Division Rankings: Older male division is up for the taking

Division Rankings: Older male division is up for the taking
Photo: Scott Serio/Eclipse Sportswire

In these Division Rankings, Olympiad is the No. 1 ranked older dirt male, but almost anywhere else you can find rankings, you will have a horse who hasn’t even run on this continent in 2022 ranked No. 1.

The older dirt male division has been slow to gain traction this season, mostly because of the expected top tier stars running overseas in the Grade 1 Saudi Cup and Dubai World Cup. That leaves the door open for others to build their resumes and move up the rankings. Olympiad is a perfect example, having moved all the way to the top.

This weekend, another Grade 1 event is on tap where one entered, Stilleto Boy, can move further toward the top, and another, Royal Ship, can re-enter the picture as one of the expected older male stars.

Before I take a look at the impact the Hollywood Gold Cup (G1) at Santa Anita could have on this division, let’s look at this week’s updated Division Rankings.

Older dirt males

1. Olympiad. A winner in the Alysheba Stakes (G2) on Derby weekend, this guy has quietly put together four wins in a row, three of which are graded. I put him at the top because if the season ended today, he would have to be voted the Eclipse winner. Country Grammer and Hot Rod Charlie haven't even run in the U.S. this year. While some of the others are still sidelined after races overseas, Olympiad figures to pad his resume even more in the coming months, with the Whitney (G1) as his next major goal in early August at Saratoga. Trainer Bill Mott says he likely will get one race before the Whitney.

2. Country Grammer. Sensational in both of his starts overseas, he was a facile winner of the Dubai World Cup (G1). Before that, he was a close runner-up in the Saudi Cup (G1), his first start in nine months. The hope is to bring him back for the Pacific Classic (G1) at Del Mar late this summer. Still, he hasn't run in this country yet this season, and that matters. Could drop in the coming weeks.

3. Express Train. Ran one of his best career races a few weeks ago in the Californian (G2), but he was beaten by Stiletto Boy. If anything, he gained more respect from me with that effort. Now 2-for-3 on the season, he is in the best form of his career. Will skip this weekend's Gold Cup.

4. Hot Rod Charlie. Struggling midway through the Dubai World Cup, he looked to be in serious trouble but gathered himself and ran a solid second on a day where he might not have been his best. If the Breeders' Cup Classic were held today, he would be the second betting choice. Is targeting a return in the Stephen Foster (G2) at Churchill Downs on July 2.

5. Life Is GoodA textbook example of a horse who, while very good at eight to nine furlongs, just wasn't the same when stretching out to 10 furlongs. That was the fear here all along with this guy. He had a clear lead in the stretch of the Dubai World Cup but faded in the last 200 yards to finish fourth. Will get a prep before his next major goal, the Whitney in August at Saratoga.

Next 5: Stiletto Boy, Warrant, Speaker's Corner, Mandaloun, Last Samurai.

Older dirt females

1. Letruska. Repelled challenges from Ce Ce and Clairiere in the Apple Blossom (G1) but had enough in the tank to hold on for a 1 1/4-length win. The winner of both of her starts this season, she will run next in the Phipps Stakes (G1) on Belmont Stakes day at Belmont Park.

2. Clairiere. Ran very well when runner-up to Letruska. She looks to have upped her game from last season and is a real player now in this division. She too will point for the Phipps Stakes on Belmont Day.

3. Pauline's Pearl. Won her first Grade 1 last time out in the La Troienne Stakes at Churchill Downs and clearly has raised her game now at age 4. Could face the top two next time out in what is shaping up as another stellar edition of the Phipps Stakes.

4. Ce CeLetruska and Clairiere were too much last out in the Apple Blossom, and I suspect she will be back sprinting before long.

5. Malathaat. Made her first start of the season in the Doubledogdare Stakes (G3) at Keeneland. I am still not convinced she can be the fastest in this division.

Next 5: Search Results, Shedaresthedevil, Blue Stripe, Bonny South, Royal Flag.

