Division Rankings: 1 Eclipse Award remains subject to debate

Division Rankings: 1 Eclipse Award remains subject to debate
Photo: NYRA

With a little over three weeks left in the 2022 racing season, there is little suspense left as far as the Division Rankings below and the ensuing Eclipse vote.

Regal Glory gave the voters much to think about after her tour de force win last weekend in the Grade 1 Matriarch. Her third Grade 1 win of the season, the most of any in the turf female division, likely will net her enough Eclipse support to come out on top over her two main rivals, War Like Goddess and In Italian.

I don’t believe there is any suspense in the 3-year-old male division, but many of the readers apparently believe there is. Judging by the comments of many readers, they believe Taiba would deserve consideration if he runs in and wins the Malibu Stakes (G1) on Dec. 26. That would give him three Grade 1 dirt wins on the season, the most of any in the division.

Before I briefly touch on this scenario, let's take a look at this week's Division Rankings.

Older dirt males

1. Flightline. One of the best horses we have seen in the Breeders' Cup era, this guy went out with style with his overwhelming Breeders' Cup Classic win. A match race from the start, he kept up with Life Is Good's historic early fractions and ran off to another facile win. Retired now after only three races this season and six in his career, so we will never know how he could have stacked up to the past greats.

2. Life Is Good. I give this guy a lot of credit: He was the only other horse in the Breeders' Cup Classic who was intent on trying to win. Set ridiculously fast fractions and was brave on the lead until the stretch, where he simply ran out of gas. Although he finished fifth, it likely will be the most talked about fifth-place finish we have ever seen. I agree with his connections now on the this race choice, despite his loss. As his trainer Todd Pletcher stated after the race, Life Is Good went out courageously.

3. Olympiad. Ran another strong race that in most years would have won him the Breeders' Cup Classic and horse of the year. His runner-up finish was best of the rest, but because of the presence of Flightline this guy will not win an Eclipse award. Finishes the season with six wins from eight starts. His five graded-stakes wins in 2022 were the most of any horse in this division.

4. Cody's Wish. Came on late at the end of the season, winning the Forego (G1) at Saratoga and narrowly winning the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile by a nose over Cyberknife. Will stay in training and run again next season.

5. Country Grammer. Ran his race when a distant runner-up to Flightline in the Pacific Classic (G1), finishing clear of the rest. Like everyone else in this division, he is far behind Flightline. A disappointing runner-up previously in the Awesome Again (G1) at Santa Anita, he is done racing this season and will point to the Saudi Cup (G1) in February.

Next 5: Hot Rod Charlie, Defunded, Mind Control, Art Collector, Proxy.

Older dirt females

1. Malathaat. Her Breeders' Cup Distaff win by a nose will net her the Eclipse in this division as she swept to Grade 1 wins in her last three starts this season.

2. Blue StripeCame within a nose of Malathaat and the Eclipse in this division. It was a three-horse blanket finish where any one of the three would reside at No. 1 in this division and win the Eclipse with a win. Such is life in the Thoroughbred racing world. A tough-luck runner-up for this gal. She too is now retired.

3. Clairiere. She was third in that Distaff blanket finish, losing by two noses. She could be back racing next year, which is the good news for her fans. The bad news is she will be a denied an Eclipse that she came so close to winning.

4. Search Results. Well beaten in the Breeder's Cup Distaff, she still had a great season, placing in all of her starts but one.

5. Letruska. Off the board with no apparent excuses last time out in the Spinster (G1), it is clear her best days are behind her. She likely will be retired soon after an outstanding career that saw her win the Eclipse in this division last season.

Next 5: Shedaresthedevil, Pauline's Pearl, Private Mission, Miss Leslie, Army Wife.

3-year-old males

1. Epicenter. Despite his Breeders' Cup mishap, where he was injured during the race and didn't finish, this guy will win the Eclipse in this division. Unfortunately, he is now retired because of the injury. 2. Taiba. Ran a good race in the Classic to finish third and will be back next year, likely as the leader of the older dirt male division to start the season. Won two Grade 1 events in 2022. 3. Cyberknife. Ran another great race in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile when runner-up to Cody's Wish, and he will get plenty of Eclipse support in this division based on his multiple Grade 1 wins and Breeders' Cup showing. 4. Rich Strike. Despite his lackluster Clark (G1) finish, he stays in this spot. Will get a break now and will be one of the more popular horses in 2023. 5. Zandon. A dull fourth in the Cigar Mile Handicap (G1), he will be rested now for a 2023 campaign. In five graded stakes since his Blue Grass (G1) win in April, he has finished runner-up twice and third twice. Next 5: Mo Donegal, Jack Christopher, Charge It, White Abarrio, Early Voting.

3-year-old females

1. Nest
. As I expected, she was a bit overmatched in the Breeders' Cup Distaff when off the board, finishing fourth. But the Eclipse is in the bag with her multiple Grade 1 wins this season.

