Division Rankings: Letruska is in hunt for Horse of the Year

Division Rankings: Letruska is in hunt for Horse of the Year
Photo: Janet Garaguso/NYRA

One of the more highly profiled horses in these rankings this season, Letruska, has all but sewn up the Eclipse Award in the older dirt female division. With a possible start in the Spinster (G1) next month as a final prep for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, Letruska is very much still in the Horse of the Year race as well. 

Before I take a brief look at some scenarios that could see this Mexican-bred star come away with Horse of the Year, lets take a look at this week’s Division Rankings. 

Older dirt males

1. Knicks Go. Was outstanding in his Whitney win over a solid group that included several ranked below. With two Grade 1 wins on the season, he leads this division and vaults back to the top spot he held entering this season. Will get one more start prior to the Breeders' Cup Classic in the Lukas Classic (G3) at Churchill Downs, and is far from a cinch for this Eclipse as this division is still wide open. 

2. Maxfield. Won the battle for second best in the Whitney, and that matters here in the rankings. Still, without a Grade 1 win in 2021, he will have to win out in order to get my vote for the Eclipse. Will run next in the Woodward at Belmont.

3. Silver State. Drops down to No. 3 here after his third-place finish in the Whitney, but this guy is still in the thick of things in this division. With a Grade 1 win under his belt already from his Met Mile win earlier this season, there is still a path for him to win this Eclipse. Connections will point for the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile with one start prior in the Kelso Mile. If he can win his Breeders' Cup race and a 3-year-old wins the Breeders' Cup Classic, the Eclipse will be his.

4. Tripoli. Suddenly a major player after moving to the dirt. The impressive winner of the Pacific Classic, he was runner-up in the San Diego (G2) prior to that, both at Del Mar. With the Breeders' Cup Classic at Del Mar, this guy could steal the show and end up with this divisional Eclipse. His next start will likely come in the Awesome Again (G1) at Santa Anita.

5. 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 and I still believe he is a cut below the very best in this division.

Next 5: Country Grammar, Mystic Guide, By My Standards, Idol, Code of Honor.

Older dirt females

1. Letruska. Her win in the Personal Ensign (G1) may have been her best race yet. Hounded through quick early fractions, she was able find enough run the stretch to hold the closers at bay while the others who pressed the pace were far back at the finish. With this divisional Eclipse now sewn up, Horse of the Year is very much in play. A Grade 1 winner in both the U.S. and Mexico, she is 16-for-21 in her career. The Spinster (G1) at Keeneland will likely be her final start before the Breeders' Cup Distaff in November. Should be awarded this Eclipse regardless of what takes place for the remainder of the season.

2. Shedaresthedevil. Was sensational in her trip out west to take the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch. 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 in early November. Don't underestimate the importance of that fact. She showed that she can shop across country and win. She is clearly the biggest threat now to Letruska in the Breeders' Cup, but not for the Eclipse. Will run in the Grade 3 Locust Grove this weekend.

3. Bonny South. Her runner-up finish in the Personal Ensign was her second Grade 1 placing of the season. Her lone win in 2021 came in the Doubledogdare (G3) at Churchill Downs.

4. Monomoy Girl. Was gallant to the finish in the Apple Blossom (G1) last April but came up a nose short. She was sent to the sidelines with muscle strains and hamstring soreness. Put back in training, and could run again before the season is out.

5. Swiss Skydiver. She simply didn't have it in the Personal Ensign and the feeling here is that she isn't the same filly that she was earlier this season and last. Connections have stated she will stay in training and run next in the Spinster at Keeneland.

Next 5: Royal Flag, As Time Goes By, Envoutante, Antoinette, Venetian Harbor.

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. Could have one more start prior to the Breeders' Cup Classic where a win at Del Mar will net this guy Horse of the Year.

2. Medina Spirit. All things considered, he has to reside here at No. 2. He has beaten Hot Rod Charlie both times they have met in 2021, and Essential Quality in the only time they met. Back in the winners circle last week in the Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar, he actually defeated more Grade 1 winners (one) than Essential Quality has in his last two starts (zero). Like it or not, the Kentucky Derby winner will have a shot to unseat Essential Quality for the Eclipse in his next two starts. Will go next in the Penn Derby (G1) later this month.

3. Hot Rod Charlie. Ran another outstanding race in the Haskell, crossing the wire first. With races at five different tracks this season, this guy has left it all out there every time. He and Essential Quality have been the pillars of this division since last fall. He will run next in the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) in late September, and a win is a must for his Eclipse hopes.

4. Jackie's Warrior. Deserves this spot after winning the Grade 1 Jerkens Memorial over a strong field. Has developed into one of the best sprinters in the country now, and could end up as the favorite in the Breeders' Cup Sprint over older horses.

5. Mandaloun. Ran an impressive race in the Haskell with an inside trip to come just short of Hot Rod Charlie at the wire. The Kentucky Derby runner-up has since been sidelined from training due to a sore on a heel and will miss the remainder of the season. Connections will now target the 2022 Saudi Cup. 

Next 5: Rombauer, Midnight Bourbon, Rock Your World, Life is Good, Drain the Clock.

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. 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.

3. Clairiere. Ran a really good race in the Alabama to finished runner-up. Have to respect her consistency and the fact she has shown up for many of the big races this season.

4. 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.

5. Army WifeFinishing third in the Alabama, she has two graded stakes wins on the season and showed she belongs with the top tier.

Next 5: Crazy Beautiful, Will's Secret, Obligatory, 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 likely train up to the Breeders' Cup Turf according to trainer Chad Brown.

