Division Rankings: Secret Oath looks to get back in Eclipse race

Division Rankings: Secret Oath looks to get back in Eclipse race
Photo: Jessica Morgan / Eclipse Sportswire

Although most have conceded the 3-year-old filly Eclipse to the recent Alabama (G1) winner, Nest, I won't quite go that far.

Nest's main rival for the year-end championship, Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Oath, will run this weekend in the Cotillion (G1). Make no mistake, this is a must win-race for the D. Wayne Lukas-trained filly if she is to have any Eclipse aspirations. But the Eclipse window is still slightly open.

Before I take a closer look at very real scenarios that could tilt the Eclipse vote in Secret Oath's favor, let's take a look at this week's updated Division Rankings.

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Older dirt males

1. Flightline. Simply put, his Pacific Classic performance was one the best we have seen in the last several decades. If he shows up in the Breeders' Cup Classic, the others are running for second place, in my opinion. He has a stranglehold now on this Eclipse and Horse of the Year. The question on everyone's mind now is how fast will be run at Keeneland and how much will he win by. He will be the shortest-priced Breeders' Cup race favorite in history.

2. Life Is Good. Ran a monster race in the Whitney (G1), but can he can win the 10-furlong Breeders' Cup Classic? No. he will go next in the Woodward (G1) at Aqueduct Oct. 1, but regardless of what happens there I fully expect his connections to opt for the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile instead of facing Flightline in the Classic.

3. Olympiad. Got back to his winning ways in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) and in a normal season he would be in the thick of things for this divisional Eclipse. But it would take one of the biggest upsets we have seen – defeating Flightline in the Breeders' Cup Classic – to win this divisional Eclipse.

4. Country Grammer. Ran his race when a distant runner-up to Flightline in the Pacific Classic, finishing clear of the rest. Could get another race before the Breeders' Cup, but like everyone else in this division, he is far behind Flightline. Will go next in the Awesome Again (G1) at Santa Anita in early October.

5. Happy Saver. He fires every time and has finished behind only the best in the division this year. The 10 furlongs of the Breeders' Cup Classic would be perfect for him if he runs. Will go next in the Lukas Classic at Churchill on Oct. 1.

Next 5: Hot Rod Charlie, Art Collector, Royal Ship, Express Train, Americanrevolution.

Older dirt females

 Clairiere. Was up the track in the recent Personal Ensign (G1), where she suffered a cut to her tongue at the start of the race. Stays here on top in these rankings because she has defeated Malathaat in two of their three meetings, both Grade 1 events. Recency bias aside, that matters in this rankings. Has the best resume of any in this division so far in 2022.

2. Malathaat. Scored her second win of the year from four starts in the Personal Ensign. The Personal Ensign was her first Grade 1 win of the season, but she still hasn't done enough to unseat the No. 1 Clairiere. Could run in the Spinster (G1) at Keeneland for her next start, which would help pad her resume.

3. Search Results. Tough-luck runner-up to Malathaat in the Personal Ensign, this gal fires her best every time. Is a major player in this division and could be flying under the radar come Breeders' Cup time.

4. Letruska. She had no excuses when finishing third in the Personal Ensign, and perhaps she has lost a step or two now at age 6. She likely will run in the Spinster next and still is dangerous when she is at the top of her game.

5. Blue StripeThis mare from South America has been getting better and better, and don't be surprised to see her continue her winning ways and be a major contender at Breeders' Cup time. Scored a facile win in the recent Clement Hirsch (G1) at Del Mar.

Next 5: Shedaresthedevil, Pauline's Pearl, Private Mission, Miss Leslie, Miss Bigly.

3-year-old males

1. Epicenter
. Facile winner of the Travers (G1) a few weeks back, this guy is a near cinch for the Eclipse in this division. Will train up the to the Breeders' Cup Classic, where he will have the daunting task of facing Flightline.
2. Cyberknife.
The Haskell (G1) winner finished a very good runner-up to Epicenter in the Travers, and I guess he could still win this Eclipse should he win this weekend in the Penn Derby (G1) and then in the Breeders' Cup Classic, but that is a pipe dream. Still the only member of this class with two Grade 1 wins around two turns.
3. Zandon
. In a blanket finish for the three spots underneath Epicenter in the Travers, this guy came away with a third-place finish. Seems a cut below the top-ranked Epicenter. He too will run in the Penn Derby this weekend.
4. Taiba
. Looked like a winner in the stretch of the Haskell but didn't see Cyberknife until it was too late. To his credit, he did rebreak once he saw his rival but was edged at the wire. Would have loved to see him in the Travers, but he will appear in the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) on Saturday.
5. Rich Strike
. Look, you have to give this guy credit for running a very good race in the Travers, missing the runner-up spot by a nose and a neck. He will run next in the Lukas Classic (G2) on Oct. 1 at Churchill Downs.
Next 5: Early Voting, Tawny Port, Charge It, Jack Christopher, White Abarrio.
3-year-old females

