. In fact, his spot here is only bolstered given the results of the first two legs of the Triple Crown. He has swept both of his meetings with Mage and the one time he faced Blazing Sevens this season he defeated him by more than 25 lengths. He is expected to run next in the Belmont.
2. Mage. His Preakness third-place finish is a complicated one to analyze. He certainly was in good position throughout, but he didn't have enough at the end. The the race he ran in the Derby, combined with the stitches and the fresh horses he faced got him beaten by more than a slow pace. After all is said and done, this guy has a maiden win and a Kentucky Derby win, the same boat as Rich Strike from a year ago. I hope we see him in the major events this summer.
3. Angel of Empire. The Arkansas Derby (G1) winner came with his run in the Kentucky Derby but he fell short and finished third, beaten a little over a length. I still feel like he might end up on top of this division when all is said and done. He will run next in what could be a deep Belmont Stakes.
4. Two Phil's
. Really impressed me in the Kentucky Derby as he withstood a fast early pace that he was close to and held his ground in the stretch to finish a very good runner-up. Some could say he ran the best race of any. Will not run in the Belmont and instead could run in either the June 11 Matt Winn (G3) or June 24 Ohio Derby (G3) at Thistledown. Either would be used as preps for the July 22 Haskell Stakes (G1) at Monmouth Park and Aug. 26 Travers (G1) at Saratoga.
 Tapit Trice. I was surprised at his race in the Kentucky Derby, where he was never really involved and finished seventh, beaten nearly 10 lengths. But make no mistake, this guy will be back for the Belmont and will be one of the favorites in that event.
Next 5
: Practical Move, National Treasure, Arabian Knight, Blazing Sevens, Arabian Lion.

3-year-old females 1. Pretty Mischievous. Impressive in her Kentucky Oaks (G1) win and takes over this top spot. She is now 5-for-7 on her career, never finishing off the board.
Wet Paint. Finished fourth as the favorite in the Kentucky Oaks, she previously demolished the Fantasy (G3) field at Oaklawn. The Oaks was her first loss on dirt. 3. Faiza. Disappointed as the favorite last weekend in the Black Eyed Susan (G2), where she finished third. The loss snapped a five-race win streak to start her career, and four of those were graded events. 4. The Alys Look. Finished third in the Kentucky Oaks, and before that she was third to Southlawn in the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2). 5. Gambling Girl. Nearly pulled off the Kentucky Oaks upset, losing by a neck. Winless in four starts this season, but she has placed in two graded stakes. Next 5: Taxed, Southlawn, Defining Purpose, Dorth Vader, Julia Shining.

Turf males

1. Modern Games. Ran last weekend in the UK and won a thrilling Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes (G1). Before that he disappointed as the runner-up in the Maker's Mark Mile (G1). He retains this top spot for now. This guy did win the Eclipse last season and at least has made a start in this country already.

2. Chez Pierre. Can we finally see a horse assert himself in this division? Likely to run in the Shoemaker Mile (G1) this weekend at Santa Anita, winning two straight Grade 1 events for any horse in this division is something we haven't seen in quite some time. In his last start as the winner of the Maker's Mark Mile, he went from 24-1 to 9-1 in the final tote board flash before they left the gate. Not only did he win, he won by a wide margin quite easily. Before the Maker's Mark, he had lost only one race from six starts, so perhaps that one loss in the Tampa Bay Stakes (G3) was an aberration?

3. Casa Creed. Now a 7-year-old but he is in the best form of his career. He ran lights out when narrowly missing overseas in Saudi Arabia in the Turf Sprint (G3) and finishing second. The Saudi race was his first start this season.

4. Up to the Mark. Turf Classic (G1) win on Kentucky Derby day is certainly enough to move him up to this spot in a division starving for a horse to assert himself at the top.

5. Hong Kong Harry. Rebounded from his poor Kilroe Mile (G1) effort last out to finish a good runner-up in the Turf Classic at Churchill Downs. Was 5-for-6 last season with three graded-stakes wins. A contender in this division who also will run in this weekend's Shoemaker Mile.

Next 5: 
Gold Phoenix, Spooky Channel, Never Explain, Annapolis, Ottoman Fleet.

Turf females

1. War Like Goddess. Was outstanding in her return to the races last out, running away in the Bewitch (G3) at Keeneland. Simply put, she is the best long-distance grass horse based in the U.S. of either gender.

2. In Italian. Facile winner of the Jenny Wiley (G1) a few weeks ago at Keeneland, she moves to this top spot for now. Before that she ran well when runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. Will run next in the Just a Game (G1) on Belmont Stakes day

3. With the Moonlight. Runner-up to In Italian in the Jenny Wiley, this gal won her other two starts this season in Dubai, both Group 2.

4. Didia. Unbeaten in four starts in this country since coming from Argentina. Won the Modesty (G3) last out.

5. Caravel. A winner of her last four starts, this turf sprinter is headed overseas to run at Royal Ascot.

Next 5: Fluffy Socks, Spendarella, Shantisara, Higher Truth, Queen Goddess.

