The Older Dirt Female division saw lots of action last weekend with several key players running on both coasts.
Ranked No. 1 in the division since last spring, Midnight Bisou has been sensational. In 2019 she reeled off seven wins in a row en route to her Eclipse award, and she started off her 2020 season in February with a close runner-up finish to Maximum Security in the $20 million Saudi Cup.
After a break of four months, Midnight Bisou returned to the races with a facile win in the Fleur de Lis Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs and seemed well on her way to another Eclipse award.
Last weekend Midnight Bisou suffered only her second loss against fellow females since November of 2018 in the Personal Ensign (G1), and in the process, opened the door for several others in the 2020 Eclipse race.
Last year at this time, Midnight Bisou has already won five races and had built up an insurmountable lead in her division, so much so that she could afford a loss or two in the fall and still win the Eclipse. This year, she has no such luxury as she has only won once so far. Remember, there is no equity carry over from previous seasons when evaluating the merits of individual horses in the Eclipse race. So, as it stands now, Midnight Bisou’s hold of the No. 1 spot is tenuous at best with several others possessing equal to or better 2020 resumes.
At Saratoga in last weekend’s Personal Ensign, Midnight Bisou ran her race, but this time it wasn’t good enough. The winner, Vexatious, was just better. In fact, the Personal Ensign was one of the better races Midnight Bisou has ever run. Make no mistake, I am a Midnight Bisou fan, but this year is different from last year in that there are several contenders in this division who can match Midnight Bisou speed number wise.
Vexatious has run two solid races in a row, and she now has a Grade 1 win on the season. That fact alone carries weight and makes her a serious contender to unseat Midnight Bisou from the top spot.
If you like Vexatious you have to like Monomoy Girl even more. I’ll admit, I was one of the people who doubted Monomoy Girl could make it all the way back and contend in this division after being off 18 months since her 2018 Breeders’ Cup Distaff win. I was wrong. The win by Vexatious flattered Monomoy Girl as Monomoy Girl defeated Vexatious in the Ruffian (G2). This week Monomoy Girl jumps to No. 3 without even running last weekend, and is another one that could unseat Midnight Bisou in her next start.
Out west at Del Mar, three highly ranked members of this division, Ce Ce (No. 2), Ollies Candy (No. 3), and Fighting Mad (No. 4) clashed in the Clement L Hirsch Stakes (G1).
Ce Ce has already won two Grade 1 events this year and was one win away from taking over the lead in this division, but it was the Bob Baffert trained Fighting Mad who made it two straight wins over Ce Ce. In winning the Clement L. Hirsch, Fighting Mad showed her previous win in the Santa Maria (G2) was no fluke as she went straight to the lead again and never looked back. Ollie’s Candy ran well to be second, finishing ahead of a hanging Ce Ce who checked in third.
Count me among those who is a big believer in Fighting Mad, and as a result, she moves all the way up to the No. 2 spot this week.
Lastly, what about Dunbar Road? The Alabama (G1) winner as a 3-year-old last season, she has only run twice this year, winning both. Although she hasn’t faced much yet this year, she has looked good. An outlier in the Eclipse race as of now, she could move up in the coming weeks.
As we move closer to the important fall races culminating with the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland in November, the Eclipse race is on for these six aforementioned gals looking to unseat Midnight Bisou from the top.
For Midnight Bisou fans, there is a silver lining to her loss. It appears that Saratoga may not be her favorite track, she is 1-for-4 there and her lone win was only by a nose. It remains to be seen if she has lost a step, but based off of the numbers from her last race, she has not.
For another week at least, Midnight Bisou stays on top of what is all of a sudden a very competitive and wide open division.
With that, here's a look at this week's Division Rankings.
2. Tom's d'Etat – Loses nothing as far as his reputation is concerned as a result of his loss in last week’s Whitney where he stumbled at the start, losing ground in the process, and the ridiculously slow fractions he could not overcome. He stays here at No. 2.
3. Improbable – Certainly has redeemed himself in a big way from his disappointing 3-year-old campaign. Now a winner of two straight Grade 1 races this season after his Whitney win, he is an Eclipse contender. But, he will never have the setup he had in the Whitney again.
4. Vekoma – Sensational in the Met Mile (G1)in his last start. Although he likely won't run around two turns for now, he is clearly one of the top older dirt males in the country. His connections have stated they will now wait for the Forego (G1) at Saratoga on Aug. 29 in their march toward the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. Since this year’s Breeders’ Cup is at Keeneland, the Dirt Mile would be run around two turns. Vekoma's lone win around two turns came in last year's Blue Grass (G2) at 1 1/8 miles.