2. Secret Oath
. Looked good turning for home in the Breeders' Cup Distaff but ran out of gas to finish fifth, beaten over five lengths for the win. She will be back next year and should be a major player in the older dirt female division along with Nest.
3. Echo Zulu. Very good runner-up effort in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint after only one race to prepare since May. I am really looking forward to seeing this gal try two turns again. Still think she might be the best of any in her class.
4. Society. It was too much too soon in the Breeders' Cup Distaff as she finished second to last. Before her Breeders' Cup debacle, she won the Cotillion (G1).
5. Moira
. Didn't run poorly in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf, where she finished fifth. The Queen's Plate winner from earlier this year faced tough older foes her last two starts and will get a freshening before a 2023 campaign.

Next 5: Midnight Memories, Matareya, Wicked Halo, Interstatedaydream, Kathleen O.

Turf males

1. Modern Games. The Breeders' Cup Mile winner won both of his North American starts in 2022 and likely will win the Eclipse in this division as no U.S.-based horse has stood out.

2. Count Again. This guy has racked up two Grade 1 wins this season and is 3-for-4 on the year. His win over Smooth Like Strait in the Shoemaker Mile (G1) was his best effort yet. The only member of this division who has multiple Grade 1 wins on the season.

3. Rebel's Romance. The Breeders' Cup Turf winner by a wide margin, this gelding has won five in a row. Being a gelding, we should see him in the years to come. Good news for racing fans.

4. Golden Pal. One-dimensional type: If he misses the break, his chances of winning go down the tubes. That that is what happened in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, where he was favored.

5. Nations Pride. Fifth in the Breeders' Cup Turf, he ran well in his other North American turf starts, winning the Saratoga Derby (G1) and Jockey Club Derby (G3).

Next 5: Annapolis, Ivar, Gufo, Santin, Shirl's Speight.

Turf females

1. Regal Glory. Her Matriarch win was perhaps the most impressive race that any have run from his division this season. Her third Grade 1 win of the season, this gal has been running since January and will get my vote for the Eclipse in this division.

2. War Like Goddess. The top three here are very difficult to separate. All three have three graded-stakes wins on the season. This is a tough call. Ran well against the boys in the Breeders' Cup Turf, by far the best showing of any U.S.-based horse.

3. In Italian. Ran well when runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. Before that effort, she scored her second Grade 1 win in a row in the First Lady at Keeneland. Again, this is a tough call between these top three.

4. Going Global. Was superb last time out in the Goldikova Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita. Wish we could have seen her in the Breeders' Cup. She has won nine graded stakes in her career and has won three of her five starts this season.

5. Bleecker Street. Suffered the first loss of her career last time out in the Diana (G1) after starting her career 7-for-7. She put in her run from the back but had too much to do when finishing third. I won't drop her off because of that one loss, but now she is on the shelf with an injury. Will drop in the coming weeks.

Next 5: Dalika, Going to Vegas, Technical Analysis, Wakanaka, Princess Grace.

Male sprinters

1. Jackie's Warrior. Despite his Breeders' Cup Sprint loss, he will win the Eclipse as he was the best in this division in 2022. Clearly, he lost a step or two in the latter part of the season after a nice career where he danced pretty much every dance as a sprinter.

2. Cody's Wish. Came on late at the end of the season, winning the Forego at Saratoga and narrowly winning the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile by a nose over Cyberknife. Will stay in training and run again next season.

3. Elite Power. The Breeders' Cup Sprint winner came on well in the last month, also winning the Vosburgh (G2) in October. But he won't win the Eclipse as those were his only starts in stakes competition this season.

4. Jack Christopher. He was dominant in the Allen Jerkens Memorial (G1) at seven furlongs over the Saratoga oval. He missed the Breeders' Cup.

5. American Theorem. Off the board in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, but he was very good out west earlier this season.

Next 5: CZ Rocket, Laurel River, Golden Pal, Gunite, Brickyard Ride.

Female sprinters

1. Goodnight Olive. Facile winner of the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, she is a deserving No. 1 as she beat the best in this division in her last two starts, both Grade 1 events.

2. Echo Zulu. This 3-year-old filly ran well against her elders, finishing runner-up to Goodnight Olive in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.

3. Obligatory. No excuses when fifth to Goodnight Olive, she was beaten six lengths for the win. Earlier this season she beat the best in this division except for Ce Ce in the Derby City Distaff (G1) at Churchill Downs with a strong closing kick.

4. Kimari. Connections ran her against the boys in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, and she was off the board. Perhaps she could have given Goodnight Olive a challenge? We will never know.

5. Wicked Halo. Another 3-year-old filly who ran well in the Breeders' Cup as this gal finished third in the Filly & Mare Sprint. Before that effort she won two Grade 2 events, the Raven Run at Keeneland and the Prioress Stakes at Saratoga.

