The spotlight this weekend will shine brightest on a division that doesn’t often see the spotlight, the male sprint division. With half of the Top Ten male sprinters in action this weekend at Del Mar and Saratoga, the division could take on a whole different look next week.
Before I take a brief look at the Vanderbilt (G1) and Bing Crosby (G1), let's dive into this week's updated Division Rankings:
Older dirt males
1. Silver State. Will surely be tested in his next start, the Whitney at Saratoga next weekend. This years Whitney is coming up exceptionally strong with No. 2 Maxfield expected, and also By My Standards, Knicks Go, and Swiss Skydiver. The Met Mile (G1) winner has done far more than any other in this division so far in 2021, and is a winner of four stakes races already this year. He won the Oaklawn Handicap (G2) prior to his win in the Met, and has won his last six races dating back to last fall.
2. Maxfield. Will finally face the best in his division in the Whitney. Got the job done last out in the Stephen Foster (G2) defeating Warrior's Charge by a little over three lengths. His connections have picked their spots with this son of Street Sense, and he has rewarded them with three graded-stakes wins this season coming over weak fields. But now we are more than halfway through the season and Maxfield has yet to pocket a Grade 1 win. If he wants to contend for an Eclipse, the time to move is now.
3. Country Grammer. The Hollywood Gold Cup (G1) winner has been transferred from previous trainer Bob Baffert to his new trainer, Todd Pletcher. He had run two strong races with his rival, Royal Ship, in California. Will likely miss the remainder of the season due to an ankle injury that has flared up. Will point for the 2022 Pegasus at Gulfstream.
4. By My Standards. Back in the top half of this division, this guy is as honest as they come. Runner-up to Silver State in the Met Mile, he is still searching for his first Grade 1 triumph. Won the Oaklawn Mile in his only other start this season. Will point toward the Whitney as well, and he is a viable contender in a race he was runner-up in a year ago. He sits in this spot instead of Knicks Go because he defeated that rival in the Met Mile.
5. Mystic Guide. The beaten favorite in the Suburban (G2) last out, Mystic Guide is now on the sidelines and will have surgery to remove a chip in his knee. He is out for the season, and his racing future is in doubt.
Next 5: Knicks Go, Royal Ship, Max Player, Idol, Express Train.
Older dirt females
1. Letruska. Was dominant again in her win in the Fleur de Lis (G2) at Churchill Downs and has given herself a large lead in this division. A Grade 1 winner in both the U.S. and Mexico, she is 15-for-20 in her career. The Personal Ensign (G1) at the end of August at Saratoga is being mentioned as her next start, but don't rule out a possible race again the males down the road too.
2. Shedaresthedevil. Was no match for Letruska in the Phipps and was even passed near the wire for the runner-up spot after chasing Letruska throughout. Previously this gal was much the best in the La Troienne Stakes (G1) at Churchill Downs, defeating a good field of older females. Heads west to work towards the Breeders' Cup at Del Mar with her next start this weekend in the Clement L. Hirsch (G1).
3. Monomoy Girl. Was gallant to the finish in the Apple Blossom (G1) but came up a nose short. Clearly still on top of her game, something I wondered about heading into this last race. She was sent to the sidelines with muscle strains and hamstring soreness. Could be back later this summer but might drop from this spot in the coming weeks.
4. Swiss Skydivereven-length defeat in the Apple Blossom when finishing third. Before that, she was stellar in her Beholder Mile (G1) win at Santa Anita. Has not lost two races in a row in nearly 18 months, but will be severely tested against what is is shaping up as an outstanding Whitney field.
5. As Time Goes By. Game winner of the Santa Maria (G2) last out, she previously routed the Santa Margarita (G2) field. Her only loss this year was a runner-up finish to Swiss Skydiver in the Beholder Mile. Will have home-court advantage come Breeders' Cup time. Will take on Shedaresthedevil this weekend in the Hirsch.
Next 5: Envoutante, Antoinette, Point of Honor, Spice is Nice, Miss Marissa.
1. Essential Quality. His Belmont win was sensational, and it separates him from several others. Though the Belmont was Essential Quality's first Grade 1 win of the season, he has won two other graded stakes in 2021. There was no Triple Crown on the line in the Belmont, but it proved to be one of the more exciting and satisfying Belmont Stakes we have seen in the last 20 years. He will run in the Jim Dandy (G2) at Saratoga this weekend using that as a prep for the Travers (G1) in late August. Could have a huge second half of season.
2. Hot Rod Charlie. Ran another outstanding race in the Haskell, crossing the wire first. With races as five different tracks this season, this guy has left it all out there every time. He and Essential Quality have been the pillars of this division since last fall.
3. Mandaloun. Ran an impressive race in the Haskell with an inside trip to come just short of Hot Rod Charlie at the wire. The Kentucky Derby runner-up may skip the Travers and train up to the Pennsylvania Derby on September 25.
3. Medina Spirit. The Kentucky Derby winner did not run poorly in his Preakness loss, a third-place finish behind the winner, Rombauer. Beaten a little over five lengths, the quick middle fractions that he was forced to set by Midnight Bourbon ended up costing them both the race as Rombauer pounced on both of them in the stretch. Will miss the Haskell, and there is a good chance we may not see him again until the fall, but he did put in his first work since June earlier this week.
5. Rombauer. The Preakness winner had no excuses in the Belmont when finishing a far-back third. After edging Known Agenda for the show spot. Connections have decided to give Rombauer a break for at least 60 days, is a longshot to make the Breeders' Cup.
Next 5: Drain the Clock, Jackie's Warrior, Midnight Bourbon, Known Agenda, Life is Good.
