We are well past the midway point of the 2021 season and the Kentucky Oaks winner, Malathaat, still leads her division despite having only run two times, both in April.
While Malathaat deserves her No. 1 ranking, a host of others in her division are improving, and hot on her heels for divisional supremacy.
Before I take stock of this 3-year-old filly division Eclipse race, let's take a look at this week's updated rankings:
Older dirt males
1. Silver State. Will surely be tested in his next start, the Whitney at Saratoga on August 7. This years Whitney is coming up exceptionally strong with the No. 2 Maxfield expected, and also Country Grammar, By My Standards, Knicks Go, and Swiss Skydiver. The Met Mile (G1) winner has done far more than any other in this division so far in 2021, and is a winner of four stakes races already this year. He won the Oaklawn Handicap (G2) prior to his win in the Met, and has won his last six races dating back to last fall.
2. Maxfield. Will finally face the best in his division in next months Whitney. Got the job done last out in the Stephen Foster (G2) defeating Warrior's Charge by a little over three lengths. His connections have picked their spots with this son of Street Sense, and he has rewarded them with three graded-stakes wins this season coming over weak fields. Now we are more than halfway through the season and Maxfield has yet to pocket a Grade 1 win. If he wants to contend for an Eclipse, the time to move is now.
3. Country Grammer. The Hollywood Gold Cup (G1) winner has been transferred from previous trainer Bob Baffert to his new trainer, Todd Pletcher. He had run two strong races with his rival, Royal Ship, in California but now he will get a chance to reach the top of his division with his next start in the Whitney at Saratoga. This guy and Royal Ship, the other California based runner, are sleepers in this division and could walk away with all the hardware by seasons end.
4. By My Standards. Back in the top half of this division, this guy is as honest as they come. Runner-up to Silver State in the Met Mile, he is still searching for his first Grade 1 triumph. Won the Oaklawn Mile in his only other start this season. Will point toward the Whitney as well, and he is a viable contender in a race he was runner-up in a year ago. He sits in this spot instead of Knicks Go because he defeated that rival in the Met Mile.
5. Mystic Guide. The beaten favorite in the Suburban (G2) last out, Mystic Guide is now on the sidelines and will have surgery to remove a chip in his knee. He is out for the season, and his racing future is in doubt.
Next 5: Knicks Go, Royal Ship, Max Player, Idol, Express Train.
Older dirt females
1. Letruska. Was dominant again in her win in the Fleur de Lis (G2) at Churchill Downs and has given herself a large lead in this division. A Grade 1 winner in both the U.S. and Mexico, she is 15-for-20 in her career. The Personal Ensign (G1) at the end of August at Saratoga is being mentioned as her next start, but don't rule out a possible race again the males down the road too.
2. Shedaresthedevil. Was no match for Letruska in the Phipps and was even passed near the wire for the runner-up spot after chasing Letruska throughout. Previously this gal was much the best in the La Troienne Stakes (G1) at Churchill Downs, defeating a good field of older females. Will now head west to prepare for the Breeders' Cup at Del Mar with her next start scheduled to be the Clement L. Hirsch (G1) on Aug. 1 at Del Mar.
3. Monomoy Girl. Was gallant to the finish in the Apple Blossom (G1) but came up a nose short. Clearly still on top of her game, something I wondered about heading into this last race. She was sent to the sidelines with muscle strains and hamstring soreness. Could be back later this summer but might drop from this spot in the coming weeks.
4. Swiss Skydivereven-length defeat in the Apple Blossom when finishing third. Before that, she was stellar in her Beholder Mile (G1) win at Santa Anita. Has not lost two races in a row in nearly 18 months, but will be severely tested against what is is shaping up as an outstanding Whitney field.
5. As Time Goes By. Game winner of the Santa Maria (G2) last out, she previously routed the Santa Margarita (G2) field. Her only loss this year was a runner-up finish to Swiss Skydiver in the Beholder Mile. Will have home-court advantage come Breeders' Cup time. Will target the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes on Aug. 1 at Del Mar.
Next 5: Envoutante, Antoinette, Point of Honor, Spice is Nice, Miss Marissa.
