Division Rankings: September Derby could crown a champ

Division Rankings: September Derby could crown a champ
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

With the COVID-19 pandemic impacting everyday life for all Americans, it is a bit difficult for me to write about how all of this affects sports, and in particular horse racing.

Let's face it: Sports takes a back seat to what many in this country are going through with millions of people told to stay at home for the foreseeable future and many out of work because of it.

But people also look to sports as an escape, a break of sorts from the day-to-day grind that people live through. Even in times like this, talking and reading about sports is the tonic that we need. I suspect that's part of why you're reading this now.

Just a few months ago, no one could have predicted the complete chaos the 2020 thoroughbred racing calendar faces, in particular the postponement of the Kentucky Derby, which is sure to set off other dominoes to accommodate it.

Races such as Monmouth Park's Haskell Invitational (G1) and Saratoga's Travers (G1) may take different spots on the calendar, now as preps for a Sept. 5 Derby.

One of the unique aspects of the Kentucky Derby was its place on the calendar. It sends 3-year-olds a mile and a quarter for the first time, part of the wagering allure, and didn't allow for many hiccups along the way. The first Saturday in May is still a relatively early point in many horses' developments.

The Travers Stakes, typically run in late August at Saratoga, also measures 10 furlongs. It makes sense now to shift that to the last week of July or first Saturday in August, providing four or five weeks of cushion until the Derby. It gets complicated for a race like the Jim Dandy (G2), the local Travers prep, considering the meet doesn't start until July 24. Could that race run during the Belmont Park meet?

As popular as the Kentucky Derby is, it has rarely been the deciding factor in an Eclipse race. That likely will change this year if these races are run. 

I say "if" because quite frankly, I don't think it is a sure thing, given the current state of the country, specifically issues in New York and New Jersey. Are they precursors to what other states will suffer through in the coming weeks and months?

I also believe the Kentucky Derby is far from a sure thing to take place with spectators in the stands.

Will we really have sporting events packed with tens of thousands of people in the stadiums, or in our case racetracks, just weeks or months removed from a global pandemic? That is a fair question to ask, and in my opinion, I think it is a longshot. I hope I am wrong.

With that, a look at this week's Division Rankings... 

Older Dirt Males

1.  Maximum Security - Recently was given an exam by Dr. Larry Bramlage of Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., and outside of the normal wear and tear of racing, all other parameters were normal. While none of this mess is his fault, I hope he gets the chance to write a happy ending to the racing chapter of his epic story. He likely won't run again until the summer.

2.  Mucho Gusto - Much improved from last season, his Saudi Cup trip was eventful. He would have likely finished third instead of fourth had his 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 plans were dashed.

3.  Tacitus - Ran well in his first start of 2020, finishing a close fifth in the Saudi Cup. Also affected by the cancellation of the Dubai World Cup, his next race is is also in question.

4.  Code of Honor - Still hasn't posted a work this season, but there is no hurry now given the state of the sports world.

5.  Mr. Freeze - Powerful win last out in the Gulfstream Park Mile (G2). Prior to that effort he was runner-up in Mucho Gusto's Pegasus World Cup (G1) win. Next race plans are pending.

Next 5: Gift Box, By My Standards, Tom's d'Etat, Spun to Run, Midcourt.

Older Dirt Females

Midnight Bisou – Was simply outstanding in her Saudi Cup run. The result opens new doors for the daughter of Midnight Lute. She's back in the U.S. and out of quarantine with no plans set for a next start.

Serengeti Empress - Overpowered the Azeri (G1) field last out, soundly defeating Lady Apple and Streed Band, among others. Whether it is one turn or two turns, she will be a major player in any race she is entered.

Come Dancing – Was great sprinting last year but also showed she could run longer, as evidenced by her runner-up finish to Midnight Bisou in the Ogden Phipps (G1) on Belmont day. Still no works yet this year.

4.  Dunbar Road - Last year's Alabama Stakes (G1) winner, excelling over various distances, should contend for the top spot this season. She's back in training with Chad Brown in Florida and was targeting a return in the La Troienne (G1) on May 1 at Churchill Downs until that event was postponed.

5.  Lady Apple - Was never factor in the Azeri, but I am keeping her her in the top five. I will chalk up her poor showing to the off track. Prior to the Azeri she defeated Serengeti Empress in the Houston Ladies Classic (G3).

Next 5:  Guarana, Street Band, Ce Ce, Go Google Yourself, Pink Sands.


Tiz the Law - Was flattered by Ete Indien's runaway win in the Fountain of Youth (G2). Remember, Tiz the Law defeated that rival by three lengths in th
e Holy Bull (G3) in his season debut in early February. With the Kentucky Derby moved to September, this division is in uncharted waters.

2.  Authentic - Unbeaten in three career starts, he was sensational in last start, the San Felipe (G2), beating a strong field that included the runner-up, Honor A. P., who was making his season debut. As of now Santa Anita is still racing, so the Santa Anita Derby (G1) in early April is next.

3.  Nadal - Was ranked this high in previous weeks because I felt he was the real deal, and he proved that last out in the Rebel (G2). Now 3-for-3, he could resurface in the rescheduled Arkansas Derby (G1) on May 2.

4.  Sole Volante - The Sam F. Davis (G3) winner ran his race in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) but was left with too much to do when finishing runner-up to the longshot winner, King Guillermo. 

5.  Ete Indien - Romped by more than eight lengths in wire-to-wire fashion in the Fountain of Youth for his first stakes win. Still think he may end up better on the grass. The Florida Derby (G1) and a rematch with Tiz the Law is scheduled for this weekend.

