Division Rankings: Deep BC Mile could be a win for the home team

Division Rankings: Deep BC Mile could be a win for the home team
Photo: Casey Phillps/Eclipse Sportswire

The Breeders’ Cup Mile is often the most eclectic race on the Breeders’ Cup card. Usually well represented by contenders from overseas, the Mile also draws horses with differing backgrounds from the U.S as well. You will sometimes see well established dirt horses running in the Mile, while also drawing turf stars that may find the 12-furlong Breeders’ Cup Turf distance a bit beyond their scope.

This year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile is shaping up to be an outstanding field where 12 of the 14 expected entries are Grade 1 winners. While the favorites role will likely go to Space Blues, the Godolphin owned son of Dubawi fresh off of a Group 1 win at Longchamp, I prefer a well known trio of turf stars who don’t have to leave their home base. 

Before I take a closer look at this fascinating Breeders’ Cup Mile renewal, lets take a look at this week’s updated Division Rankings:

Older dirt males

1. Knicks Go. Passed his final test last out in the Lukas Classic (G3) and now his connections are preparing him for the Breeders' Cup Classic, his first race at 10 furlongs. With two Grade 1 wins on the season, he leads this division. A win away from the Eclipse in this division and Horse of the Year.

2. Maxfield. Missed another chance at a Grade 1 win when he was a disappointing runner-up in the Woodward to Art Collector. I am going to go ahead and leave this guy here at No. 2. Why? For starters, he was stuck behind a very slow pace that Art Collector was allowed to get away with. Also, Maxfield has run well in several starts over the whole season, from coast to coast. Although he is 0-3 in Grade 1 starts this season, he hasn't missed the board and has won three graded stakes. Will skip the Breeders’ Cup

3. Silver State. I am going to leave him here at No. 3 despite his bizarre loss last out in the Parx Mile when he inexplicably lost focus and in the final yards let Mind Control come back on the rail to beat him. Count me among those who felt he was much the best in the race, especially when taking into account that he was far back behind slow fractions. He will be tough to beat in this next start, the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. Not out of this Eclipse race just yet.

4. Max Player. The winner of the Suburban (G2) and Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) in his last two starts, he clearly is better than ever. However, the JCGC field was historically weak, but then again, this division isn't the strongest either. Already in California preparing for the Breeders' Cup Classic, but I still think he is a cut below the best.

5. Art Collector. Moves into the top five here off of his win in the Woodward last out, where he was allowed to set a tepid pace and prevail in the stretch. The waters get much deeper next out in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Hard to envision him being a factor in the 10-furlong Classic which is coming up very deep this season.

Next 5: Mystic Guide, Tripoli, Dr. Post, Express Train, Happy Saver.

Older dirt females

1. Letruska. Will now set her sights on Horse of the Year where a win in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff will place her squarely in that conversation. Last time out she won the Spinster over a strong field. Now 17-for-22 on her career, she has won four Grade 1 events this year over four race tracks. 

2. Shedaresthedevil. Last out she was game to get the job done by a neck in the Locust Grove (G3) at Churchill Downs, and previous to that she was sensational in her trip out west to take the Clement Hirsch (G1). The win was important for another reason; it came over the same Del Mar surface that the Breeder's Cup Distaff will be run on. Don't underestimate the importance of that fact. She showed that she can ship across country and win. She is clearly the biggest threat now to Letruska in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, but not for the Eclipse – that ship has sailed.

3. Bonny SouthRunner-up in two straight Grade 1 events, the Spinster and the Personal Ensign, she is in the best form of career. Her lone win in 2021 came in the Doubledogdare (G3) at Churchill Downs. Will skip the Breeders’ Cup.

4. Royal Flag. Defeating a subpar field in last weekend's Beldame (G2) at Belmont doesn't move her up in these rankings; she remains here at No. 4. Finished a good third to Letruska in the Personal Ensign previous to the Beldame. She will run in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and is not without a shot there.

5. Dunbar Road. Four starts on the season and this mare is getting better which each one. Was a good runner-up to Letruska in the Spinster and could be dangerous with a quick pace setup in the Breeders' Cup Distaff.

Next 5: As Time Goes By, Envoutante, Crystal Ball, Gamine, Antoinette.

3-year-old males

1. Essential Quality. The Travers was his fifth graded stakes win on the season, the most of any horse in any division. Clearly has this No. 1 spot by a wide margin. He will train up to the Breeders' Cup Classic, where a win at Del Mar will net this guy Horse of the Year. He will not ship to Del Mar until Nov. 1 and the big gap since the Travers is worrisome.

