We are nearing the halfway point of this bizarre racing season and, not surprisingly, a number of equine divisions listed below lack clarity.
Outside of Midnight Bisou, who sits atop the Older Dirt Female ranks, there are myriad questions still to be answered given lack of recent activity from several horses anticipated to be stars in 2020.
With so many questions still out there, I wouldn't be surprised if most current No. 1 horses are unseated by season's end. And that's quite a statement considering where we were this time last year.
The eventual Eclipse winners in four divisions were ranked No. 1 at this point in 2019. Uni, who hadn't made her season debut, was the only future champion not ranked within her division.
So in this more tumultuous year, I've selected a trio of horses that look eligible to move up the second half of the season and contend for a title.
1) The Male Sprint division has loads of question marks right now. Whitmore finally after being highly ranked for the last couple of years. But can the older gelding carry top form out of Oaklawn Park?
Keep an eye on the horse ranked ninth right now, Vekoma. The Blue Grass Stakes (G2) winner from 2019 made his 2020 debut sprinting seven furlongs a winning one in the Sir Shackleton Stakes at Gulfstream. Speed-figure wise, it was Vekoma's best race.
Although Vekoma has run well going two turns, I got the sense from watching him last out that his best game is at shorter distances. It will be interesting to see where is connections take him and if they can resist the temptation to stretch back out.
2) Staying with the sprinters, let's turn to the ladies. Mia Mischief was the only horse to defeat Covfefe last year. Ranked No. 2 right now in the Female Sprint division, she has started her season with two wins by open lengths in two starts.
Last year Mia Mischief looked like she would contend in this division for an Eclipse after her win in the Humana Distaff (G1). But two off-the-board finishes at Saratoga ended those chances.
She was purchased by Stonestreet Stables last fall for $2.4 million and remained with Asmussen. Maybe Mia Mischief will finish what she started in 2019.
3) Lastly, let's look at a horse from the Turf Male division. Right now Zulu Alpha holds down the No. 1 spot, but I feel like this race is wide open.
Take a look a horse like River Boyne. This weekend he will attempt to win his second straight Grade 1 race this season in the Shoemaker Mile (G1). If he is successful, that would lead this division and be enough for him to take over the No. 1 spot.
This 5-year-old has run 24 times in his career and was a multiple graded stakes winner at age 3. Winless in seven starts last year, he is 2-for-3 in 2020. As is often the case with horses when given the chance to run at age 5, River Boyne has taken it to a new level. He is in the best form of his career and this is no illusion. Best at a mile, River Boyne is a name to keep an eye on.
All three of these horses could be serious contenders for the Eclipse in their respective divisions, and as with the case of River Boyne, may not fly under the radar much longer.
With that, a look at this week's Division Rankings...
2. By My Standards – Three outs in 2020 are in the books for this son of Goldencents, and one thing is clear: He has matured into a Eclipse contender at age 4. His last win in the Oaklawn Handicap (G2) came against the best group of older horses assembled for a race on U.S. soil this season. He could take over the No. 1 spot with another win.
3. Tom's d'Etat – A winner of his last three, he is in the best form of his career now at age 7. His Oaklawn Mile Stakes win over Improbable and nine others was deceptively good. The decision to skip the Oaklawn Handicap has to be questioned, given the fact that with few tracks running there are limited stakes to choose from. He could head west next for the June 6 Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1) looking to go 1 1/4 miles.
4. Mucho Gusto – Much-improved from last season, he took an eventful Saudi Cup trip. He likely would have finished third instead of fourth had jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. not been so concerned with Maximum Security for the entirety of the race. With COVID-19 leading to cancellation of the Dubai World Cup (G1), his more recent plans were dashed.
5. Warrior's Charge – Deserves to be placed in the top five based off of his Razorback (G3) win and his strong runner-up to By My Standards in the Oaklawn Handicap. Next up, Churchill's Stephen Foster or the Metropolitan Handicap (G1).
Next 5: Mr. Freeze, Tacitus, Improbable, Combatant, Midcourt.
2. Ce Ce – With two Grade 1 wins already in 2020, more recently in the Apple Blossom (G1), she is moving quickly to challenge for the top spot. She is a serious Eclipse player in this division.
3. Ollie's Candy - Ran a top race race in the Apple Blossom, as she did all the work on the front end while setting some quick fractions. She has finished behind Ce Ce in both of her starts this year, the other being the Beholder Mile (G1) at Santa Anita.
4. Point of Honor - Closed from 14th, where she was more than 23 lengths back, to run third in the Apple Blossom after getting squeezed back at the break. She has run well in both of her starts this season.
5. Serengeti Empress - Ran a clunker in her last when she checked in 11th. Prior to that she was a romping winner of the Azeri (G2).
Next 5: Street Band, Go Google Yourself, Pink Sands, Hard Not to Love, Monomoy Girl.
1. Nadal – Showed in the Arkansas Derby that he is the top 3-year-old in the land by defeating the best assembled group of sophomores so far in 2020. His three graded stakes wins lead his class, and he should only get better as he goes longer. It's looking like the newly rescheduled Belmont Stakes -- at a drastically reduced distance of nice furlongs -- will be his next start on June 20.
2. Tiz the Law – Unseated recently from the top spot, he has only two starts this year. I believe he is at or near the top of the division, but you have to run to win Eclipse awards. The Belmont is confirmed as his next start.