2. Colonel Liam. Running since December, 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, but it was his first loss of 2021. He has been running since January and has won three stakes. If he can get back to the races and in the winners circle, the Eclipse is still within reach.

3. Mo ForzaWas sensational in his Del Mar Mile (G2) win, his first start since last October. If he can stay healthy, he could be the Breeders' Cup Mile favorite.

4. Smooth Like Strait. Tough luck loser to Mo Forza in the Del Mar Mile, losing by a head. He seems to always bring his "A" game and he too will be a major player come Breeders' Cup Mile time.

5. Gufo. Big things were expected from this guy in 2021 and he finally broke through in a big way, scoring a win in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer. He is a real threat now for the Eclipse in this division and will be a major player come Breeders' Cup day.

Next 5: United, Cross Border, Tribhuvan, Hit the Road, Two Emmys.

Turf females

1. Althiqa. Her win in the Diana was her second Grade 1 win on the season as she previously won the Just a Game at Belmont Park. Having also won a Group 2 event overseas, she deserves this top spot right now. The simple facts are this, if the season ended today, she would win the Eclipse in this division.

2. 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. 

3. Santa Barbara. This 3-year-old filly was ordinary at her home base overseas, but in two starts stateside has been dominant over her own age group in the Belmont Oaks (G1) and then last weekend over older in the Beverly D (G1). Defeating Mean Mary in the Beverly D, she vaults to this No. 2 spot. Will be interesting to see where she makes her next start, and may come at Keeneland in a few weeks, she is certainly a contender now for this Eclipse.

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 due to injury and will fall off this list next week.

5. Thundering Nights. Broke through in a big way in the Pretty Polly Stakes, an Irish Group 1, then was third in a French Group 1. She is ranked here because previous to that she was a strong runner-up to No. 1 Mean Mary in the New York. Will be a serious contender in any races she chooses here in this country. 

Next 5: Princess Grace, Blowout, Got Stormy, Summer Romance, Princess Grace, Viadera.

Male sprinters

1. Jackie's Warrior. I wouldn't normally rank a 3-year-old sprinter at the top here without having run against older, but this guy has shown me a lot in his last couple starts. He was outstanding last out in the Jerkens Memorial (G1) defeating a strong field. He is the best 3yo 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. C Z Rocket. Finished runner-up in the Pat O'Brien (G2) but he holds steady here near the top. Still feel this guy will be tough come Breeders' Cup time, but needs a quick pace to have any sort of shot being that he a deep closer. 

3. 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.

4. Yaupon. Won the biggest race of his career last week in the Grade 1 Forego, but to be fair, Yaupon was probably aided by the fact that Firenze Fire decided to try and savage him instead of finishing what looked like a certain win.

5. Dr. Schivel. Was all heart in the Bing Crosby (G1) defeating several tough veteran sprinters. Has never been off the board in six starts and has two Grade 1 wins in his short career.

Next 5: Firenze Fire, 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 has sewn up the Eclipse in this division as far as I'm concerned, no matter what happens on Breeders' Cup Day. She hasn't lost a race since last year's Kentucky Oaks.

2. Bell's the One. Won her second straight in the Honorable Miss (G2) last out and previously she won the Roxelana Stakes when defeating the No. 3, Sconsin. After a disappointing effort when she was off the board in the Derby City Distaff, she has rebounded in a big way to jump back into the Eclipse race in this division.She too may be headed to the Ballerina.

3. Sconsin. Was edged for the show spot in the Ballerina but still came with her run in the stretch. Needs a hot pace to have a realistic shot at defeating Gamine and didn't get it. 

4. Ce Ce. 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, should she go.

5. Kimari. Still hasn't run since the first week of April. Has posted several works since, but this has been the story of her career. Brilliance when running, but she rarely runs, and this will cost her an Eclipse. In that April start she did not disappoint, edging away in the stretch for a 3/4-length win over Bell's the One in the Madison (G1) at Keeneland. 

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

With wins in five of her six 2021 starts, Letruska has raised her game to new levels with each start. Her connections have been refreshing, dodging no one and running her divisions best races. With three Grade 1 wins on this season, Letruska will try and make it four in the Spinster in early October in what will be her penultimate start prior to the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Del Mar. 

As far her divisional Eclipse, Letruska already has my vote, regardless of what happens the rest of the season. She has done more than enough. Her closest pursuer, Shedaresthedevil, has split her two meetings with Letruska, defeating her by a head back in March in the Grade 2 Azeri and then dropping a 3 3/4 length decision when third in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign in June. Shedaresthedevil has also had a easier campaign than Letruska has, running only four times to Letruska’s six. 

Though Shedaresthedevil does have two Grade 1 wins on the season, her Eclipse chances evaporated with the decision to run in this weekend’s Grade 3 Locust Grove at Churchill Downs as her final prep for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Fair or not, skipping the more difficult and traditional Grade 1 events that most in her division will run in prior to the Breeders’ Cup must matter. Especially in this case when she is the one trailing Letruska in the Eclipse race and needed to do something to close the gap. 

So now the real question is, can Letruska win Horse of the Year? With two more wins and some help from others, she can. 

With two more wins Letruska will have five Grade 1 wins on the season, by far the most any horse will have in any division. But for Letruska, she will need help in the Horse of the Year race. The bottom line is, if Knicks Go or Essential Quality win the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Horse of the Year will likely go their way. If they both lose the Classic and Letruska takes care of business in the Distaff, she will win Horse of the year.  I can’t see a scenario out there that awards Horse of the Year to any other horse in training outside of these three. 

If all three coming out on the losing end at Del Mar? I would tend to go back to whomever your No. 1 was heading into the Breeders’ Cup. 

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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