Division Rankings: 3-year-old males are looking for a leader

Division Rankings: 3-year-old males are looking for a leader
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

It's early July and the 3-year-old male division – or racing's glamour division, as many like to call it – is still stuck in neutral.

The picture got murkier with the news that Belmont winner Mo Donegal is suffering from bone bruising and will be "shut down" for at least 60 days, putting his competitive future in doubt.

It’s been that kind of year in Thoroughbred racing's glamour division.

So here we are post Triple Crown 2022. Rich Strike, an 80-1 shot, won the Kentucky Derby for his only stakes win before or since. And the most talked-about performances in this division so far this season are a couple of a sprint stakes wins by a horse who has yet to attempt two turns, Jack Christopher, and Charge It’s 23-length win in last weekend’s Dwyer (G3) for his first stakes win.

To state that no clear leader has emerged among the 3-year-olds this season is understatement. Before I dive deeper into which horses I believe can make a run for the Eclipse in this division, 
let's take a look at this week's Division Rankings.

Older dirt males

1. Olympiad. In last week's Stephen Foster (G2) he validated his No. 1 ranking with his best performance yet this season, a facile 2 1/4-length win over Americanrevolution. This guy is now 5-for-5 this season, and four of those wins came in graded stakes. His resume is deep, and his body of work in the first half of 2022 is by far the best in this division. Next up is an Eclipse semifinal of sorts, a clash with the No. 2 ranked Life is Good in the Whitney (G1).

2. Life Is Good. Returned better than ever in the Nerud Stakes (G2) last weekend, posting a dominant five-length win. He will have an opportunity to get back to the top of this division if he can defeat Olympiad next out in the Whitney as the Pegasus (G1) winner from earlier this year has been dominant at anything under 10 furlongs.

3. Flightline. His Met Mile (G1) win was good, overcoming trouble and answering several questions such as shipping across the country and the added distance. He still has questions, and the field he beat was not what I would consider good, but here he sits near the top – mainly because the horses I feel will be better at the 10-furlong distance required to win an Eclipse in this division still haven't run much in this country in 2022. With only one start on the season, he needs to do more to unseat Olympiad. He now will sit for another three months and return in the 10-furlong Pacific Classic (G1) on Sept. 3.

4. 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 at Del Mar late this summer. Still, he hasn't run in this country yet this season, and that matters. Will run next in the San Diego (G2) on July 30 at Del Mar.

4. Express Train. Ran one of his best career races in the Californian (G2), but he was beaten by Stilleto 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. He too will likely run in the San Diego.

Next 5: Hot Rod Charlie, Happy Saver, Speaker's Corner, Americanrevolution, Stilleto Boy.

Older dirt females

1. Clairiere. Moves to the top based on her win last out in the Ogden Phipps (G1) over several ranked below. Previously she ran very well when runner-up to Letruska in the Apple Blossom (G1). Will run next at Saratoga, possibly in the Shuvee (G2) on July 24.

2. Malathaat. Has only a Grade 3 win on the season but she ran a big race in the Phipps, narrowly losing to her rival Clairiere. She too might run in the Shuvee.

3. Letruska. She was part of that hot pace in the Phipps, but so was Search Results and she finished third. She wasn't pushed at all in the stretch, and the result was disappointing. She has shown the ability to rate before, so I am not sure why that tactic has not been used, given the pace scenarios she has had in two of her last four starts. Still here near the top of this division, but is too one-dimensional right now. She won't run again until the Personal Ensign (G1) at Saratoga on Aug. 27.

4. Search Results. Considering the early fractions this gal set, she ran an outstanding race in the Phipps when finishing third. It's not a stretch to write that she might have run the best race of them all. The Molly Pitcher (G3) at Monmouth on July 23 could be next.

5. Shedaresthedevil. Scored her first win in three starts in 2022 last weekend in the Fleur De Lis (G2) at Churchill Downs. Prior to her win she was somewhat disappointing when runner-up to Pauline's Pearl in the La Troienne (G1) at Churchill and a third place finish to Ce Ce in the Azeri (G2) at Oaklawn.

Next 5: Private Mission, Pauline's Pearl, Blue Stripe, Super Quick, Bonny South.