3-year-old males

1. Epicenter
. Stays here at No. 1 despite his Kentucky Derby and Preakness runner-up efforts. Still feel he is best in this division after having questionable trips the last two starts.
2. Zandon
. The Blue Grass Stakes (G1) winner ran very well in the Kentucky Derby, where he made a nice run from the back of the pack, but he did hang a bit in the stretch to finish third. Connections may point to the Belmont, but I get the feeling that 12 furlongs may be out of his scope.
3. Rich Strike. Simply put, his win in the Kentucky Derby was the biggest upset I have ever seen at any level in this sport. There are many factors that weigh into that statement, and while many believe this guy is a one-hit wonder, not so fast. Horses mature at different times and some more rapidly than others. The Kentucky Derby was his first start on dirt this season, and his connections made the bold decision to skip the Preakness and wait for the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes. If he wins the Belmont, the Eclipse will be wrapped up, regardless of what happens in the remainder of the season.
4. Mo Donegal. The Wood Memorial (G2) winner ran well in the Derby but was 10 wide around the second turn before he made his late run to finish fifth, a neck back of Simplification in fourth. Will now await the Belmont and was flattered by Early Voting's Preakness win as he defeated that one in the Wood.
5. Early Voting.
Certainly looked good winning the Preakness with a perfect trip, but he loses points in these rankings for skipping the Kentucky Derby after having been runner-up in the Wood to Mo Donegal. While others will have him ranked higher, he won't be ranked higher than No. 5 here.
Next 5: White Abarrio, Taiba, Jack Christopher, Messier, Simplification.
3-year-old females

1. Secret Oath
. Ran her race in the Preakness but was only fourth best. Prior she was certainly was much the best in the Kentucky Oaks, coming with a powerful run to circle horses on the turn. Before that she was third against the boys in the Arkansas Derby (G1). Will now rest and wait for the CCA Oaks (G1), where she will be back against her fellow females.
2. Echo Zulu. She gained much respect with her solid run in the Kentucky Oaks, where she conceded the early lead to a long shot while attending solid early fractions only to begrudgingly give way at the end to finish fourth, beaten a length for the runner-up spot. She will be very tough next out in the Acorn (G1) on Belmont day.
3. Nest
. Somewhat of an underlay in the Kentucky Oaks, she had no excuses in her runner-up finish. Connections may try the Belmont next – an ambitious goal, to say the least.

4. Kathleen O. Suffered her first loss when fifth in the Kentucky Oaks, but she hardly disgraced herself. She was beaten only fourth lengths for all the marbles.
5. De
sert Dawn. The Santa Anita Oaks (G1) winner came to run on Oaks day and finished well to be third to the winner, Secret Oath.

Next 5: Eda, Ju Ju's Map, Interstatedaydream, Adare Manor, Tarabi.

Turf males

1. Golden Pal. Finally reaches this top spot, and it's deserved. Was dominant in his 2022 debut last out at Keeneland, a win in the Shakertown (G2). The Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint winner from last season now will head to Royal Ascot.

2. Colonel Liam. He found the waters a bit too deep in the Dubai Turf (G1), where he finished ninth. Previously he ran huge in defending his Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) and seemed better than ever despite his long layoff. There is a wide gap between grass horses in this country and overseas.

3. Gufo. Started his 2022 season off right with a facile two-length win in the Pan American (G2) at Gulfstream but then finished runner-up in the Man O' War Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park.

4. Smooth Like Strait. Ran a decent third in his first start of 2022 in the Makers Mark Mile (G1), losing by a nose and a neck. I expected him to win the race. Still feel he is top five in this division. Will run this weekend in the Shoemaker Mile (G1) at Santa Anita.

5. Santin. Lightly raced, this 4-year-old won his first Grade 1 in his sixth career start. The Turf Classic win at Churchill Downs comes after a runner-up effort in a Grade 2 at the Fair Grounds.

Next 5: Shirl's Speight, Yibir, Channel Maker, Count Again, Mira Mission.

Turf females

1. Regal Glory. Has to move to No. 1 based on her season thus far, a win in the Pegasus Filly & Mare Turf (G3) and now her last win in the Jenny Wiley (G1) at Keeneland over a strong field.

2. War Like Goddess. Won her 2022 debut impressively, picking off horses to win by open lengths in the Bewitch Stakes (G3). Tough-luck loser of the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf last fall, she still is among the best in this division and could be back on top with a win next time out. Could a race against males in the Manhattan (G1) on Belmont Day be in the cards for her next start?

3. Going Global. Won six graded stakes last season as a 3-year-old filly. Hasn't left her home state of California since arriving in this country in late 2020 but will have to if she aims to contend for an Eclipse this season. Returned a few weeks ago with a win in the Royal Heroine (G2) at Santa Anita and will run next in the Gamely (G1) at Santa Anita this weekend.

4. Shantisara. Was a strong runner-up to the No. 1-ranked Regal Glory in the Jenny Wiley (G1). Before that she was a winner of three stakes in a row.