Next 5: Ce Ce, Just One Time, Edgeway, Bell's the One, Chi Town Lady.

2-year-old males
1. Forte. Reeled in Cave Rock in the stretch of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and is a deserving champion. Already three Grade 1 wins in his short career.
2. Cave Rock. Really no excuses when runner-up to Forte but still had a great campaign. Before the Breeders' Cup, he won by more than five in the American Pharoah (G1) at Santa Anita. 3. National Treasure. Ran well again when third in the Breeders' Cup to the top two. Should be a major player next year on the Kentucky Derby trail. 4. Blazing Sevens. Fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, he finished third earlier this season in the Hopeful at Saratoga and then won the Champagne (G1) over a sloppy track. 5. Loggins. Close runner-up to Forte in the Breeders' Futurity (G1) in only his second start. This guy was flattered by that Breeders' Cup result.
Next 5
: Arabian Knight, Havnameltdown, Instant Coffee, Curly Jack, Dubyuhnell.

2-year-old females

1. Wonder Wheel. Super impressive in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, closing strong to win going away. Won the the Alcibiades (G1) at Keeneland in her previous start.
Leave No Trace. She validated her high ranking in these parts with her runner-up finish to Wonder Wheel at 25-1. Won the Spinaway (G1) earlier this season. 3. And Tell Me Nolies. The Chandelier (G2) and Del Mar Debutante (G1) winner found the competition tough in the Breeder's Cup Juvenile Fillies, where she finished eighth, beaten about seven lengths. 4. Raging Sea. Ran well when third to Wonder Wheel in the Breeders' Cup after finishing fourth to that same rival in the Alcibiades (G1)
5. You're My Girl
. Finished second in the Frizette (G1) and fifth in the Breeders' Cup Jevnile Fillies in her last two starts after a maiden win.
Next 5
: Chocolate Gelato, Hoosier Philly, Julia Shining, Vegas Magic, Shoplifter.

The case for Epicenter over Taiba

Most racing experts will agree that the clear leader of the 3-year-old male division has been Epicenter. In fact, he has led these division rankings below since late March – more than 37 weeks.

Taiba supporters will argue that Epicenter has won only one grade 1 race this season. They also will argue that the connections of Epicenter skipped the Pennsylvania Derby (G1), which Taiba won over Cyberknife.

Epicenter supporters will argue that Taiba skipped the Preakness and Travers (G1), where Epicenter ran. To me, the Travers sticks out the most.

In an Eclipse race like this it is wise to do due diligence and dive deeper into each resume. In fact, in a vote as important as the Eclipse, each voter should dive deep into all of the resumes, not just take them at face value.

If the connections of Taiba wanted to win the Eclipse, they had to run in the Travers, in my opinion.

After finishing runner-up in the Haskell (G1) in late July to Cyberknife, Taiba rested until the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) in late September and skipped the Travers. Cyberknife’s connections knew that the Travers was pivotal for their Eclipse hopes, so they went to Saratoga to try the Travers and did well to finish runner-up.

Epicenter won the Jim Dandy (G2) in late July and then defeated a strong Travers field at Saratoga. Epicenter avenged his runner-up Kentucky Derby and Preakness losses by defeating Rich Strike and Early Voting with that powerful 5 1/4-length win – the best race any in his division have put forth in 2022.

The Travers proved Epicenter was who everyone thought he was and the clear leader of the division.

After running in three races since the Kentucky Derby compared with Taiba’s one, Epicenter’s connections decided to skip the Pennsylvania Derby and rest up for a Breeders’ Cup Classic run.

No reasonable fan can fault the connections of Epicenter for skipping the Pennsylvania Derby. On flip side, no reasonable fan can fault Taiba’s connections for skipping the Preakness after running in the Kentucky Derby in only his third start.

This is why the Travers was such a pivotal race for this division this season.

The Breeder’s Cup Classic result didn’t change anything, as far as I am concerned. Epicenter was severely injured in the race and was pulled up on the backstretch, and Taiba finished a distant third. Taiba supporters will argue that a win in the Malibu (G1) should give him the edge, but I don’t see it that way.

Sure, if Taiba was in the Eclipse race for top sprinter, the Malibu could prove key, but he isn’t. The Malibu is a one-turn sprint race, and even a win there at the end of the season shouldn’t impact this Eclipse vote. I’ll also go ahead and write what many are thinking. Right or wrong, Taiba’s Eclipse hopes are further diminished because of bias that still exists toward his connections. I hold no bias, but make no mistake, it’s there.

So to me, there is no Eclipse debate in the 3-year-old male division. Epicenter should win this Eclipse by a fairly wide margin, and deservedly so.

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 used to frequent the press box many weekends during the Arlington Park meets. 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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