2. Medina Spirit. Folks, if you have dislike for the human connections, toss them aside. His win in the Awesome Again (G1) over older horses was the best race of his career and the second fastest route race run by a 3-year-old male in 2021. He also became the only 3-year-old male to defeat older males in a Grade 1 thus far this season. As I wrote previously, strap yourselves in, as there will be much debate on his Breeders' Cup Classic chances and his worthiness for the Eclipse and Horse of the Year, should he win the Classic. 

3. Hot Rod Charlie. Was simply sensational in his Penn Derby (G1) win. In running the second fastest two-turn race this season, speed figure wise, this guy will be among the top betting choices in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Leaving it out on the track every time he runs, he and Essential Quality have been the pillars of this division since last fall. He too is in with a long-shot chance for year-end hardware.

4. Jackie's Warrior. Another dominant win, this time in the Gallant Bob (G2) at Parx, he ran another giant speed figure. He has developed into the best sprinters in the country now, and will be the favorite in the Breeders' Cup Sprint over older horses. Certainly the best 3-year-old male sprinter since Runhappy.

5. Midnight Bourbon. Has really brought his "A" game in his last two starts. He was a clear second best last out in the Penn Derby to "Hot Rod", and previous to that was a close runner-up to Essential Quality in the Travers. Connections have decided to skip the BC with him and point to possibly the Clark at Churchill later this fall with an eye on the big races in early 2022.

Next 5:
 Life is Good, Mandaloun, Rombauer, Stilleto Boy, Dr. Schivel.

3-year-old females

1. Malathaat. Took care of business the way a prohibitive favorite should have in the Alabama (G1) at Saratoga. Now a winner of  the three Grade 1 events on the season, the Eclipse is a virtually locked up, and she will now train up to the Breeders' Cup Distaff.  Win or lose in the Breeders' Cup, she will get my vote in this division.

2. Clairiere. Has stepped up nicely in her last two, winning the Cotillion (G1) last out as much the best. Ran a really good race in the Alabama to finished runner-up to Malathaat prior and now heads to the Breeders' Cup Distaff where the waters will get much deeper.

3. Search Results. Cutting back to the seven-furlong Test Stakes (G1) last out, she finished an even third. Previously she was an impressive winner of the Acorn, which was her first Grade 1 win. Suffered her only loss, to Malathaat, in the Kentucky Oaks earlier this season, but she was game in defeat. Her connections have decided to take her out of training and point to a 4-year-old campaign. Will likely drop from this spot in the coming weeks.

4. Private MissionLate bloomer defeated older in the Zenyatta (G1) last out and has been impressive in three starts this season, all wins. Fresh filly could be dangerous in the Breeders' Cup Distaff on her home track. Reminds me a bit of Hollywood Wildcat in 1993 who also burst onto the scene late in her sophomore season and ended up defeating all comers in the Distaff.

5. Soothsay. Showing tremendous fight and determination in the stretch of her Indiana Oaks win, Soothsay looked like a different horse than the one we saw previously in her loss to Crazy Beautiful in the Summertime Oaks. The Indiana race was her first race outside of Santa Anita too, any way you slice it, she is now a player in this division with the Breeders' Cup in her backyard too. Another that has matured right before our eyes but now is done racing for the year, her racing future in doubt.

Next 5: Army Wife, Obligatory, Crazy Beautiful, Zaajel, Maracuja.

Turf males

1. Domestic Spending. Runner-up in the Mister D (G1), he couldn't overcome a slow place set by winner Two Emmys. The loss leaves this division still open for the taking. He has won two Grade 1 events this season, his facile Manhattan Stakes (G1) win at Belmont was superb, defeating several others ranked below. Will train up to the Breeders' Cup Turf, his lead in this division is slim.

2. Mo Forza. I'm not so sure he isn't the best grass horse in the country right now. I almost placed him No. 1, but he simply doesn't have the resume to unseat Domestic Spending right now. Was sensational again last out in his City of Hope Mile (G2) win. He will be among the Breeders' Cup Mile favorites and is very much in this Eclipse race, despite not winning a Grade 1 yet this season. Has won eight of his last nine starts over the last 24 months.

3. Smooth Like Strait. Another tough luck runner-up finish to his rival, Mo Forza. Last weekend it was a half-length defeat in the City of Hope Mile, the previous start it was a head loss in the Del Mar Mile (G2). As honest as they come, and is sure to be in the mix turning for home in the Breeders' Cup Mile, his next start.