Male sprinters

1. Elite Power. Certainly showed he is the best in the world now sprinting on the dirt in overpowering the Riyadh Dirt Sprint (G3) field. Will come back to the states to run in major races and build an Eclipse-worthy resume. Met Mile (G1) could be next.

2. Cody's Wish. Made his 2023 debut a winning one in the Churchill Downs Stakes (G1). Will head to the Met Mile next on Belmont Stakes day. 

3. Sibelius. Surprise winner of the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1), defeating Gunite, among others. Before that this guy won the listed Pelican Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. Won his first graded stakes in late December at Gulfstream in the Mr. Prospector (G3).

4. Gunite. Disappointed somewhat in last out in the Golden Shaheen when third as the favorite. Before that he was simply the best of the rest when runner-up to Elite Power in Saudi Arabia.

5. Repo Rocks. Was impressive in his last, winning the Westchester (G3) after disappointing as the favorite in the Carter (G1) previously. Won his first three 2023 starts, the Toboggan (G3) and the Stymie, a listed stakes, both at Aqueduct, and the black-type Blitzen at Parx. Likely will go next in the Met Mile.

Next 5: Doppelganger, Straight No Chaser, Spirit of Makena, Skelly, Hoist the Gold.

Female sprinters

1. Goodnight Olive.  Maintains the top spot here despite her loss in the Derby City Distaff (G1). The Eclipse winner from last season started her season off with a win in the Madison (G1) at Keeneland a few weeks ago.

2. Matareya. Upset the top one in the Derby City Distaff, and it appears that she and Wicked Halo will make Goodnight Olive work for a repeat Eclipse in this division.

3. Wicked Halo. Runner-up in the Derby City Distaff, this 4-year-old filly ran well in the Breeders' Cup last fall to finish third in the Filly & Mare Sprint. Before that effort she won two Grade 2 events, the Raven Run at Keeneland and the Prioress Stakes at Saratoga. She returned this season in the Matron Stakes at Oaklawn a few weeks ago and defeated Matareya.

4. Frank's Rockette. Won the Hurricane Bertie (G3) at Gulfstream in early March and the the Roxelana Stakes at Churchill in late April.

5. Fun to Dream. Winner of the Santa Monica (G2) earlier this season, her connections tried to stretch out last time in the Beholder Mile (G1), where she finished runner-up.

Next 5:
 Echo Zulu, Maryquitecontray, Elm Drive, Maple Leaf Mel, My Destiny.

Several challengers looking to unseat Goodnight Olive

Heading into this season, I didn’t feel like the female sprint division was going to offer much drama. The winner of the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint on Nov. 5 at Keeneland, Goodnight Olive (No. 1), was back this season as the newly crowned Eclipse winner of the divisions, and there didn’t appear to be many challengers.

But in Goodnight Olive's first start of 2023 I felt like we saw a bit of a flaw in her armor. Although she won the race, she had to work hard for her one-length win. It appeared to me that she would be an underlay in her next start, the Derby City Distaff (G1), where she was made a solid favorite over good up-and-coming runners Matareya and Wicked Halo.

Matareya, whom I rank No. 2, was making her second start off of a long layoff going back to last summer. She was highly regarded last year after winning three graded stakes and went favored in the Test (G1), the nation's premier sprint race for 3-year-old fillies, where she finished third.

Wicked Halo, No. 3, finished a good third to Goodnight Olive in that Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint when she was a 3-year-old. She won two graded races prior, both sprints, and figured to be one of the main threats to Goodnight Olive’s place at the top of the division this season. Wicked Halo made her seasonal debut at Oaklawn and narrowly defeated Matareya.

Matareya got the better of her two rivals in the Derby City Distaff, winning the second Grade 1 of her career. To be fair, Goodnight Olive had traffic problems to snap her seven race-winning streak. But the fact is she was beaten.

The loss by Goodnight Olive combined with the emergence of several others has made this division one of the more interesting ones now in racing. The three who clashed in the Derby City most certainly will meet again, and later this summer and fall we could see fresh faced 3-year-old sprinters such as Maple Leaf Mel.

And, don’t forget about Echo Zulu, the winner of the Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old filly of 2021. She had an abbreviated campaign last season that ended with a very good runner-up finish to Goodnight Olive in the Breeders’ Cup. This gal hasn’t started since but returns this weekend in the Memorial Day Sprint Stakes at Lone Star Park.

Yes indeed, the female sprint division is trending upward.

Meet Chip Gehrke

Chip Gehrke has been with Horse Racing Nation since 2015 and currently serves as a Featured Writer. Based outside of Chicago, Chip used to frequent the press box many weekends during the Arlington Park meets. The On The Air With Dr. Derby name originates from his many local sports radio show appearances as an on-air racing expert. 

In 2017, Chip was chosen to be a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association. As a part of the NTWAB, Chip became a voter for the year-end Eclipse Awards, something he takes very seriously. Some of Chip's favorite writings from the last couple of years is the best way to get to know him.

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