1. Nest
. Dominant again last out in the Alabama (G1) at Saratoga, this gal clearly thrives the longer she goes. Before that she was a dominant winner of the CCA Oaks (G1), beating her rival Secret Oath by double-digit lengths. Seemingly has command of this division now, and she will run next in the Beldame (G2) at Aqueduct on Oct. 9 or train up to the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Keeneland.

2. Secret Oath
. The Kentucky Oaks winner was just second best again, this time in the Alabama. Runner-up to Nest in her last two starts, she will need to run the table to have a shot at the Eclipse now. Next up is the Cotillion (G1) at Parx this weekend.
3. Moira
. Dominant winner of the Queen's Plate over males in Canada, she is unbeaten in three starts this season. Her connections are thinking big and skipped the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown and instead will point her to a race against the best in this division here in this country. We should find out then just how good this daughter of Ghostzapper really is.

4. 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. Healed up and ready to go, she returns this weekend sprinting in the Dogwood (G3) at Churchill downs.
5. 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 given a freshening and finally had her first work since the Kentucky Oaks a couple of weeks back..
Next 5: Matareya, Green Up, Interstatedaydream, Under the Stars, Desert Dawn.

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. Stays here on top because no one else in this division has stood out.

2. Gufo. The Sword Dancer (G1) winner just missed at Kentucky Downs when runner-up to Red Knight in the Kentucky Turf Cup (G2). He 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. Yibir. Finally got back into the win column in the Princess of Wales's (G2) at Newmarket. Last year's Breeders' Cup Turf winner had two seconds and a third in his previous starts this season. Had to miss a scheduled start in this weekend's Sword Dancer because of a "minor setback," according to his connections, and now will miss the Breeders' Cup and point to the Dubai meet in 2023.

4. Nations Pride. This 3-year-old has been super impressive in his races in the U.S., nearly sweeping the Turf Triple Series of races held in New York. His win in last weekend's Jockey Club Derby (G3) was his best effort yet, winning by more than six lengths. 

5. Modern Games. Very impressive in last weekend's Woodbine Mile (G1), beating a somewhat suspect field. He has a record of two wins from five starts this season. Unlike others, I am not convinced he is the best in this division here in North America.

Next 5: Red Knight, Golden Pal, Santin, Smooth Like Strait, Casa Creed.

Turf females

1. Regal Glory. Found the waters a bit too deep when trying males last time out in the Fourstardave (G1) as she finished runner-up, her first loss of the season. Previously she was outstanding in the Just a Game (G1) 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. Still has the lead in this division on the strength of her two Grade 1 wins this season.

2. War Like Goddess. Defeated last out in the Flower Bowl (G2), but she was severely compromised by a extremely slow pace. Given her coming from far out of it running style, this loss can be forgiven. The Breeders' Cup Turf against males could be the long-range goal for this gal.

3. Going Global. Upset last time out when finishing runner-up in the John C. Mabee (G2) at Del Mar. Before that she scored a facile three-length win in the Yellow Ribbon (G2) at Del Mar. Earlier this season she scored in the Royal Heroine (G2) at Santa Anita. The best female turfer on the West Coast, she should get her chance against the best in this division at the Breeders' Cup.

4. Bleecker Street. Suffered the first loss of her career last time out in the Diana (G1) after starting her career 7-for-7. She put in her run from the back but had too much to do when finishing third. I won't drop her off because of that one loss, but now she is on the shelf with an injury. Will drop in the coming weeks.

5. In Italian. Scored her biggest win to date last time in the Diana at Saratoga, where she went wire-to-wire setting quick early fractions and never coming back to the field.

Next 5: Dalika, Ocean Road, Technical Analysis, Avenue de France, Princess Grace.