5. By My Standards – Runner-up again, this time in the Whitney. He again ran a strong race but not a winning one. Earlier this season he won the New Orleans Classic (G2) and Oaklawn Handicap (G2).
Next 5: Code of Honor, Mucho Gusto, Tacitus, Midcourt, Warriors Charge.
Older Dirt Females
1. Midnight Bisou Fleur De Lis (G2). The Saudi Cup runner-up to Maximum Security has never finished off the board in 21 starts.
2. Fighting Mad - Impressive winner of the Clement L Hirsch last weekend (G1) defeating several who are ranked below, she rockets to the No. 2 spot this week. Previously won the Santa Maria (G2) in impressive fashion, defeating Ce Ce.
3. Monomoy Girl - Moves up to No. 3 this week and she didn't even run. In her second start back after a lengthy layoff, she won the Ruffian (G2) defeating Vexatious who then came back to defeat Midnight Bisou in the Personal Ensign (G1). She will run next in the La Troienne (G1) at Churchill Downs on Sept. 4.
4. Vexatious - Makes her debut in the Top Ten at No. 4 based on her strong win over Midnight Bisou in the Personal Ensign. She was previously runner-up to Monomoy Girl in the Ruffian (G2) at Belmont Park.
5. Ollie's Candy - Ran another stellar race in last weekend's Clement L. Hirsch at Del Mar where she was runner-up to Fighting Mad. She is Grade 1 placed four times in 2020.
Next 5: Ce Ce, Dunbar Road, Point of Honor, Street Band, Guarana.
1. Tiz the Law – Finally returns to the races in this weekend's Travers where he will be heavily favored to add another Grade 1 win to his resume. Should he win the Travers for his third Grade 1 win of the season, he will have a stranglehold on the Eclipse as no other in his class has more than one on their resume.
2. Authentic – He barely held on in the Haskell (G1), but a win is a win. While I don't believe 10 furlongs is in his wheelhouse, he will nevertheless head to the Kentucky Derby for his next start. Based on his 2020 resume, he deserves this spot for now. Won the San Felipe (G2) and Sham (G3) earlier this season.
3. Art Collector - The winner of the Blue Grass (G2) for his first stakes win in his last start, he has really matured over his last two starts and appears to be a major player now for the upcoming Kentucky Derby. His connections chose to run him in this weekend's Ellis Park Derby for his final race prior to the Kentucky Derby.
4. Honor A. P. – No excuse in last weekend's Shared Belief Stakes where he finished runner-up to Thousand Words. The Santa Anita Derby winner will now head to Louisville for next months Kentucky Derby. Not a big fan of the choices his connections have made to get him to Louisville.
5. King Guillermo - Impressed me with his runner-up finish in the Arkansas Derby behind Nadal, showing everyone that his 49-1 upset win in his previous start, the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), was no fluke. Apparently his connections have decided to sit him now for 126 days and train up to the Kentucky Derby. It's a questionable decision at best, in my opinion.
Next 5: Ny Traffic, Thousand Words, Uncle Chuck, Dr. Post, Rushie.
1. Swiss Skydiver – Ran big in the Blue Grass (G2) against the boys where she beat all but the winner, Art Collector, quite handily. Widening her lead in this division, she will now set her sights on the Alabama (G1) at Saratoga on Aug. 15.
2. Gamine - Impressive winner of the Acorn by over 18 lengths for her first stakes win. She likely will appear again during the Saratoga meet in the seven-furlong Test Stakes (G1) on Aug. 8.
3. Speech – Impressive winner of the Ashland (G1) last time out defeating Venetian Harbor, among others. Remember, in her two previous starts she was runner-up to Swiss Skydiver in the Santa Anita Oaks and to Gamine in an optional claimer at Oaklawn.
4. Venetian Harbor– Runner-up to Speech and Swiss Skydiver in her last two starts, she previously won the Las Virgenes Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita. She takes on Gamine in this weekend's Test (G1) at Saratoga.
5. Paris Lights – The Bill Mott trained daughter of Curlin broke through in a big way in her stakes debut, a win in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks.
Next 5: Donna Veloce, Finite, Shedaresthedevil, Sharing, Crystal Ball.
1. United - Won his third graded stakes this season in his last start, the Eddie Read (G2) at Del Mar. Now 3-for-3 this season, he appears to be the horse to beat in this division
2. Zulu Alpha - Back from a brief freshening, the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) and Mac Diarmida Stakes (G2) winner was impressive winning the Elkhorn (G2) in his last start at Keeneland. Will try and defend his title in next months Kentucky Turf Cup (G3) at Kentucky Downs for his next start.