4. Colonel Liam. Like Domestic Spending, this guy also has two Grade 1 wins on his resume, but he sports a Grade 2 win in 2021 too. True, he did go down to defeat in the Manhattan back in June, but it was his first loss of 2021. He had been running since January and has won three stakes. Off since that Manhattan loss.

5. Gufo. Disappointed as the favorite last out in the Joe Hirsch (G1) where he finished third but his connections are moving forward with a planned Breeders’ Cup Turf start.

Next 5: United, Hit the Road, Tribhuvan, Rockemperor, Japan.

Turf females

1. War Like Goddess. Dominant again, this time in the Flower Bowl (G1), she is a serious contender now for this Eclipse. Previously she won the Glens Falls (G2) at Saratoga and was a winner of two other graded races earlier this season. She has only one loss from six career starts, and has certainly stepped up her game now for trainer Bill Mott. Deserving of this No. 1 spot and will be among the favorites in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf.

2. Althiqa. Returned in the First Lady (G1) at Keeneland and disappointed as the favorite while finishing fourth. That effort dropped her from my top spot. Previously, she won back-to-back Grade 1 events, the Diana and Just a Game. Has since been retired.

3. Princess Grace. Unbeaten in three starts this season, she won the Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf (G3) last time out. Scratched from the First Lady she will skip the Breeders’ Cup and run on the undercard in the Goldikova (G2).

4. Mean Mary. No excuses in the Beverly D but she was game to hold the runner-up spot. She was simply second best. Prior to the Beverly D she was victorious in the New York Stakes (G2) and previous to that winning race, Mean Mary was best in the Gallorette Stakes (G3) at Pimlico. Has since been retired because of injury.

5. Blowout. Winner of the First Lady last out, she has won two of her three starts this season. A speedster, if she can secure reasonable fractions she can be tough to beat. She likely set the pace in the Breeders’ Cup Mile.

Next 5: Going to Vegas, Summer Romance, Viadera, Got Stormy, Regal Glory.

Male sprinters

1. Jackie's Warrior. He was outstanding in his last three starts, all wins. Last out in the Gallant Bloom he dominated an overmatched field. He is the best 3-year-old male sprinter we have seen since Runhappy in 2015, and has shown an uncanny ability to handle torrid fractions and have enough in the stretch to find the wire first.

2. Dr. Schivel. He's no fluke. He was dominant in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship, drawing off by over three lengths. Another 3-year-old male, this guy will give Jackie's Warrior a serious test come Breeders' Cup time. Previously he was all heart in the Bing Crosby (G1) defeating several tough veteran sprinters. Has never been off the board in seven starts.

3. C Z Rocket. Ran good in the Santa Anita Sprint Champhionship but he just didn't have his late punch and was nosed out by Flagstaff ro the runner-up spot. Still feel this guy will be tough in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, but needs a quick pace to have any sort of shot being that he a deep closer.

4. Flagstaff. Tough old veteran fired again in the Pat O'Brien where he finished third. He too will be tough to beat come Breeders' Cup time. Previously he was second best in the True North (G2) and won the Grade 1 Churchill Down Stakes. He too will run in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship.

5. Firenze Fire. Was never going to catch Following Sea in the four horse Vosburgh when the latter was allowed to set a leisurely pace. Finishing runner-up, look for this guy to shine come Breeders' Cup as he could surprise everyone in the Sprint.

Next 5: Following Sea, Life is Good, Lexitonian, Special Reserve, Ginobili.

Female sprinters

1. Gamine. Got the job done again, this time in the Ballerina (G1) at Saratoga. She hasn't lost a race since last year's Kentucky Oaks, but with only four starts this year, she could still lose this Eclipse to one horse, Bella Sofia.

2. Bella Sofia. This 3-year-old filly will be the pick by many to upset Gamine in the Breeders' Cup. She has been dominant in her two sprint stakes starts, the Test (G1) at Saratoga and the Gallant Bloom (G2) at Belmont.

3. Bell's the One. Prevailed in the Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes (G2) by a neck but will skip the Breeders’ Cup. She has won three stakes this year, two of which were graded.

4. Sconsin. Super effort last out in the Open Mind Stakes and may have been the most dangerous to Gamine on Breeders' Cup day, but her connections are not sending her to Del Mar. 

5. Ce Ce. Easy winner of her final Breeders' Cup prep, the Chillingworth Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita. Previously, she showed she belongs with the best this division has to offer as she finished third in the Ballerina, beaten just three lengths. She is not without a chance in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.