Male sprinters

1. Jackie's Warrior. One of the bigger sprint upsets we have seen in awhile, this guy was defeated in the Forego (G1) last time out at Saratoga when runner-up to Cody's Wish. Still, he has a stranglehold on this Eclipse and will get my vote win, lose, or draw in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, likely his final career start.

2. Jack Christopher. Back sprinting, he was dominant in the Allen Jerkens Memorial (G1) at seven furlongs over the Saratoga oval. No matter which Breeders' Cup race his connections choose – the Dirt Mile or Sprint – he will be a major player.

3. American Theorem. Was runner-up in the Pat O'Brien (G2) after winning the last two graded sprint stakes out west. Still, he figures to be the West Coast's best hope come Breeders' Cup Sprint time.

4. Cody's Wish. Upset winner of the Forego (G1), this guy appears to be the real deal. The Forego was his sixth win from 10 starts but only his second graded-stakes win. Will need to see him do it again before he moves up.

5. Golden Pal. Won last time out in the Troy Stakes (G3) at Saratoga, but only by a nose. Should have one more start prior to his Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint title defense.

Next 5: Laurel River, Speakers Corner, Aloha West, Gunite, Brickyard Ride.

Female sprinters

1. Obligatory. Finished third to Goodnight Olive last out in the Ballerina (G1), but I still believe she will be the one to beat come Breeders' Cup day. Earlier this season 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. Several could be ranked here, but she resides here for now.

2. Goodnight Olive. Unbeaten in three starts this season, and last time out she scored her first graded-stakes win in the Ballerina, defeating several ranked here. Like Cody's Wish on the male side, I will need to see her do it again before she moves up.

3. Ce Ce. Off the board in the Ballerina last time out. Last season's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint winner should get one more start before an expected defense of her Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint title.

4. 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.

5. Kimari. Connections ran her in the Honorable Miss (G2), and she rewarded them with a nice win. I think she is far better on the dirt and the connections finally agree – they have charted a path to get her to the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. The Gallant Bloom (G2) this weekend will be her last race before the Breeders' Cup.

Next 5:
 Edgeway, Bell's the One, Caramel Swirl, Becca Taylor, Lady Rocket.

When deciding which horse or division to focus my writing on each week, I generally will focus on an extraordinary performance from the previous week that greatly impacts these rankings, or I look at the upcoming weekend's graded-stakes action.

This week, when looking at the marquee races of the weekend, the Pennsylvania Derby for 3-year-old males and Cotillion for 3-year-old females, I could have gone two ways. Opine over whether another Grade 1 win by Cyberknife could be enough to overtake the division leader, Epicenter, in the Eclipse race. Or, tackle or more interesting proposition – does Secret Oath still have time to get back into and possibly win the Eclipse her division?

As things stand right now, the 3-year-old filly Eclipse is Nest’s to lose. She holds a 2-1 lead in head-to-head battles with Secret Oath and a 3-1 advantage in Grade 1 wins. Seems pretty cut and dried. But as fans of this game are well aware, recency bias runs rampant in this game.

If Secret Oath gets the job done this weekend in the Cotillion, she will up her Grade 1 total to two and her overall record to four wins from eight starts. For Secret Oath, she has lost to only one member of her division this season, and that would be Nest. For Nest, she has lost to only one member of her division, Secret Oath in the Kentucky Oaks.

For Nest, she will run next in the Beldame at Aqueduct on October against older horses or train up to the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Chances are that she will train up to the Distaff.

Another meeting between these two is surely on the menu come Breeders’ Cup day. The Breeders’ Cup Distaff will be loaded with other talented females, so a win by either of these two stars is not a foregone conclusion. But surely a win by Secret Oath would have to give voters a reason to pause. Secret Oath would even her head-to-head record with Nest at two apiece and would sport wins in the two biggest races of the season for her gender.

Her trainer, D. Wayne Lukas, knows this game better than anyone and he pointed out in a recent interview that his star pupil is still in this Eclipse race if she gets the job done this weekend and in the Breeders' Cup.

These are all big “what if’s” but again, isn’t that part of the allure of this sport?

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.

 The Loss of Medina Spirit

California Chrome in Rarified Air

Cigar and the Pacific Classic

Spending Time With Game on Dude

Go For Wand: Gone But Not Forgotten

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