1. Essential Quality. His Belmont win was sensational, and it separates him from several others. Though the Belmont was Essential Quality's first Grade 1 win of the season, he has won two other graded stakes in 2021. There was no Triple Crown on the line in the Belmont, but it proved to be one of the more exciting and satisfying Belmont Stakes we have seen in the last 20 years. He will run in the Jim Dandy (G2) at Saratoga on July 31, using that as a prep for the Travers (G1) in late August. Could have a huge second half of season.
2. Hot Rod Charlie. Ran another outstanding race in the Haskell, crossing the wire first. Connections will bring him back home to California where he will run in the Pacific Classic against older instead of the Travers, which is restricted to 3yo males. A Pacific Classic win against older certainly would bolster his resume. With races as 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.
3. 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 may skip the Travers and train up to the Pennsylvania Derby on September 25.
3. Medina Spirit. The Kentucky Derby winner did not run poorly in his Preakness loss, a third-place finish behind the winner, Rombauer. Beaten a little over five lengths, the quick middle fractions that he was forced to set by Midnight Bourbon ended up costing them both the race as Rombauer pounced on both of them in the stretch. Will miss the Haskell, and there is a good chance we may not see him again until the fall.
5. Rombauer. The Preakness winner had no excuses in the Belmont when finishing a far-back third. After edging Known Agenda for the show spot. Connections are have decided to skip the Haskell and point to a more difficult spot, the Jim Dandy at Saratoga on July 31 to face Essential Quality.
Next 5: Drain the Clock, Jackie's Warrior, Midnight Bourbon, Known Agenda, Life is Good.
1. Malathaat. Her two Grade 1 wins gets her the nod here for the tops spot, as well as her close win over her rival. She sat out the Acorn (G1), which was won by Search Results. Returns for her first start since her Kentucky Oaks win in the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) this weekend. If all goes well, the Alabama Stakes (G1) in August would be next.
2. Search Results. Impressive winner of the recent Acorn, which was her first Grade 1 win. Suffered her only loss, to Malathaat, in the Kentucky Oaks in her prior start, but she was game in defeat. She is another win away from moving to the top. Interestingly, her connections will cut her back to the seven-furlong Test Stakes (G1) on Aug. 7 at Saratoga for her next start.
3. Crazy Beautiful. Maturing by leaps and bounds, she ran another impressive race in the recent Delaware Oaks where she simply outclassed the field by over 7 lengths. She was also flattered by Soothsay's Indiana Oaks win as this gal defeated Soothsay in the Summertime Oaks two starts back. Now she is a winner of three graded stakes this year, the most in her division. She may have turned the corner, and it could be time to take another crack at the top two in this division. Remember, she finished over 10 lengths back of Malathaat and Search Results in the Kentucky Oaks. Could run in the Saratoga Oaks run on the turf August 2.
4. Soothsay. It takes a lot for me to really be floored a performance, but that is the best way I can describe what I felt when watching Soothsay come away victorious after rebounding from a nightmarish start in the Indiana Oaks. Showing tremendous fight and determination in the stretch, Soothsay looked like a different horse than the one we saw last out 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.
5. Clairiere. No excuses in the Mother Goose (G2) where she finished third, and there were no excuses in her previous start, the Kentucky Oaks, as she came with her run and missed the show spot by a nose. She gets one last chance to stay in the top five with a run against Malathaat in this weekend's CCA Oaks.
Next 5: Will's Secret, Obligatory, Zaajel, Army Wife, Always Carina.
1. Domestic Spending. Did not make his first start of 2021 until the start of May but has won two Grade 1 events in both of his starts. His facile Manhattan Stakes (G1) win at Belmont was superb, defeating several others ranked below. Domestic Spending’s season will follow the same path as Bricks and Mortar from two seasons ago, trainer Chad Brown said, with the race that used to be called the Arlington Million, the Mister D. Stakes (G1) on Aug. 14 at Arlington, likely to be the gelding’s next spot.
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. Will make his return to the races in the Bowling Green at Saratoga on July 31.
