Division Rankings: Maxfield is a welcome addition to the Big 'Cap

Division Rankings: Maxfield is a welcome addition to the Big 'Cap
Photo: Parker Waters / Eclipse Sportswire

The enigmatic Maxfield made the ship from his New Orleans home base for this weekend’s Santa Anita Handicap. With a win in this historic event, Maxfield will take over the No. 1 ranking in the Older Dirt Male division.

But before I dive into that further, let’s take a look at this week’s updated rankings.

Older dirt males

1. Charlatan – I give Charlatan credit, he ran a superb race in Saudi Arabia, coming up short in the stretch to Mishriff. Make no mistake, the best horse won, but I did not expect him to grab the lead from Knicks Go early and be able to run the race he did. Did the battle between the two Americans cost Charlatan the win? I don't believe so; Mishriff was never more than a length or two off Charlatan. Will skip Dubai and point for a race back stateside.

2. Knicks Go – Named Maryland-bred Horse of the Year and champion older male earlier this week, he was simply outrun in the early part of the of the Saudi Cup, never getting the lead he needed to be able to dictate the pace of the race. Joel Rosario tried his hardest to outrun Charlatan early, even tapping Knicks Go a few times to try to keep up with Charlatan, but he could not. Still believe he is the goods, and hope to see him back stateside with a shot to get back on the winning track.

3. Jesus' Team – Training for the Dubai World Cup and, believe it or not, he is among the United States' best hopes along with Mystic Guide. That is quite a statement. His runner-up in the Pegasus was solid, and prior, he was again runner-up to Knicks Go in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.

4. Maxfield – Back to the races and still unbeaten. Easy winner of the Mineshaft (G3) at the Fair Grounds, but who did he really beat? Absolutely love the move by his connections to ship him to California for the Santa Anita Handicap for a 10-furlong test.

5. Mystic Guide – Certainly a nice effort in his 2021 debut, an easy six-length win the Razorback (G3). Still, I will temper my expectations for now. His 108 Beyer, while certainly nice, was over a very sloppy racetrack where some horses just freak out. Still feel he is a cut below a few others in this division right now. Connections have decided to send him to Dubai for his next start, so he will have his chance to move up.

Next 5: Happy Saver, By My StandardsTitle Ready, Fearless, Express Train.

Older dirt females

1. Monomoy Girl – Got the job done in her 2021 debut, a two-length win in the Bayakoa (G3) at Oaklawn. She improved her remarkable record to 14 wins from 16 starts. Perhaps it was the mud, the layoff or a combination of both, but I felt like the Bayakoa was not her "A" race. I will be interested to see her next start, where hopefully she will face tougher as well. This division is more open than many realize.

2. Swiss Skydiver – Looks like she will make her return in the Beholder Mile Santa Anita on March 13. This will be no easy spot as Harvest Moon and Sanenus are also targeting that race as well. Remember, she shipped to Santa Anita last year to win the Santa Anita Oaks. Her 2020 season was historic with her Preakness win, but history shows that she will be hard-pressed to maintain that form at age 4.

3. Gamine – Dominant winner of the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, she will be back in the spring. I expect her connections to try to stretch her out once again.

4. Sanenus – This daughter of Scat Daddy was scintillating in the La Cañada (G3) in her first start of 2021. She was bred in Chile, and her first eight starts took place there. She came to the U.S. last summer and has run four times, getting better each time. Now fully acclimated, she could make noise in this division. We have seen several future female stars in this division come from South America before. Should go next in the Beholder Mile (G1) on March 13.

5. Valiance – Won the Spinster last fall, then was a very good runner-up to Monomoy Girl in the Breeders' Cup. She is expected back in 2021.

ext 5:  Shedaresthedevil, Harvest Moon, Letruska, Vexatious, Hard Not to Love.

3-year-old males

1. Essential Quality – Was brilliant when getting his 3-year-old campaign underway Oaklawn in the Southwest (G3). The Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Eclipse winner will have one more start prior to the Kentucky Derby, in either the Arkansas Derby or the Blue Grass at Keeneland.

2. Greatest Honour – Has to be placed in the top three based off of his exploits so far at age 3, clear-cut wins in the Holy Bull (G3) and Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream. The problem is his recent Fountain of Youth win was among the slowest in the last 40 years, speed figure-wise. I also question who has he really beaten, but still, he got the job done in visually impressive fashion. Will go next in the Florida Derby.

