Division Rankings: Maxfield still searching for signature win

Division Rankings: Maxfield still searching for signature win
Photo: Parker Waters / Eclipse Sportswire

Expectations have been high for Maxfield ever since his lone Grade 1 win at age 2 in the Breeders’ Futurity. Much has been written and said about the son of Street Sense, but when you cut through all the hype, he accounts for only three graded stakes wins and a listed stakes win over suspect fields in the more than 600 days since that Futurity win. 

This weekend, Maxfield is back at it in the Stephen Foster (G2) at Churchill Downs. Before I dive into my thoughts on Maxfield and his Stephen Foster endeavor, check out the updated Division Rankings:

Older dirt males

1. Silver State. The Met Mile (G1) winner is back working and will run next in the Whitney (G1) on Aug. 7 at Saratoga. He 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. Mystic Guide. With only one stakes win in the U.S. so far in 2021, he drops to No. 2, and that is being generous. He did beat a weak Dubai World Cup field in March, but he hasn't run since. Scheduled to make his next start in the July 3 Suburban (G2) at Belmont, but even a win there won't be enough to take back the No. 1 spot he had owned for several weeks. He will drop another spot next week if Maxfield gets the job done this weekend.

3. Maxfield. Rebounded nicely from his first loss, a third-place finish in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1), with a win the Alysheba (G2) at Churchill Downs a few weeks back. The Stephen Foster (G2) this weekend is next, but he again faces a below-average field, so I am still not sure how much we will learn from this next start.

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 later this summer.

5. Country Grammer. The Hollywood Gold Cup 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 an expected next start in the July 3 Suburban (G2), where he would face a strong field that will include Happy Saver and Mystic Guide. If he is not ready for the Suburban, he will run in the Whitney at Saratoga.

Next 5: Royal Ship, Knicks Go, Idol, Happy Saver, Express Train.

Older dirt females

1. Letruska. Her connections are striking while the iron is hot and entered their star in this weekend's Fleur de Lis (G2) at Churchill Downs. Trainer Fausto Gutierrez said "when a horse is ready to run, we have to let them run.” He couldn't be more correct. Nothing is guaranteed in racing when sitting on the bench and waiting months for another race. She has beaten all comers in a very deep division, building up quite a lead after her second straight Grade 1 win in the recent Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park. Overall she is 3-for-4 in 2021, with her lone loss a close runner-up finish to Shedaresthedevil, which she avenged in her recent win. The Mexican star is now 14-for-18 in her career and with another win this weekend will widen her lead in this division and in the Horse of the Year race.

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.

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 Skydiver. Scratched from the Ogden Phipps because of a fever, she is now pointing for the Shuvee (G3) at Saratoga on July 25. Her last start resulted in a seven-length defeat in the Apple Blossom when finishing third. Before that, she was stellar in her Beholder Mile (G1) win at Santa Anita. Hasn't lost two races in a row in nearly 18 months.

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 run next in the Clement Hirsch Stakes (G1) on Aug. 1 at Del Mar.

Next 5: Bonny South, Envoutante, Spice is Nice, Vault, Valiance.

3-year-old males

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 Belmonts we have seen in the last 20 years. Will point for the Travers (G1) at Saratoga, with a likely prep in the Jim Dandy (G2). Could have a huge second half of season.

2. Hot Rod Charlie. Simply put, his Belmont runner-up finish was extraordinary. On the lead from the start, his 22.78 was the fastest opening quarter-mile ever recorded in the Belmont Stakes. His 46.49 opening half-mile was not only the second-fastest since Secretariat in 1973, but the second-fastest ever recorded in the Belmont Stakes. Showing heart in the stretch, he finally gave way in deep stretch, finishing a little over a length behind Essential Quality. The margin back to Rombauer in third place was more than 11 lengths. The show these top two put on will be remembered for a very long time. Connections have mentioned several major races as possible landing spots for his next start, including the Haskell, where he would get a rematch with Medina Spirit. 

3. Medina Spirit. Didn't 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. The Haskell (G1) at Monmouth is likely in the cards for the embattled Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit, and a win there would restore some luster to his reputation.

4. Rombauer. The Preakness winner had no excuses in the Belmont when finishing a far back third. After edging Known Agenda for the show spot, he will regroup for this next start. May train up to the Travers, according to his connections.

5. Mandaloun. Got the job done in the recent Pegasus at Monmouth, but that type of effort will get him nowhere in next month's Haskell. Still hasn't been able to put two strong races together in a row. The Kentucky Derby runner-up will go next in the Haskell.

Next 5: Drain the Clock, Jackie's Warrior, Midnight Bourbon, Known Agenda, Highly Motivated.

3-year-old females

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. Should return for her first start since her Kentucky Oaks win in the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) in late July and then the Alabama (G1) at Saratoga in August.

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 ultra 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. Clairiere. Came with her run in the Oaks and missed the show spot by a nose. Will try to get back into the Eclipse race in this weekend's Mother Goose (G2) at Belmont, where she will be heavily favored.

4. Will's Secret. Back-to-back third-place finishes in Grade 1 events bump her up to this spot. She narrowly held off Clairiere for the show spot in the Kentucky Oaks in a nice effort.

5. Crazy Beautiful. Up-and-down filly can't seem to put together two winning races in a row, but she has won two graded stakes and was best last out in the Summertime Oaks (G2) at Santa Anita. Connections will send her to the Delaware Oaks (G3) on July 3 for her next start.

Next 5:
 Obligatory, Soothsay, Pauline's Pearl, Going Global, Wholebodemeister.