Next 5: Independence Hall, Honor A.P, Wells Bayou, Storm the Court. King Guillermo.


1.  Donna Veloce - Big things were expected this year from the daughter of Uncle Mo, and she certainly delivered in her first start of 2020. In winning the Santa Ysabel (G3) by more than four lengths, she served notice that she will be a major Kentucky Oaks contender.

2.  British Idiom - Sure, it was her first start since last fall, but she never threatened Finite, and that one went on to lose her next start. Was supposed to make Keeneland's Ashland Stakes (G1) her next start. Now, Oaklawn's Fantasy (G3) is on the table.

3.  Venetian Harbor - Won the Las Virgenes (G2) by more than nine lengths in her stakes debut and could be something special. Connections had the Ashland penciled in next but will have to regroup with the Fantasy an option for her, too.

4.  Finite - Disappointed as the odds-on favorite in last weekend's Fair Grounds Oaks when she was off the board, finishing fourth. This snapped a five-race winning streak. Previously ranked No. 1, she takes a big drop. Previously, she overpowered champion British Idiom and the rest of the field in the Rachel Alexandra (G2). 

5.  Tonalist's Shape - With her Davona Dale (G2) win at Gulfstream, this filly is 5-for-5. She is scheduled to run again in this weekend's Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2), facing off against the Demoiselle (G2) winner Lake Avenue. 

Next 5: Bonny South, Perfect Alibi, Wicked Whisper, Frank's Rockette, Inspiressa.

Turf Males

1.  Zulu Alpha - Followed up his Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) win with a victory in the Mac Diarmida Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream. Deserves this spot right now, but I feel like there are others who will contend once this division heats up. Is scheduled to run this weekend in the Pan American (G2) at Gulfstream.

2.  Annals of Time - The Sword Dancer (G1) winner last year, he could be the one to beat in this division for Bricks and Mortar's connections if he stays healthy. Still not back on the work tab.

United - Almost pulled off a shocking upset in the Breeders' Cup Turf, losing to the eventual Horse of the Year Bricks and Mortar by a head. Then won the San Marcos (G2) to get his 2020 season underway. With Dubai now canceled, his next start is undecided.

4.  River Boyne – It was time to move him up with no others standing out. He has put together two graded wins in a row, his last being the Kilroe Mile (G1).

5.  Arklow - This 8-year-old almost always comes with his patented late run and was a closing third in the Mac Diarmida at Gulfstream.

Next 5: Sadler's Joy, Bowies Hero, Mo Forza, Factor This, Admission Office.

Turf Females

Uni – Not much separates this one and Sistercharlie. Her first big target of 2020 looks like the Just a Game (G1) on Belmont Stakes day. It's unknown when that race will run now.

Sistercharlie – Has lost only one race since June 2018, in last November's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. Connections have a campaign planned that could include a run against the boys in the Arlington Million (G1) in late summer. In the meantime, she's back in light training at Palm Meadows, gearing up for her 6-year-old campaign.

3.  Got Stormy
 – Ran her race against the boys last out but was just edged at the wire by Rover Boyne in the Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita. Some may have been disappointed with this effort, but I felt it was one of her better races.

Starship Jubilee – She is stacking up wins, as she won her third race already this season in Tampa Bay Downs' Hillsborough (G2). If not for the trio of stars on top of this division, she would be the one people are talking about. Don't count her out.
Magic Wand – Tried valiantly in her first dirt start in the Saudi Cup, but it wasn't to be as she checked in ninth. Previously, the globetrotting mare ran a big race in the Pegasus World Cup Turf, finishing second after surprisingly setting the pace. 

Next 5:  Rushing Fall, Cambier Parc, Beau Recall, Juliet Foxtrot, Jolie Olimpica.

Male Sprinters

1.  Firenze Fire – Like Maximum Security, questions now surround this former Servis trainee's future. But, like Maximum Security, he still occupies the No. 1 spot in his respective division. I still believe this horse is as good as he has run, but no one will know the real truth until he runs again.

2.  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 in the stretch but put in a spectacular stretch run to win the Tom Fool (G3). 

3.  Whitmore - Got back in the win column a few weeks ago in the Hot Springs at Oaklawn. That makes the Count Fleet Sprint (G3) next on April 11 at Oaklawn Park, should that track stay open for racing.

4.  Shancelot - Previously trained by the now-indicted Jorge Navarro, his future is also up in the air. Will have questions to answer once he is back.

Imperial Hint – Now age 7, he was never involved in the Saudia Sprint, finishing in 12th. Has faltered as the favorite in his last two starts. May have lost a step, but we will have to wait awhile to see him run again as his next intended target in Dubai was canceled.

Next 5: New York Central, Cistron, Bobby's Wicked One, Flagstaff,
 Share the Upside.

Female Sprinters

1.  Come Dancing – Inherits the top spot here after the recent and sudden retirement of Covfefe. We'll see what kind Come Dancing can be later this season. 

2.  Hard Not to Love - Covfefe leaves 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 to a mile in last weekend's Beholder Mile (G1) at Santa Anita, where she was runner-up to Ce Ce. Will probably shorten back up to sprint in her next start.

3.  Serengeti Empress - She was second to Covfefe sprinting in the Test (G1) last summer at Saratoga. This spring at Oaklawn Park it looks like she'll run around two turns.

4.  Mia Mischief - Made her first start of 2020 a winning one for her new owner Stonestreet Stables. A Grade 1 winner from last year who sold for $2.4 million at the end of the season, she will get every chance to contend for an Eclipse in this division.

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, Royal Charlotte, Break Even, Hotshot Anna.

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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