3. Life Is Good – Only two starts for this guy, his last was his Jan. 2 win in the Sham (G3). It was a nice race, and the runner-up, Medina Spirit, came back to hold on and win the Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita. I'm in the minority, but call me skeptical of him going longer and being a viable 10-furlong Kentucky Derby contender. Will face Medina Spirit again in this weekend's 1 1/16 mile San Felipe.

4. Medina Spirit– Winner of the Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita, he was previously runner-up to Life Is Good in the Sham. Held off Hot Rod Charlie in the Lewis.Not sure he will like longer either, but he deserves this spot for now.

5. Keepmeinmind - Flattered the top one with his race after his Breeders' Cup Juvenile third-place finish, a win in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in late November. Still hasn't started yet as a 3-year-old; connections will wait for the Rebel (G2) at Oaklawn on March 13. Could fall out of the top five after this weekend.

Next 5: Hot Rod Charlie, MandalounMidnight Bourbon, Caddo River, Concert Tour.

3-year-old females

1. Clairiere – Reeled in favored Travel Column to win the Rachel Alexandra Stakes (G2) at Fair Grounds for her first stakes win. Was previously second to that rival in last fall's Golden Rod (G2) at Churchill Downs. So far she has been the best in this division in 2021.

2. Travel Column – The Golden Rod winner from last fall returned a close runner-up to her rival Clairiere in the Rachel Alexandra. Certainly will have room for improvement in her next start. Will likely face her rival next out in the Fair Grounds Oaks.

3. Aunt Pearl – Three grass starts and three daylight wins. Her win last out in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf came at the expense of 13 others, five of whom were from overseas. Look for her to run overseas this season. Will likely drop from this spot in the coming weeks unless she runs.

4. Vequist – We have seen this happen before, good-to-great 2-year-olds return at age 3 but haven't developed as much as others in their division. Her return last weekend in the Davona Dale Stakes was abysmal, beaten over 25 lengths where she finished ninth. I will keep her in the top five for now; she has earned one mulligan.

5. Dayoutoftheoffice – The Frizette (G1) winner ran her race in the Breeders' Cup, but she couldn't hold off Vequist. Remember, she defeated Vequist in the Frizette, but that was at a mile around one turn. Hasn't worked since the end of January, and will drop from this spot soon unless she runs.

Next 5: Malathaat, Girl Daddy, Wholebodemeister, Moonlight d'Oro, Varda.

Turf males

1. Channel Maker – Really ran a gallant race to finish second in Neom Turf Cup In Saudi Arabia. He is clearly now in the best form of his career at the ripe old age of 7. Now he heads to Dubai in search of another big payday.

2. Colonel Liam – Rolled late to win the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) by a neck. Prior to that, he won the ungraded Tropical Park Derby. The win in the Pegasus came over an extremely weak field, as Grade 1 events go. He will run next in the Muniz Memorial Stakes (G2) at the Fair Grounds March 20.

3. Zulu Alpha – Missed the Breeders' Cup with an injury but was one of the best in this division in 2020. Not a given he makes it back to the races and likely will drop from this spot in the coming weeks.

4. Ivar – The winner of the Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) last season, he came running at the end of the Breeders' Cup Mile but was too late as he finished fourth, beaten less than two lengths. Back in training now, so look for him to return in the spring.

5. Mo Forza – Was brilliant in a short two-race, injury-shortened campaign in 2020. Has a difficult time staying healthy and likely will fall out of these rankings again as he is now sidelined until the summer because of another physical setback.

Next 5: Arklow, United, Domestic Spending, Laccario, Largent.

Turf females

1. Mean Mary -
 Occupied this spot for a few weeks in 2020, she starts off 2021 at No. 1 based on her stellar campaign from last year. If she runs like she did in 2020, she is the favorite for the Eclipse in this division.

Harvey's Lil Goil – She almost won the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf last season at age 3 and did win the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland last fall. She is back in 2021, and will be a player in this division. Has been off the board only once in nine starts.

Viadera - Winner of her last three starts, which included the Matriarch (G1) at Del Mar in late November.

4. Mucho Unusual - Runner-up last time in the Buena Vista (G2), she previously scored wins in the Megahertz (G3) and Frankel Stakes (G2), both at Santa Anita. 

Jolie Olimpica – Returned from a six-month layoff to finish runner-up in the Las Cienegas (G3) a few weeks back. Was one of the best in this division in 2020.

