In taking a look at the top older dirt males in this week's Division Rankings, one fact stands out. Among them, there's only one Grade 1 victory in 2020, which isn't too much of a shock considering just two Grade 1 races for the division have been contested so far this season.
What further complicates the rankings is status of current No. 1 Maximum Security and the question marks many have regarding his place atop the order. With previous trainer Jason Servis indicted on federal charges of administering illegal substances to his horses, Maximum Security was given a rest and a full medical evaluation before he was shipped west to new trainer Bob Baffert's barn.
If -- and that is a big if -- Maximum Security returns to the racetrack as the same horse as in the Feb. 29 Saudi Cup, this division and the sport has itself quite the story.
If Maximum Security doesn’t come back quite as strong, then this division will really open up, and I believe By My Standards is poised to take control.
By My Standards has quietly put together a nice run, winning five of his last six with the only defeat since breaking his maiden in the 2019 Kentucky Derby. This year, he followed an easy allowance score off the bench by winning both the New Orleans Classic and Oaklawn Handicap at the Grade 2 level.
Connections want to get him back to Grade 1 company but have also campaigned By My Standards patiently. The Stephen Foster (G2) runs June 27 in the colt's backyard at Churchill Downs.
Elsewhere in the older male ranks, it seems like a long time ago given all that's happened in the world since, but Mucho Gusto made quite a leap forward back in January when winning the Pegasus World Cup (G1). After a good fourth-place finish behind Maximum Security in Saudi Arabia, he was slated for the Dubai World Cup (G1) until that race was canceled. As with Maximum Security, he has been idle since that Saudi Cup.
Among the supporting stars of this division so far in 2020, Tom’s d’Etat and Warriors Charge have stood out. Tom’s d’Etat only has one start this season, winning the Oaklawn Mile Stakes. But last season ended on a high note with his win in the Clark Stakes (G1) at Churchill Downs. He has a meeting with By My Standards next in the Foster.
Warrior’s Charge has only been off the board one time in his nine career starts. The exception was last year’s Preakness Stakes, which may have been his best performance after setting the pace and sticking around for fourth. Warrior's Charge owns a victory this season in the Razorback (G3) at Oaklawn Park and is a candidate for the July 4 Met Mile (G1).
I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the Santa Anita Handicap (G1). This event used to be the race most would circle on their calendar. Now it is an afterthought the last few years. This year’s winner, Combatant, was off the board in last month’s Oaklawn Handicap.
We should start to see some sort of clarity in the next few weeks in these ranks. Up first is Saturday's Hollywood Gold Cup (G1) featuring Improbable and Midcourt. The Stephen Foster and Met Mile should also provide more clues as to where this division is headed in the coming weeks, while Maximum Security returned to the work tab for Baffert in recent days.
Lastly, Code of Honor is set to make his 2020 debut in Saturday's Westchester Stakes (G3) at Belmont Park. Big things are expected from last year’s Travers (G1) and Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) winner. Perhaps he will contend for the Eclipse in this division.
With that, a look at this week's Division Rankings...
2. By My Standards – Three starts in 2020 are in the books for this son of Goldencents, and one thing is clear: He has matured into a Eclipse contender at age 4. His last win in the Oaklawn Handicap came against the best group of older horses assembled for a race on U.S. soil this season. He could take over the No. 1 spot with another win.
3. Tom's d'Etat – A winner of his last three, he is in the best form of his career now at age 7. His Oaklawn Mile Stakes win over Improbable and nine others was deceptively good. The decision to skip the Oaklawn Handicap has to be questioned, given the fact that with few tracks running there are limited stakes to choose from. He will go next in the Stephen Foster at Churchill on June 27.
4. Mucho Gusto – Much-improved from last season, he took an eventful Saudi Cup trip. He likely would have finished third instead of fourth had jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. not been so concerned with Maximum Security for the entirety of the race. With COVID-19 leading to cancellation of the Dubai World Cup (G1), his more recent plans were dashed.
5. Warrior's Charge – Deserves to be placed in the top five based off of his Razorback (G3) win and his strong runner-up to By My Standards in the Oaklawn Handicap. Next up, Churchill's Stephen Foster or the Metropolitan Handicap (G1).
Next 5: Mr. Freeze, Tacitus, Improbable, Combatant, Owendale.
Older Dirt Females
2. Ce Ce – No excuses in last weekend's Santa Maria (G2) at Santa Anita, where she checked in a flat third. Still, with two Grade 1 wins already in 2020 she easily holds on to this spot.
3. Ollie's Candy - Ran a top race race in the Apple Blossom, as she did all the work on the front end while setting some quick fractions. She has finished behind Ce Ce in both of her starts this year, the other being the Beholder Mile (G1) at Santa Anita. She will go next in the Ogden Phipps at Belmont on June 13
4. Point of Honor - Closed from 14th, where she was more than 23 lengths back, to run third in the Apple Blossom after getting squeezed back at the break. She has run well in both of her starts this season and has the Ogden Phipps on her calendar.
5. Serengeti Empress - Ran a clunker in her last when she checked in 11th in the Apple Blossom. Prior to that, this need-the-lead type was a romping winner of the Azeri (G2).
Next 5: Street Band, Dunbar Road, Fighting Mad, Monomoy Girl, Hard Not to Love.
1. Tiz the Law – Back in this spot due to the unfortunate injury and retirement of Nadal. He has only two starts this year, but I believe he is deserves this spot for now. Still, you have to run to win Eclipse awards. The Belmont is confirmed as his next start.
2. Authentic – Unbeaten in three career starts, he was sensational last out in the San Felipe (G2), defeating a strong field that included the runner-up, Honor A. P., who was making his season debut. Will take over the No. 1 spot with a win in his next start, the rescheduled Santa Anita Derby (G1).