Turf males

1. Domestic Spending. Didn't 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 (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. He will get a bit of a break before returning late this summer, and he deserves a mulligan for his off-the-board Manhattan.

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 Colonel Liam's 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. Will run in the Eddie Read (G2) on July 24 at Del Mar.

4. Channel Maker. He simply didn't run his best race in Dubai, where he finished eighth, beaten six lengths in the Sheema Classic (G1). Previously, he ran a gallant race to finish second in the Neom Turf Cup In Saudi Arabia. Will be back racing in New York this summer and will drop spots until then as others continue to run.

5. Raging Bull. No excuses in last weekend's 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.

Next 5: Hit the Road, Somelikeithotbrown, Gufo, Say the Word, Tribhuven.

Turf females

1. Mean Mary. Was the favorite in this division heading into 2021, and she has not disappointed. She held on to win in the New York (G2) beating several others ranked below. Previous to that she was best in the Gallorette Stakes (G3) at Pimlico. The United Nations (G1) on July 17 or the Beverly D (G1) on Aug. 14 will be her next start.

2. Juliet Foxtrot
. Was upset last out in the Mint Julep (G3) at Churchill Downs, losing by a half-length when runner-up to Mintd. Her previous start resulted in a Grade 1 win in the Jenny Wiley, and prior to that she had placed in four Grade 1 events. Her overall 2021 resume keeps her in this spot for now.

Harvey's Lil Goil. Checked in fifth in the New York (G2), but the soft turf might have had something to do with her surprisingly poor showing. Gets a mulligan and stays here for now. Previously, she won her only other start this season, the Beaugay (G3) at Belmont.

 After four straight runner-up finishes, she finally entered the winners circle with her strong win in the Distaff Turf Mile (G2) at Churchill Downs. The Turf Mile was her first start of 2021; she ended 2020 with a runner-up effort in the Matriarch (G1) at Santa Anita. Was scratched from the recent Just a Game (G1) at Belmont Park.

5. Charmaine's Mia. Very disappointing effort last out when off the board, beaten three lengths in the Gamely (G1) at Santa Anita. Previously, she won the Royal Heroine (G2) at Santa Anita. Her three graded-stakes wins keep her here for now.

Next 5: Viadera, Thundering Nights, Mucho Unusual, Magic Attitude, Lemista.

Male sprinters

1. C Z Rocket. Has won both his sprint starts this year, defeating last years 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 be back sprinting next time, where he has won seven of his last eight starts.

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 weeks ago in the Carter (G1) at Aqueduct in impressive fashion, and previously he scored in the Gulfstream Park Sprint (G3), also impressively.

3. Firenze Fire. This guy is tough as nails, and last out he won the True North (G2) at Belmont for the second year in a row. Now 2-for-2 on the season, he will search for his first Grade 1 score since he was a 2-year-old later this summer. 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.

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.

Next 5: Cezanne, Wildman Jack, Brickyard Ride, Drain the Clock, Special Reserve.

Female sprinters

1. Gamine. 2-for-2 on the season, she hasn't been quite as dominant this year but has gotten the job done. Had to work for her win in the Derby City Distaff (G1) over Sconsin. With fans used to the dominant Gamine we saw in 2020, the 2021 version hasn't been quite the same.

2. Kimari. In her first graded stakes race on the dirt, 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. Have to believe she would have been tough in the recent Derby City Distaff, but her connections opted not to enter. That might cost them come Eclipse voting time. She needs to run soon or will drop from this spot.

3. Bell's the One. Finally showed her true talent in last weekend's 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.

4. Sconsin. Ran well in the Roxelana but Belle'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.

5. Estilo Talentoso. Already with five starts in 2021, she is stakes placed in all of them. Finally broke through for her first win of the season last out in the Bed o' Roses (G3). Prior to that win she finished third to Gamine in the Derby City Distaff (G1) and runner-up to Kimari in the Madison (G1).

Next 5: 
Merneith, Edgeway, Frank's Rockette, Pacific Gale, Venetian Harbor.

True, it’s not Maxfield’s fault that he again faces what appears to be an overmatched field. But with another Maxfield win this weekend, what will we truly learn? The answer is simple: We won’t learn much. 

We already know Maxfield can handle these fields void of Grade 1 winners and mostly void of graded stakes winners. In his lone Grade 1 attempt this season. Maxfield failed as the even money favorite in the Santa Anita Handicap, finishing behind the winner Idol and the runner-up Express Train.

Prior to his Santa Anita Handicap win, Idol’s only two wins were in allowance and maiden company, and he hasn’t run since his Big ‘Cap win due to injury. Express Train has since run twice, finishing third both times. Disappointing as the favorite in the Oaklawn Handicap, and as the second choice in the recent Hollywood Gold Cup.

The question has to be asked, has Maxfield been overhyped? If I am being honest, I would have to say yes.

Is Maxfield a real contender for the Eclipse in the older dirt male division? Again, if I am being honest, taking all things into consideration, I would have to lean toward no.

The Breeders’ Cup is in California this year, and to win the Eclipse in this division it will take a win, or at least a good showing like Improbable last year, in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Another requirement for an Eclipse in this division? Multiple Grade 1 wins. Maxfield has work to do on that front. Luckily for Maxfield, no other horse in this division has put together multiple grade 1 wins on their resume so far this season. In fact, the division is wide open right now.

With a win this weekend, I would expect to see Maxfield compete in Grade 1 company for the remainder of the season. But, until that happens, we won’t learn anything new about Maxfield.

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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