Division Rankings: Two Eclipse Award races appear undecided

November 05, 2019 11:10am

Since early February, I have looked deeply at each division by pouring over the results and video from the previous week's stakes races, taking several factors into consideration when trying to rank horses in preference for the year-end Eclipse Awards.

Although the season itself isn't over, the race for most of these championships effectively ended with last weekend's Breeders' Cup. For this voter, only two decisions still remain in terms of casting a No. 1 vote.

This week's Division Rankings feature the Top 3 from each race that I plan to write into my ballot when the time comes. I take all three spots very seriously, as No. 1 votes carry the most weight, but to be an Eclipse finalist is also a prestigious matter for connections.

There are a few "underneath" spots that could change by the end of the season, but the horses you see ranked No. 1 below are the horses who I will be voting for as the Eclipse winners in their respective division.

Missing from the list are the 
3-year-old female and 2-year-old male divisions. Those, in my opinion, remain open for debate.

Heading into the Breeders' Cup Distaff, there were three 3-year-old fillies in the field with a shot at the Eclipse. Two of them, Dunbar Road and Street Band, saw their chances evaporate with off-the-board finishes. Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Empress, however, ran a valiant third after setting the pace.

The horse making the biggest push for consideration ran hours earlier when Covfefe beat her elders in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.

Covfefe gets strong consideration from me. She shows two Grade 1 wins this season, and she got better as the year went on. Watching her last three starts, you get the sense that it was going to take a special effort to defeat her. She finished her season with five wins from six starts overall.

Guarana, the division leader heading into the Breeders' Cup, was already done racing for the season and bound to drop. She ran four times, winning three races. As with Covfefe, she has a pair of Grade 1 victories, with Guarana's resume boasting the Acorn (G1) and Coaching Club American Oaks (G1).

I am leaning toward Covfefe as my No. 1 horse with Guarana No. 2 and Serengeti Empress at No. 3. But I'll let the dust settle for a few more weeks and revisit this later before making a final decision.

The 2-year-old male division is a bit more complicated.

The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile saw 45-1 shot Storm the Court upset, and that Anneau d’Oro and Wrecking Crew rounded out the trifecta at 28-1 and 39-1 respectively, it really put this division up for grabs. The two Juvenile favorites, Eight Rings and Dennis’ Moment, both missed the board. It's tough for me to envision either claiming the Eclipse now unless they run again in 2019.

Storm the Court is certainly going to be a finalist, but he's said to be done for the season. Will his one graded stakes win be enough to claim the Eclipse? In 2017, that was the case when Good Magic broke his maiden while winning the Juvenile.

There are also horses who didn’t run in the Breeders’ Cup who could make some noise in this division over the next few weeks.

Of interest, unbeaten Champagne Stakes (G1) winner Tiz the Law is taking on Churchill Downs' Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) later this month.

Independence Hall, the runaway winner of last weekend’s Nashua Stakes (G2) at Aqueduct, is 2-for-2 and may try the Remsen (G2) at the beginning of December.

Both of those colts can push their names to the top of voters' minds at the right time.

But what about the two turf winners on Friday’s Breeders’ Cup card?

Four Wheel Drive powered home much the best in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint, upping his record to 3-for-3 when going gate to wire. He prepped by winning Belmont Park's Futurity Stakes (G3). 

Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner Structor also now sports a 3-for-3 record and entered with a victory in Belmont's Pilgrim (G3).

By my count, there are at least a half dozen 2-year-old males in with a shot at this Eclipse Award. This makes the last few graded stakes for the division must-see events that will play a large role in determining a champion.

Here's how I see the other divisions shaking out...

Older Dirt Males

1.
  Mitole – The Breeders' Cup Sprint winner will be the No. 1 horse on my ballot for this division. No other older male can match his resume: six wins at five tracks from seven starts. His four Grade 1 wins is double that of his next closest pursuer.

2.  Vino Rosso – 
Made it clear to everyone that he is the best 10-furlong dirt horse in the country with a powerful win in the Breeders' Cup Classic. His margin of victory was the fifth-largest in the race's 36-year history. Winning three of six starts on the year, the Classic was his second Grade 1 win. Also remember he was disqualified in that Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1), too.

3.  
McKinzie – The Breeders' Cup Classic favorite ran a game race finishing a clear second. He likely ends his season with two wins from seven starts and a win in the Whitney (G1) at Saratoga.

Older Dirt Females

1.  
Midnight Bisou  She tried her hardest, but she couldn't quite catch Blue Prize in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. The loss not only spoiled her unbeaten season, but also her Horse of the Year chances. Maybe the long season caught up to her, or she didn't quite like the deep Santa Anita track. But she ends her season with seven graded wins.