3. Charlatan – His status is now uncertain due to a positive test exiting Arkansas Derby Day. Should the split sample also come back positive, he will most likely be disqualified and lose his Kentucky Derby points. Still, he should reappear in either the Belmont Stakes or the Woody Stephens Stakes on June 20.
4. 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, was no fluke. Connections stated they will skip the Belmont and train up to the Kentucky Derby.
5. Maxfield - His 2020 debut in the Matt Winn (G3) was impressive. A Grade 1 winner already in the Breeders' Futurity at age two, he should get better as the distances get longer. Possible for the Belmont on June 20.
Next 5: Sole Volante, Ete Indien, Honor A.P, Independence Hall, Modernist.
1. Swiss Skydiver – Her Fantasy Stakes (G3) win came over the deepest group this division has seen in a race this season, and I get the sense she is here to stay. She now has two straight graded stakes wins and will run this weekend in the Santa Anita Oaks (G2).
2. Donna Veloce – Big things were expected this year from the daughter of Uncle Mo, and she certainly delivered in her first start of 2020, winning the Santa Ysabel (G3). She is back on the sidelines now, however, due to a physical setback.
3. Venetian Harbor – The runaway Las Virgenes (G2) winner tried her best in the Fantasy but was simply second best. Some 10 lengths clear of third place, she looks like a candidate for the newly rescheduled Acorn Stakes (G1) at Belmont.
4. Finite – Disappointed as the odds-on favorite in the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) when she was off the board, finishing fourth. This snapped a five-race winning streak. Previously ranked No. 1, she took a big drop but will have opportunities to move back up returning to training soon after minor bone chip surgery.
5. Tonalist's Shape – Rebounded from her loss to Swiss Skydiver in the Gulfstream Park Oaks with a nice win in Gulfstream's Hollywood Wildcat Stakes. She now has three stakes wins on the season and could join the fray in the Acorn.
Next 5: Bonny South, Shedaresthedevil, Franks's Rockette, Kimari, Sharing.
1. United - Takes over this No. 1 spot after his nose win in the Whittingham Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita. Also the winner of the San Marcos to get his 2020 season underway, he's 2-for-2 on the year.
2. Zulu Alpha - On the sidelines for a brief freshening, the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) and Mac Diarmida Stakes (G2) winner tasted his first defeat of the season last out in the Pan American (G2) at Gulfstream when runner-up to Bemma's Boy. Could get the chance to reclaim the No. 1 spot in his next expected start in the Elkhorn (G2) at Keeneland, where United may also be in the gate.
3. Raging Bull
4. Arklow - Winner of the Joe Hirsch (G1) last fall at Belmont, he has appeared once this season, when he finished fifth behind Zulu Alpha in the Pegasus World Cup Turf but has a string of recent works.
5. Factor This - At 2-for-3 on the season, he won the Muniz Memorial Stakes (G2) and the Fair Grounds Stakes (G3) in his last two starts.
Next 5: Next Shares, River Boyne, Bemma's Boy, Sadler's Joy, Mo Forza.
Starship Jubilee – With three starts already this season she is stacking up victories. Tampa Bay Downs' Hillsborough (G2) was her latest win in a career that has seen her run 35 times. Starship Jubilee was also recently named Canada's 2019 Horse of the Year. Keeper Ofthe Stars – A nice win in the Gamely (G1) last out at Santa Anita makes it two graded stakes win in a row for this daughter of Midnight Lute. She is now 2-for-3 on the season.
Next 5: Rushing Fall, Magic Star, Jehozacat, Gentle Ruler, Lady Pename.
1. Whitmore - He takes over the top spot here having defeated the best field in the division so far, the Count Fleet Sprint (G3) at Oaklawn. And Whitmore did so handily. With two wins in three starts, he shows no signs of slowing down at age 7.
2. Firenze Fire
3. Mind Control - Started off 2020 with a win in the Toboggan Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct. And last out, he looked beaten but put in a spectacular stretch run to win the Tom Fool (G3). Will return in a stacked Carter this weekend where Vekoma is also entered.
4. Flagstaff - Off the board only once in 12 career starts, he ran a bang-up second to Whitmore in the Count Fleet, rallying after a slow break. Previously in 2020, he won the San Carlos (G2) and finished runner-up in the Palos Verdes (G2) at Santa Anita. Likely to face off against McKinzie in the seven furlong Triple Bend (G2) at Santa Anita in June 7.
5. New York Central - Won the Saudi Cup Sprint his last out but was off the board in his three previous starts. Maybe turned a corner at age 5? It will be interesting to see whether he continues campaigning overseas for Saudi Arabian interests or tries his hand again in the U.S.
Next 5: Imperial Hint, Cistron, Captain Scotty, Vekoma, Bobby's Wicked One.
1. Hard Not to Love - Covfefe left a huge void at the top of this division and no other has staked a real claim to this spot. Won the seven furlong Santa Monica (G2) at Santa Anita but in her last two starts she has tried to stretch out in the Beholder Mile and Santa Maria at Santa Anita where she has performed admirably with a second and a third.
4. Serengeti Empress - Never saw the lead in the Apple Blossom and faded to finish 11th. Although she hasn't sprinted yet this season, we know she can hang with the very best as she showed last August when runner-up to Covfefe in the Test at Saratoga. Stays ranked here in this division for now.
5. Pink Sands - In a division lacking depth, she cracks the top five. Won her only start this year sprinting in the Inside Information (G2) at Gulfstream.
Next 5: Bell's the One, Break Even, Special Relativity, Kimari, Amy's Challenge.