3. Smooth Like Strait. After several close calls in Grade 1 races, he finally came through with his first win at the top level last time out in the Shoemaker Mile (G1) at Santa Anita, where he went wire to wire. Previous to this win, he set the pace in the Turf Classic (G1) and was edged by a neck nearing the wire to finish third. Looks like a serious Breeders' Cup Mile contender down the road. The Eddie Read (G2) at Del Mar is next this weekend.
4. Tribhuvan. Big win in last week's Grade 1 United Nations, and previous to that he was runner-up to Domestic Spending in the Manhattan. With two graded wins on the season, he is steadily moving up the ranks.
5. Raging Bull. No excuses in his runner-up loss to Oleksandra, a 7-year-old mare making her career finale because she is in foal. Certainly was impressive in his first start this season, a win in the Maker's Mark Mile (G1), and remains in the top five for now. Will aim for the Fourstardave (G1) on August 14 at Saratoga for his next start.
Next 5: Gufo, Channel Maker, Hit the Road, Somelikeithotbrown, Say the Word.
1. Althiqa Her win in the Diana last weekend 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. Mean Mary She hasn't done anything wrong in 2021 but her record just isn't as impressive as Althiqa. She will aim for the Glens Falls, a 1 1/2-mile turf stakes on Aug. 7 at Saratoga, or point for the Beverly D. at 1 3/16 miles the following Saturday at Arlington. Was really flattered with the win by Thundering Nights in an Ireland Group 1 race. Remember, Thundering Nights was runner-up to Mean Mary last out in the New York Stakes (G2). Previous to that winning race, Mean Mary was best in the Gallorette Stakes (G3) at Pimlico. Will have every chance in the coming weeks to regain the top spot.
Next 5: Santa Barbara, Juliet Foxtrot, Harvey's Lil Goil, Charmaine's Mia, Mucho Unusual.
1. C Z Rocket. Has won both his sprint starts this year, defeating last year's Eclipse winner, Whitmore, in the process. Simply put, he has beaten better competition than his next closest rival, Mischevious Alex, has. His connections tried to stretch him out to a mile in the Steve Sexton (G3) at Lone Star last time out, but he finished second. Will head back to California for his next start, the Bing Crosby (G1) at Del Mar on July 31.
2. Mischevious Alex. Tried to stretch out to a mile in the Met Mile, but he flattened in the stretch to finish fourth. Won his first Grade 1 race a few months ago in the Carter (G1) at Aqueduct in impressive fashion, and previously he scored in the Gulfstream Park Sprint (G3), also impressively. Will run next in a deep Vanderbilt (G1) at Saratoga.
3. Firenze Fire. Ran another good race in the John A. Nerud (G2) at Belmont, losing a close one to Mind Control. This guy is tough as nails, previously he won the True North (G2) at Belmont for the second year in a row. Not going to penalize him too much for his loss, so he remains in this spot, mainly because I believe he is better than the others below right now. Firenze Fire reminds me a lot of Whitmore from a year ago. A horse I never thought could win an Eclipse, but who was near the top of his division. Perhaps Firenze Fire will be this year's Whitmore. Will meet Mind Control again in the Vanderbilt (G1) on July 31.
4. Flagstaff. Tough old veteran fired again in the True North but was only second best. He is at the top of his game now as he scored his first Grade 1 win two starts ago in the Churchill Downs Stakes.
5. Whitmore. Another tough loss for this guy as he briefly had the lead late in the Churchill Downs Stakes but was edged at the wire, where he finished a close third in a blanket finish with four others. Previously he was twice runner-up to C Z Rocket at Oaklawn. As honest as they come, he still is at the top of his game. He too may run in the Vanderbilt.
Next 5: Mind Control, Cezanne, Brickyard Ride, Drain the Clock, Special Reserve.
1. Gamine. Was dominant against an overmatched field in the Great Lady M. Stakes (G2) at Los Alamitos last week, and now she will likely head to Saratoga given that trainer Bob Bafferts NYRA suspension is now lifted. Now 3-for-3 on the season, she should stick to sprinting, and the Ballerina (G1) in late August will likely be next.