3. Charlatan – Moved to the No. 3 spot slightly ahead of Authentic based on his six-length win in the first division of the Arkansas Derby. I still don't know what to make of this son of Speightstown. The field was suspect at best for a Grade 1, but he got the job done under jockey Martin Garcia, who did push Charlatan in the late stages with three left handed reminders. He too aims for the Belmont next out.
4. Authentic – Unbeaten in three career starts, he was sensational last out in the San Felipe (G2), defeating a strong field that included the runner-up, Honor A. P., who was making his season debut. He should make his next start in the rescheduled Santa Anita Derby (G1) on June 6.
5. King Guillermo - Impressed me with his runner-up finish in the Arkansas Derby behind Nadal, showing everyone that his 49-1 upset win in his previous start, the Tampa Bay Derby, was no fluke. Connections stated they will skip the Belmont and train up to the Kentucky Derby.
Next 5: Sole Volante, Ete Indien, Honor A.P, Independence Hall, Wells Bayou.
1. Swiss Skydiver – After further review, she moves into this No. 1 spot. Her Fantasy Stakes (G3) win came over the deepest group this division has seen in a race this season, and I get the sense she is here to stay. She now has two straight graded stakes wins and she will now ship west to shoot for the Santa Anita Oaks (G2) on June 6.
2. Donna Veloce – Big things were expected this year from the daughter of Uncle Mo, and she certainly delivered in her first start of 2020, winning the Santa Ysabel (G3). She is back on the sidelines now, however, due to a physical setback.
3. Venetian Harbor – The runaway Las Virgenes (G2) winner tried her best in the Fantasy but was simply second best. Some 10 lengths clear of third place, she looks like a candidate for the newly rescheduled Acorn Stakes (G1) at Belmont.
4. Finite – Disappointed as the odds-on favorite in the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) when she was off the board, finishing fourth. This snapped a five-race winning streak. Previously ranked No. 1, she took a big drop but will have opportunities to move back up returning to training soon after minor bone chip surgery.
5. Tonalist's Shape – Rebounded from her loss to Swiss Skydiver in the Gulfstream Park Oaks with a nice win in Gulfstream's Hollywood Wildcat Stakes. She now has three stakes wins on the season.
Next 5: Bonny South, Shedaresthedevil, Franks's Rockette, Kimari, British Idiom.
1. Zulu Alpha - On the sidelines for a brief freshening, the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) and Mac Diarmida Stakes (G2) winner tasted his first defeat of the season last out in the Pan American (G2) at Gulfstream when runner-up to Bemma's Boy. Still on top of this division for now, but I expect several others to contend for this Eclipse.
2. United - Almost pulled off a shocking upset in the Breeders' Cup Turf, losing to Bricks and Mortar by a head. Then won the San Marcos (G2) to get his 2020 season underway. He finally returns to the races in this weekend's Charles Whittingham Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita.
3. River Boyne
4. Arklow - Winner of the Joe Hirsch (G1) last fall at Belmont, he has appeared once this season, when he finished fifth to winner Zulu Alpha in the Pegasus World Cup Turf.
5. Factor This - Two for three on the season, he won the Muniz Memorial Stakes (G2) and the Fair Grounds Stakes (G3) in his last two starts.
Next 5: Factor This, Bemma's Boy, Sadler's Joy, Mo Forza, Next Shares, True Valour.
Starship Jubilee – With three starts already this season she is stacking up victories. The Tampa Bay Downs' Hillsborough (G2) was her latest win in a career that has seen her run 35 times. Starship Jubilee was also recently named Canada's 2019 Horse of the Year. Scratched from an expected start last weekend when Gulfstream's Powder Break Stakes came off the turf.
Next 5: Keeper Ofthe Stars, Magic Star, Jehozacat, Gentle Ruler, Lady Pename.
1. Whitmore - He takes over the top spot here having topped the best field in the division, the Count Fleet Sprint (G3) at Oaklawn. And Whitmore did so handily. With two wins in three starts, he shows no signs of slowing down at age 7.
2. Firenze Fire
3. Mind Control - Started off 2020 with a win in the Toboggan Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct. And last out a few weeks ago, he looked beaten but put in a spectacular stretch run to win the Tom Fool (G3).
4. Flagstaff - Off the board only once in 12 career starts, he ran a bang-up second to Whitmore in the Count Fleet, rallying after a slow break. Previously in 2020, he won the San Carlos (G2) and finished runner-up in the Palos Verdes (G2) at Santa Anita.
5. New York Central - Won the Saudi Cup Sprint his last out but was off the board in his three previous starts. Maybe turned a corner at age 5? It will be interesting to see whether he continues campaigning overseas for Saudi Arabian interests or tries his hand again in the U.S.
Next 5: Imperial Hint, Cistron, Captain Scotty, Vekoma, Bobby's Wicked One.
1. Hard Not to Love - Covfefe left a huge void at the top of this division. This Grade 1 heroine in 2019 returned a winner in the Santa Monica (G2) at Santa Anita and then tried to stretch out in the Beholder Mile at Santa Anita, where she was runner-up to Ce Ce.
new owner, Stonestreet Stables, she could contend for the top spot in this division soon.
4. Serengeti Empress - Never saw the lead in the Apple Blossom and faded to finish 11th. Although she hasn't sprinted yet this season, we know she can hang with the very best as she showed last August when runner-up to Covfefe in the Test at Saratoga. Stays ranked here in this division for now.
5. Pink Sands - In a division lacking depth, she cracks the top five. Won her only start this year sprinting in the Inside Information (G2) at Gulfstream.
Next 5: Special Relativity, Spiced Perfection, Kimari, Amy's Challenge, Break Even.