5. Bleecker Street. This filly is unbeaten in six starts and already has won three graded stakes this year. Last time out she won the Modesty (G3) at Churchill Downs on Derby weekend.

Next 5: Speak of the Devil, Leggs Galore, In Italian, Going to Vegas, Queen Goddess.

Male sprinters

1. Jackie's Warrior. The Eclipse winner from last season was dominant in the Churchill Downs Stakes (G1), where he defeated several ranked below. Before that he made short work of the Count Fleet Sprint (G3) at Oaklawn. Now 2-for-2 on the season, there is a wide gap between him and any other sprinting on the dirt.

2. Golden Pal. Could contend for this Eclipse if he keeps things going. Simply dominant as turf sprinter, he heads to Royal Ascot next after his facile win in the Shakertown at Keeneland.

3. Speakers CornerHas won all three of his starts this season, with the Carter (G1) his latest win last time out. His connections will point to the Met Mile (G1) for his next start on June 11.

4. Reinvestment Risk. Runner-up to Jackie's Warrior three times in his career, the latest being the Churchill Downs Stakes last time out. Before that he was runner-up to Speakers Corner in the Carter at Aqueduct.

5. Dr. Schivel. Ran a good third in Dubai in the Golden Shaheen (G1) in his first start of 2022. Previously he disappointed in the Malibu (G1), but given what he did in 2021, he deserves this spot for now. Will return in late July at Del Mar.

Next 5: Brickyard Ride, Aloha West, Cezanne, Special Reserve, Baby Yoda.

Female sprinters

1. Obligatory. She beat the best in this division except for Ce Ce last out in the Derby City Distaff (G1) at Churchill Downs with a strong closing kick. Now 2-for-2 on the season, she has found a home sprinting.

2. Just One Time. The beaten favorite in the Derby City, she finished third with no excuses. Previously this season she won the Madison (G1) at Keeneland and the Inside Information (G2) at Gulfstream.

3. Edgeway. Ran the worst race of her 12-race career last out in the Derby City Distaff, finishing sixth, beaten over seven lengths. Before that she won the Las Flores (G3) at Santa Anita.

4. Ce Ce. Last season's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint winner was beaten by Merneith in her first start of 2022, the Santa Monica (G2) at Santa Anita. Two starts back she stretched out to win the Azeri (G2) at 1 1/16 miles but failed against Letruska in the Apple Blossom at that same distance.

5. Bell's the One. Ran her race in the Derby City but finished a neck out of third. She was a good runner-up in the Madison (G1) before that and is still among the best in this division.

Next 5: Bella Sofia, Four Graces, Kimari, Glass Ceiling, Frank's Rockette.

This weekend’s Hollywood Gold Cup
matters as much to me as any other Grade 1 event that will be held later this summer and fall.

For Stilleto Boy, this weekend offers the opportunity to score his first Grade 1 win. Stilleto Boy has run against the best last season and earlier this season, but he is a much better horse now than he was when he was running against such stars as Life Is Good, Knicks Go and Flightline.

A winner of the Californian (G2) last out, a win this weekend will vault this guy into the top three of this division while also securing an all-important Grade 1 win on his Eclipse resume.

What about Royal Ship? He was highly regarded by many – including myself – last season. But after his dismal Pacific Classic run, where he finished seventh, he was sent to the sidelines after exiting the race with minor physical problems.

Bred in Brazil, Royal Ship was a multiple stakes winner in Brazil. He made his American debut in August 2020 and ran third in the Del Mar Mile Handicap (G2) on turf. After three more starts, two on the grass, that yielded minimal success, trainer Richard Mandella tried Royal Ship on the dirt again in the Californian Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita last season. Battling Country Grammer in the stretch, Royal Ship out-gamed his rival by a neck after a thrilling stretch duel.

Next out in the Hollywood Gold Cup (G1), Royal Ship appeared a certain winner in mid-stretch but inexplicably lost focus and let Country Grammer pass him. Royal Ship got back into the race, but it was too late. He was edged at the wire by a head.

Royal Ship has the talent to be a top star in this division as he went to toe with Country Grammer, who since has made a big name for himself on the world stage.

Royal Ship returned from his nearly eight-month layoff to run in the John Shear Mile Stakes last month and was a dominant winner by five lengths.

Of all the horses in this division, this is the one whom I feel has the most upside. If Royal Ship can stay healthy, he could have a big say in this division over the next few months.

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 many local sports radio show appearances as an on-air racing expert. 

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.

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