2. Bell's the One. Finally showed her true talent in the Roxelana Stakes when defeating Sconsin for her first win in three starts this season. After a disappointing effort when she was off the board in the Derby City Distaff, a strong showing last weekend was needed, and she came firing. Will face Kimari in the Honorable Miss (G2) at Saratoga on July 28.
3. Sconsin. Ran well in the Roxelana but Bell's the One was too good. Has run well now in three straight and is in the thick of things in a division that appears very top heavy. Will make her next start in the Ballerina against Gamine, among others.
4. 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. Will finally return to the races in the Honorable Miss (G2) next week at Saratoga.
5. Estilo Talentoso. Disappointed as the favorite in the Princess Rooney (G2) at Gulfstream where she was beaten by Ce Ce after being too far back early. She stays here in this spot because she has done a lot already this season, six starts already - stakes placed in all of them - and has faced the best the division has had to offer several times.
Next 5: Ce Ce, Frank's Rockette, Merneith, Venetian Harbor, Souper Sensational.
Heavily favored to win her third grade 1 race in as many tries, Malathaat will face only three others in this weekend’s Coaching Club American Oaks (G1). On paper at least, a Malathaat loss would be a historic upset. Clairiere appears to be one with the best shot, but it is a long shot at best. Since leaving her winter Fair Grounds home base she has disappointed - an off the board Kentucky Oaks finish and finishing third of five entries in the Mother Goose (G2). With a successful run this weekend, Malathaat will target another Grade 1 event at Saratoga, the Alabama in late August.
There is a very real possibility that Malathaat will own four Grade 1 wins before we reach fall. One would think the Eclipse race would be all but over, but with so much emphasis placed on the Breeders’ Cup by so many voters, nothing is a done deal nowadays until after the Breeders’ Cup Championships are run.
Back in 2013 another Todd Pletcher trained 3-year-old filly seemingly had the Eclipse in the bag after her historic run of four Grade 1 events. Princess of Sylmar rattled off wins in the Kentucky Oaks, CCA Oaks, Alabama, and then she defeated the best older mare in the country, Royal Delta, in the Beldame. The connections of Princess of Sylmar made the sporting gesture of shipping their star all the way across the country to Santa Anita for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, and after a long campaign she was off the board and was denied the Eclipse to the winner, Beholder. The fact is that Princess of Sylmar was penalized for running in the Breeders’ Cup. If she simply had not run after her Beldame win, she would have won the Eclipse in 2013.
Like 2013, the Breeders’ Cup Distaff will be held in California this season. So, even though Malathaat may pile up Grade 1 wins, there are a few others in this division could steal the Eclipse away with a strong fall campaign coupled with a Distaff win.
Soothsay, ranked No. 4 right now, is a horse to keep an eye on. She is West Coast based, and seems to be coming in to her own right now. Although she hasn’t scored a Grade 1 win as of yet, she does have two graded stakes wins and plenty of time to get into this Eclipse race. The Breeders’ Cup is in her backyard, and if she can score a Grade 1 win prior to the Breeders’ Cup, she could come away with the hardware.
What about the No. 3 ranked Crazy Beautiful? She was well beaten in the Kentucky Oaks by Malathaat, but that was in May, and for some reason voters rarely remember what goes on in the first half of the season. A winner of two straight, Crazy Beautiful is right back in the middle of things in this division, and like Soothsay, would just need a Grade 1 win prior to the Breeders’ Cup Distaff to have a shot at the hardware.
Lastly, we have the No. 2 ranked Search Results. She owns a Grade 1 win already, and finished a close runner-up to Malathaat in the Kentucky Oaks. Her connections have chosen the Grade 1 Test for her next start. Cutting back to 7 furlongs, a Test score would bolster her resume and put her in the thick of things as well heading into the fall.
My own personal take on Malathaat is that if she were to finish off the Saratoga meet with another two Grade 1 scores, she will have done more than enough secure my vote for the Eclipse, regardless of what takes place in the fall and the Breeders’ Cup. Her closest pursuers know where she will be running next month, and if they want to jump into this race they need to come and beat her.