3-year-old males

1. Epicenter
. He was the 17th horse to finish second in the first two legs of the Triple Crown since 1937, and he stays here at No. 1 despite those runner-up efforts. Still feel he is best in this division after having questionable trips in those runner-up efforts. Is penciled in for the Jim Dandy (G2) at Saratoga on July 30 for his next start.
2. Mo Donegal
. Was superb in the Belmont as the facile winner, but that could be his final career race as he is now on the sidelines with bone bruising. The Belmont wasn't the strongest of fields, but a win is a win. He moves ahead of the Preakness winner, whom he already defeated this season in the Wood Memorial (G2).
3. 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. Others will have him ranked higher, but he won't be ranked higher than No. 4 here. Likely will run in the Haskell (G1) on July 23, with the Jim Dandy, run a week later, in play as a backup plan.
4. 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. Likely will run next in the Jim Dandy.
5. Rich Strike
. His win in the Kentucky Derby was the biggest upset I have ever seen at any level in this sport. Horses mature at different times and some more rapidly than others. The Kentucky Derby was his first start on dirt this season, and his Belmont run last time out was dull when he finished sixth, beaten 14 lengths. Still, I think this guy will make his presence known and is still in with an Eclipse chance in this division. Will train up to the Travers, his next start.
Next 5:
 Jack Christopher, Tawny Port, White Abarrio, Taiba, Charge it.
3-year-old females

1. Secret Oath
. Ran her race in the Preakness but was only fourth best. In her prior start 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) on July 23, where she will be back against her fellow females. Is unbeaten in her division this season.
2. Nest
. Ran well when runner-up to Mo Donegal in the Belmont, but I'm not sure what that means, given the horses finishing behind her had been 2-for-15 in graded-stakes attempts. A clear second in this division now, though. The Alabama (G1) on Aug. 20 is her next major goal, but a race prior could be in the cards.

3. Echo Zulu. Was a gate scratch in the Acorn (G1) last time out and has since been found to have a strain in a left front suspensory. She previously had 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. On the shelf, for now.
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. She's been getting a freshening and will return for a fall campaign.
Matareya. Four wins in four starts this season, three of which were graded. She was an easy winner of the Acorn last time out, but it was missing the favorite, Echo Zulu, who was a gate scratch. Will run next in the Test (G1) at Saratoga on Aug. 6.

Next 5: Under the Stars, Desert Dawn, Eda, Interstatedaydream, Gerrymander.

Turf males

1. Count Again. This guy has racked up two Grade 1 wins already this season and is 3-for-4 on the year. His win over Smooth Like Strait in the Shoemaker Mile (G1) was his best effort yet. The only member of this division who has multiple Grade 1 wins on the season thus far. The Eddie Read (G2) at Del Mar on July 31 has been mentioned as his next start.

2. 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) and third in the Manhattan (G1), both at Belmont Park.

3. 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 – and not for the better. Hasn't had a work in awhile and will continue to drop in the coming weeks.

4. Golden Pal. The Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint winner from last season ran at Royal Ascot last time out and was slow to break. But let's be clear, he was well beaten and wasn't going to win even with a clean break. A disappointing effort. Before that effort he was dominant in his 2022 debut at Keeneland, a win in the Shakertown (G2).

5. Yibir. Last year's Breeders' Cup Turf winner has placed in all three of his starts, two Grade/Group 1 starts and a Group 2.

Next 5: Smooth Like Strait, Adhamo, Santin, Tribhuvan, Highland Chief.

Turf females

1. Regal Glory. Outstanding again in another Grade 1 event, this time in the Just a Game at Belmont on Belmont Stakes day. She started her season off with a win in the Pegasus Filly & Mare Turf (G3) and then won the Jenny Wiley (G1) at Keeneland over a strong field. Now 3-for-3 on the season, she will take on the boys in her next start, the Fourstardave (G1) at Saratoga on Aug. 13.

2. Bleecker Street. Talk about a hot start to a career, this filly is unbeaten in seven career starts and already has won four graded stakes this year. Her last, the New York Stakes, was her first Grade 1 win. She will go for two Grade 1 wins in row in her next start, the Diana (G1) at Saratoga on July 16.

3. War Like Goddess. Won her 2022 debut impressively, picking off horses to win by open lengths in the Bewitch Stakes (G3). Kept out of the recent New York Stakes (G1) at Belmont because of a minor physical problem, look for this gal to return at Saratoga, where she could run against males in the Sword Dancer (G1), a 1 1/2-mile race on Aug. 27.

4. Ocean Road. Won her first graded stakes in her last start, a win in the Gamely (G1) over Going Global at Santa Anita. She is now 2-for-2 on the season.

5. Going Global. Had no excuses last time out when third to Ocean Road in the Gamely (G1) at Santa Anita. But since that was her first loss in a grass race since last July, she stays here in the top five. Previously she made her 2022 debut with a win in the Royal Heroine (G2) at Santa Anita. Will run next in the Yellow Ribbon (G2) on Aug. 13 at Del Mar.