3. Factor This - Has now won four straight, his latest was a win in last weekend's Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Cup Stakes. This 5-year-old is in the best form of his career and an Eclipse contender for trainer Brad Cox.
career renaissance this son Arch is in the midst of. Grade 1 placed at age two on the dirt, he finished fourth in the 2018 Kentucky Derby. He has found a home now on the grass at age 5 as he won his first Grade 1 race, the Manhattan at Belmont Park last time out. Now with two graded wins in the grass this season, he is very much in the Eclipse race here. Will go next in the Old Forester Turf Classic (G1) on Sept. 5 at Churchill Downs.
5. War of Will - A major player on the grass now as he pulled off a remarkable win in the Maker's Mark Mile (G1) at Keeneland last time out. He joined Secretariat and California Chrome as just the third horse in modern history to win a Triple Crown event and a Grade 1 turf race. He will continue on the lawn for his next start in the Woodbine Mile on Sept. 19.
Next 5: Raging Bull, Admission Office, Bemma's Boy, Rockemperor, Decorated Invader.
Clearly, this is a different Rushing Fall as compared with the version that ran the past two seasons. Last year, she simply wasn't good enough, and the previous season her connections ducked the top mares in the division. The Wiley was her career best effort, and she beat a top notch filly in Jolie Olimpica. Will run the Diana (G1) at Saratoga on August 23.
-for-4 this season, she is a leading contender for the Eclipse in this division. Le Prevoyante Stakes (G3) and Orchid Stakes (G3) she is a surprise contender in this division. She will go next in the Grade 1 Diana on August 23 at Saratoga.Ballston Spa Stakes (G2) at Saratoga. Now 4
4. Newspaperofrecord - Has rebounded very nicely from a disappointing 3-year-old season to take her first two races in 2020, both graded stakes. Her win in the Just a Game (G1) last out came at the expense of the defending champ of this division, Uni. She will run next on September 5 in at Churchill Downs in the Distaff Turf Mile (G2). The Breeders' Cup Mile against the boys is the long range goal
Next 5: Keeper Ofthe Stars, Juliet Foxtrot, Uni, Sistercharlie, Beau Recall.
1. Vekoma - Like Mitole last year, he may run away and hide in this division as he now has a commanding lead here after his second straight Grade 1 win, this one in the Met Mile. Now 3-for-3 on the season. Will run next in the Forego (G1) at Saratoga later this month.
2. Volatile - Nice win in the Vanderbilt (G1) over several others ranked below. Not nearly as dominant as he was at Churchill, but as the controlling speed, he should be commended for quick finishing fractions to hold off all comers. Will be interesting to see how he handles Vekoma down the road, if they face one another. Will have one more start before the Breeders' Cup Sprint, the Vosburgh at Belmont Park.
3. Whitmore - After breaking through the gate prior to the start, he still ran his race in the Vanderbilt when only defeated by 1 3/4 lengths. Earlier this season, he won the Count Fleet Sprint (G3) at Oaklawn. Shows no signs of slowing down at age seven.
4. Mind Control - He too ran big in the Vanderbilt, beaten just two lengths. Started off 2020 with a win in the Toboggan Stakes (G3) and the Tom Fool (G3) at Aqueduct.
5. Network Effect - Has to move up here based off of his last two starts, where he was runner-up twice to Vekoma in the Grade 1 Carter and Met Mile.
Next 5: Firenze Fire, McKinzie, Flagstaff, Collusion Illusion, Echo Town.
1. Guarana - Finally some clarity in this division as this gal takes over the top spot here after her game win in the Madison (G1) over a tough customer in Mia Mischief. Trainer Chad Brown has stated the year-end goal is the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. She recently suffered a setback in training and was forced to miss this weekend's Ballerina (G1) at Saratoga.
2. Mia Mischief - Passed Guarana turning for home in the Madison (G1) at Keeneland and looked on her way to victory. A tough loss for sure, but she was clearly the best of the rest and will get more chances later this year to avenge the loss.
Bell's the One – Ran a good race in the Madison, where she finished third. Belongs in the top tier of this division right now.
4. Kimari - Second to the boys in the Group 1 Commonwealth at Royal Ascot, she was well clear of the 14 others. Her only other start this year resulted in a win at Oaklawn in the Purple Mountain Stakes. Her connections have the Breeders' Cup Sprint against males as their long-range goal but she needs to run soon to stay in this spot.
5. Come Dancing - Will get one last chance to show she deserves this spot in this weekend's Ballerina (G1) at Saratoga. Finished second last time out in the Vagrancy (G2) at Belmont.
Next 5: Break Even, Special Relativity, Jean Elizabeth, Frank's Rockette, Pink Sands.