Next 5: Estilo Talentoso, Lake Avenue, Kimari, Edgeway, Frank's Rockette.

2-Year-Old Males

1. Jack Christopher. The Champagne (G1) winner from is now 2-for-2 on his career, but it was the way he won the Champagne that caught many eyes. He ran the fastest race, speed figure wise, by a 2-year-old male since 2017. Will be the favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

2. Corniche. This fast maiden winner didn't disappoint in the American Pharoah Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita, running away by over three lengths for the win. Has home court advantage in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

3. Pinehurst. Unbeaten in two starts, including his last out win in the Del Mar Futurity (G1), but both his wins were slow on the speed figure side as compared to others in these rankings. Also with the home court advantage in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

4. Major General. Winner of both his starts, he won the Iroquois Stakes (G3) last month.

5. Rattle N Roll. Impressive winner of the Breeders' Futurity (G1) will now head to Del Mar for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

Next 5: Commandperformance, WitGunite, Pappacap, High Oak, Albahr.

2-Year-Old Females

1. Echo Zulu. Stays atop here after another Grade 1 win, this time in the Frizette by over seven lengths. Previous to that she won the Spinaway (G1) at Saratoga. The clear cut Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies favorite.

2. Hidden Connection. The Midwest star has won both her starts, the Pocahontas Stakes (G3) was her last start. The Breeders' Cup is next.

3. Ain't Easy. Facile winner of the Chandelier (G2) at Santa Anita, she is 2-for-2 thus far in her career and the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies will be next.

4. Juju's Map. Winner of last week's Alcibiades (G1) as  the favorite at Keeneland after breaking her maiden at Ellis Park.

5. Averly Jane. Winner of all four of her starts, she will run in next weeks Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint against the boys.

Next 5: Behave Virginia, Dance to the Music, Tarabi, Happy Soul, Wild Beauty. 

While we still have a few days before the Breeders’ Cup Mile field is finalized, we do know three California based horses that have been pointing to this race for months. 

Mo Forza, Smooth Like Strait, and Hit the Road have entertained Southern California racing fans over the past few months, running 1-2-3 in two straight grades stakes events at Santa Anita and Del Mar. California based runners have had a tough go of it over the last 15 years in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, none have been in the winner’s circle. This year, though, we have three stars who have “game”. 

Mo Forza will be the pick by many to win this race, despite having not won a Grade 1 race for nearly two years. But to be fair, he also hasn’t lost a race in nearly 21 months. Mo Forza has raced sparingly due to a number of physical issues, but he is back now and in great form. He has only started two time this season, but he has defeated his two rivals both times. Last time out in the City if Hope Mile (G2), he looked beat in the stretch but found another gear late and got up in time to defeat his stubborn and game rival, Smooth Like Strait. 

Smooth Like Strait is a good barometer for these California horses. He travelled east back in May to Churchill Downs and faced the best in this division, Domestic Spending and Colonel Liam, and look like a winner in the stretch but was just caught in the last few yards to lose by a neck in the Turf Classic (G1). Back in California for his last four starts, he won the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile in late May, and has finished runner-up in his last three starts, losing by a neck, a head, and a half-length. One thing is for sure, Smooth Like Strait will be in the thick of things in the stretch of this Breeders’ Cup Mile, and is a serious win contender on his best day. 

Hit the Road won his first two starts of the season at Santa Anita, the Thunder Road (G3) and the Kilroe Mile (G1). In the Kilroe Mile he defeated Smooth Like Straight by a neck. After an off the board finish last April at Keeneland in the Maker’s Mark Mile, where an eventful ship from his home base contributed to his uncharacteristic race, trainer Dan Blacker regrouped with his stable star. Rested for over four months, Hit the Road has come back in his last two starts to run very well against Mo Forza and Smooth Like Strait. His last race in the City of Hope Mile was particularly impressive. He lacked room down the backstretch and had to wait and shift paths before making his run. When he finally got away he had too much work to do but he closed stoutly to miss by a little over a half-length. 

With so many stars entered in this Breeders’ Cup Mile I fully expect Hit the Road and Smooth Like Strait to be somewhat overlooked. It would not surprise me in the least to see these two and Mo Forza be right there at the wire. Who knows, maybe another 1-2-3 finish could be in the cards, California horses are certainly due for some Breeders’ Cup Mile success.

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 can be found in the press box many weekends during the Arlington Park meet. 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.

 The Loss of Medina Spirit

California Chrome in Rarified Air

Cigar and the Pacific Classic

Spending Time With Game on Dude

Go For Wand: Gone But Not Forgotten

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