Next 5: Shantisara, Wakanaka, In Italian, Going to Vegas, Technical Analysis.

Male sprinters

1. Jackie's Warrior. Seems to be better now than ever before. His win in the True North (G2) last out was as easy as it gets. The Eclipse winner from last season was dominant in the Churchill Downs Stakes (G1) previously, where he defeated several ranked below. Before that he made short work of the Count Fleet Sprint (G3) at Oaklawn. Now 3-for-3 on the season, he will head to Saratoga for his next two starts, the Vanderbilt (G1) on July 30 and the Forego (G1) on Aug. 27.

2. Speaker's Corner. He was soundly beaten by Life is Good last weekend in the Nerud (G2), and that comes on this heels of his defeat at the hands of Flightline in the Met Mile (G1) when third. Prior to those races he was 3-for-3 on the season, with the Carter (G1) as his lone Grade 1 triumph. Still a player in this division.

3. Jack Christopher. This guy is only 3, but he deserves to be ranked here based off his sprint wins. He will stretch out for his next start in the Haskell, but don't be surprised to see him back sprinting after his first two-turn attempt. A real player in this division.

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 Speaker's Corner in the Carter at Aqueduct.

5. Golden Pal. Could contend for this Eclipse if he can right this ship after the Royal Ascot fiasco, but I doubt we see him run more than two more times this season.

Next 5: Aloha West, Dr. Schivel, Cezanne, Brickyard Ride, American Theorem.

Female sprinters

1. Obligatory. I am still keeping this gal on top after her stronger-than-it-looked runner-up effort to Bella Sofia last out in the Bed o' Roses (G2). That was a four-horse field with little pace. As a horse who likes to come off the pace, she was compromised. But in bigger races later this season there won't be four-horse fields with that pace scenario. Previously, she beat the best in this division except for Ce Ce in the Derby City Distaff (G1) at Churchill Downs with a strong closing kick.

2. Ce Ce. Last season's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint winner was back on her game last weekend as she sprinted her way to a dominant win in the Princess Rooney (G2) at Gulfstream Park. Likely done with two-turn races now, she will get two more races before an expected defense of her Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint title.

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. Bella Sofia. Won the Bed o' Roses last time out going wire to wire. Before that she made her first start of the year in the Vagrancy (G3) a winning one.

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

Next 5: Lady Rocket, Sconsin, Bell's the One, Becca Taylor, Four Graces.

Not since 2017 has the door been this wide open in the 3-year-old male division. We had three different winners of the Triple Crown events that season: Always Dreaming in the Kentucky Derby, Cloud Computing in the Preakness, and Tapwrit in the Belmont Stakes. What did all three have in common? They never won another race again.

Remember West Coast? He came on in the second half of the season, winning his first graded stakes in July at Los Alamitos. After wins in the Travers and Penn Derby, he finished third in Gun Runner’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. That resume was enough to win him the Eclipse in a landslide with 91 percent of the Eclipse votes.

Which horse will step forward in the second half this season? I think most see Jack Christopher as that horse. A star 2-year-old last season, the son of Munnings as been dominant in both of his starts this season, two sprint stakes. But how will he handle the two turns and nine furlongs of his next start, the Haskell at Monmouth?

In the Haskell he will face his toughest test, but should he pass this test, he will move to the head of his class.

Don’t forget about the No. 1 ranked Epicenter. Of all the 3-year-olds, I am most confident in this guy. There are no distance or class questions with Epicenter, and although he hasn’t run since the Preakness, he is the favorite in the division to land year-end Eclipse honors.

Preakness winner Early Voting is an obvious choice to have a big second half of the season as well. He might face Jack Christopher in the Haskell for his next start.

There are several others who many have forgotten or perhaps even discarded as their top 3-year-olds, but I wouldn’t give up on them quite yet. Santa Anita Derby winner Taiba is one of those, and he will be back soon. Zandon, the Kentucky Derby runner-up and Blue Grass (G1) winner is another.

Last week’s Dwyer (G3) winner, Charge It, seems to have generated quite the buzz over his 23-length win. Sure, it was a visually impressive win. But if we are being honest, he beat what was essentially an upper-level optional claimer field and he should have won by double-digit lengths. He still has many questions to prove, in my opinion, and two turns and class are the biggest of those.

Last but not least the Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike. This guy is thoroughbred racing’s 2022 conundrum. His Derby was spectacular, his Belmont not so much. He will run next in the Travers. Still a long shot, he could basically sew up the Eclipse with a win in the mid-summer Derby. I know, that’s a big if. But by virtue of his Kentucky Derby win, he is still in this race with a fighting chance.

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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