2.  Blue Prize
 – Joined Bayakoa and Paseana as Breeders' Cup Distaff winners bred in Argentina. After losing the first three starts of her season, she got hot and won her last three.

3. It's undecided between Elate, who went 2-for-7 this season and capped her career with a fourth in the Breeders' Cup Classic, and Come Dancing, who was 4-for-6 and didn't run her race in the Filly & Mare Sprint but did win four graded events in 2019.

3-Year-Old-Males

1.  
Maximum Security – The No. 1 horse here since early May, he will stay in this spot for the remainder of the season. Clearly has the best overall resume of any in this division with two Grade 1 wins, and he has hit the wire behind only one horse in his whole career. Though controversially disqualified from that victory in the Kentucky Derby, the image of him overpowering the field in a wire-to-wire performance won't be forgotten by this voter.

2.  
Code of Honor – Off the board in the Breeders' Cup Classic, the Travers (G1) winner simply didn't fire over the Santa Anita track. Assuming he is through racing for the season, he finishes with four wins from eight starts, with one of those via DQ in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

3.  
Omaha Beach – Runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile to fellow 3-year-old Spun to Run, he may run again in the Malibu (G1) at Santa Anita in late December. He has run in four graded stakes this season, winning three.

Turf Males

1.  
Bricks and Mortar – If he isn't a unanimous choice in the vote for this division, there should be an investigation. Simply an outstanding season and is set to join Wise Dan, Kotashaan, and John Henry as the only grass horses to win Horse of the Year in the Breeders' Cup era.

2.  Arklow -
There's quite a gap between Bricks and Mortar and everyone else. You can take any one of half a dozen horses and round out the second and third spots on your Eclipse ballot in this division. Although he was up the track in the Breeders' Cup Turf, Arklow won the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) and placed in four other graded stakes.

3.  World of Trouble -
Thinking outside the box here, but this guy was brilliant on the grass, winning all three of his starts on that surface in 2019.

Turf Females

1.  
Sistercharlie  Had a six-race win streak snapped when third in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf. As the incumbent Eclipse winner of this division, Sistercharlie’s three Grade 1 wins this season are enough for me to place her above her main rival for the Eclipse, Uni. 

2.  Uni 
– The Breeders’ Cup Mile heroine was spectacular in victory over Got Stormy. Overall on the season she won two Grade 1 races with three wins from four starts. She won’t dethrone Sistercharlie on my ballot. Both ran four times, but Sistercharlie did more with her four starts.

3.  
Vasilika – Validated her season-long ranking here with a game runner-up performance in the Filly & Mare Turf. Overall on the season she won five graded stakes.

Male Sprinters

1.  
Mitole  A lock for the Eclipse in this division, he is one of the better sprinters we have seen in the last 20 years.

2.  
Imperial Hint – Scratched from the Breeders' Cup Sprint, he won two Grade 1 races before that, finishing 2-for-4 on the season.

3.  Shancelot
- The Breeders' Cup Sprint runner-up is certainly a talented colt. But I acknowledge it's a stretch to place him third on the ballot with a single graded win. Others could be considered here.

Female Sprinters

1.  
Covfefe –  Simply overwhelmed the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint competition. Finishes her season with five wins from six starts, and she bagged two Grade 1 wins this season. A sure bet to win the Eclipse in this division.

2.  
Come Dancing – Was the leader of this division before her showdown with Covfefe in the Breeders' Cup, where she simply didn't fire in her sixth-place finish. She won four graded stakes this year, including the Ballerina (G1).

3. 
Belvoir Bay -  The Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint heroine started her season in January and won her first two starts before her narrow loss in Dubai's Al Quoz Sprint (G1). She finishes her season with three wins from six starts.

2-Year-Old Females

1.
  British Idiom – Narrow winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, she will win the Eclipse in this division. She finishes her season 3-for-3 with a pair of Grade 1 scores.

2.
  Donna Veloce - Remarkable runner-up finish to British Idiom in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies after making her career debut only one month earlier.

3.  Bast 
 Found the top two a bit too much to handle in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies after working near the front end early but was the best of the rest. Previously won the Chandelier (G1) and Del Mar Debutante (G1).

 

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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 local sports radio show appearances as an on-air racing expert. Now also a weekly contributor on FOX Sports radio's "The Fast Track," Chip can be heard giving his thoughts on the racing world every weekend.

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, along with following him on Twitter at @doctorderby.

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