Next 5: Civil Union, Got Stormy, Magic Attitude, Blowout, Charmaine's Mia.

Male sprinters

1. Whitmore – Nearly four and a half years after his 19th-place finish to Nyquist in the 2016 Kentucky Derby, this guy wins the biggest race of his career, the Breeders' Cup Sprint, last fall. Now an 8-year-old, can he still compete in Grade 1 company? I wouldn't bet against it. Will likely return in the Hot Springs Stakes at Oaklawn on March 13.

2. C Z Rocket – His five-race win streak came to end in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, but only Whitmore beat him first to the wire. Won the Pat O'Brien last August and the Santa Anita Sprint Championship in his prior two starts. May run in the March 13 Hot Springs at Oaklawn.

3. Nashville - Might be a bit high in this spot, but I will forgive his last-out loss to Charlatan in the Malibu and give him another chance. He was sensational in three prior starts sprinting.

4. Firenze Fire - Now a 6-year-old, he continues to fire in almost every race. A winner of three graded stakes last season, he finished a good third in the Breeders' Cup Sprint. Last seen, he was a close second to Sleepy Eyes Todd in the Mr. Prospector Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park in late December.

5. Wildman Jack - Easily Won the Palos Verdes (G3) last out, and that is good enough to move him to No. 5 here for now, considering graded stakes sprint wins are few and far between this early in the season.

Next 5: Sleepy Eyes Todd, Yaupon, Vertical Threat, Mischevious Alex, Share the Ride.

Female sprinters

1. Gamine – Simply put, she is the best sprinter, male or female, in the country. Should be back in the spring, but connections may try to stretch her out again.

2. Bell's the One – Was last seen running third in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint last fall. Now back in training for a 2021 campaign, her first planned race this year is the Madison (G1) at Keeneland on April 3.

3. Frank's Rockette – Winner of three graded stakes last season, she started 2021 off with a win in the American Beauty Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Will likely run next in the Carousel at Oaklawn on April 10.

4. Merneith Won the Santa Monica (G2) last out and was previously third in the La Brea (G1) in December. Looks like she is finally realizing her potential for trainer Bob Baffert.

5. Kimari - Was super impressive in the Spring Fever Stakes at Oaklawn, her 4-year-old debut last week. Was over four lengths clear of the runner-up, Casual. My knock against her is the lack of races; perhaps she will put together a full season and be an Eclipse contender in this division.

Next 5: Venetian Harbor, Sconsin, Amy's Challenge, Wildwood's Beauty, Pacific Gale.

Unbeaten in five starts, Maxfield will face a field of seven other older horses in Santa Anita’s premier event. I have to admit, I was a bit surprised to hear Maxfield would make the Big ‘Cap his next start. Don’t get me wrong, I love the move by his connections. Trainer Brendan Walsh could have taken the easy route and stayed at their home base of the Fair Grounds and run in the New Orleans Classic in two weeks, but instead they made a move rarely seen nowadays, a top Midwest/East Coast-based older horse shipping to California early in the season for a major Grade 1.

The Santa Anita Handicap used to be the nation’s premier stop for any older male with Eclipse aspirations. But the advent of the Dubai World Cup really affected the quality of the Big ‘Cap fields, seducing the top runners for the potential of a multimillion-dollar payday in the desert.

Count me among those who used to place the Big ‘Cap near the top of the list of races to watch and look forward to. The addition of Maxfield to this year’s 84th renewal certainly restores some of that excitement I used to have for this event.

For newer fans to this game not familiar with the history of this great event, do yourself a favor and check out some of the replays of past editions. For me, the 1988 running that featured Alysheba and Ferdinand tops the list. The previous year sticks out to me as well, as Broad Brush and Ferdinand went nose and nose the length of the stretch in unison to the wire. In recent runnings, the 2014 performance of Game on Dude was among the best in the history of the event.

Maxfield has made two starts since his return from a non-displaced lateral condylar fracture, both wins. Big things have been expected from Maxfield since his debut win nearly 18 months ago. Now finally healthy again, the son of Street Sense will take over the top spot in his division with a win this weekend.

If all goes well this weekend and the remainder of the season, Maxfield will surely have at least one more trip planned to California, the Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar, just two hours south of Santa Anita.

For the Santa Anita Handicap this weekend, the addition of Maxfield certainly was welcome news for this fan.

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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