1. Malathaat. No other way to slice it, her loss last weekend in the CCA Oaks was not what her connections had envisioned. With only three opponents facing her, she was defeated by the longest shot on the board, Maracuja. Her two Grade 1 wins keep her here for the top spot over Search Results. The Alabama Stakes (G1) should be next in late August.
2. Search Results. Impressive winner of the recent Acorn, which was her first Grade 1 win. Suffered her only loss, to Malathaat, in the Kentucky Oaks in her prior start, but she was game in defeat. She is another win away from moving to the top. Interestingly, her connections will cut her back to the seven-furlong Test Stakes (G1) on Aug. 7 at Saratoga for her next start.
3. Crazy Beautiful. Maturing by leaps and bounds, she ran another impressive race in the recent Delaware Oaks where she simply outclassed the field by over 7 lengths. She was also flattered by Soothsay's Indiana Oaks win as this gal defeated Soothsay in the Summertime Oaks two starts back. Now she is a winner of three graded stakes this year, the most in her division. She may have turned the corner, and it could be time to take another crack at the top two in this division. Remember, she finished over 10 lengths back of Malathaat and Search Results in the Kentucky Oaks. Could run in the Saratoga Oaks run on the turf August 2.
4. Soothsay. It takes a lot for me to really be floored a performance, but that is the best way I can describe what I felt when watching Soothsay come away victorious after rebounding from a nightmarish start in the Indiana Oaks. Showing tremendous fight and determination in the stretch, Soothsay looked like a different horse than the one we saw last out in her loss to Crazy Beautiful in the Summertime Oaks. The Indiana race was her first race outside of Santa Anita too, any way you slice it, she is now a player in this division with the Breeders' Cup in her backyard too. Another that has matured right before our eyes.
5. Maracuja. Stunned the leader of the division in last weeks Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) for her first stakes win. Previous to that she was seventh in Malathaat's Kentucky Oaks. Not sure what to make of her yet, but have to believe the CCA Oaks was a combination of two things, Maracuja getting better now, and Malathaat not quite the world beater many thought she was.
Next 5: Clairiere, Will's Secret, Obligatory, Zaajel, Army Wife.
1. Domestic Spending. Did not make his first start of 2021 until the start of May but has won two Grade 1 events in both of his starts. His facile Manhattan Stakes (G1) win at Belmont was superb, defeating several others ranked below. Domestic Spending’s season will follow the same path as Bricks and Mortar from two seasons ago, trainer Chad Brown said, with the race that used to be called the Arlington Million, the Mister D. Stakes (G1) on Aug. 14 at Arlington, likely to be the gelding’s next spot.
2. Colonel Liam. Running since December, this guy also has two Grade 1 wins on his resume, but he sports a Grade 2 win in 2021 too. True, he did go down to defeat in the Manhattan, but it was his first loss of 2021. He has been running since January and has won three stakes.
3. Smooth Like Strait. Tough runner-up loss in last weeks Eddie Read (G2) to United. The Eddie Read is at nine furlongs and this guy excels at a mile, so I won't penalize him that much as he stays here at No. 3. Previously he won the Shoemaker Mile (G1) at Santa Anita, where he went wire to wire. Previous to that win he set the pace in the Turf Classic (G1) and was edged by a neck nearing the wire to finish third. Looks like a serious Breeders' Cup Mile contender down the road.
4. Tribhuvan. Big win in the Grade 1 United Nations, and previous to that he was runner-up to Domestic Spending in the Manhattan. With two graded wins on the season, he is steadily moving up the ranks.
5. Raging Bull. No excuses in his runner-up loss to Oleksandra, a 7-year-old mare making her career finale because she is in foal. Certainly was impressive in his first start this season, a win in the Maker's Mark Mile (G1), and remains in the top five for now. Will aim for the Fourstardave (G1) on August 14 at Saratoga for his next start.
Next 5: Gufo, United, Channel Maker, Hit the Road, Somelikeithotbrown.
1. Althiqa. Her win in the Diana was her second Grade 1 win on the season as she previously won the Just a Game at Belmont Park. Having also won a Group 2 event overseas, she deserves this top spot right now. The simple facts are this, if the season ended today, she would win the Eclipse in this division.
2. Mean Mary She hasn't done anything wrong in 2021 but her record just isn't as impressive as Althiqa. She will aim for the Glens Falls, a 1 1/2-mile turf stakes on Aug. 7 at Saratoga, or point for the Beverly D. at 1 3/16 miles the following Saturday at Arlington. Was really flattered with the win by Thundering Nights in an Ireland Group 1 race. Remember, Thundering Nights was runner-up to Mean Mary last out in the New York Stakes (G2). Previous to that winning race, Mean Mary was best in the Gallorette Stakes (G3) at Pimlico. Will have every chance in the coming weeks to regain the top spot.
Next 5: Santa Barbara, Juliet Foxtrot, Harvey's Lil Goil, Charmaine's Mia, Mucho Unusual.
1. C Z Rocket. Has won both his sprint starts this year, defeating last year's Eclipse winner, Whitmore, in the process. Simply put, he has beaten better competition than his next closest rival, Mischevious Alex, has. His connections tried to stretch him out to a mile in the Steve Sexton (G3) at Lone Star last time out, but he finished second. Is a go in this weekend's Bing Crosby (G1) at Del Mar.
2. Mischevious Alex. Tried to stretch out to a mile in the Met Mile, but he flattened in the stretch to finish fourth. Won his first Grade 1 race a few months ago in the Carter (G1) at Aqueduct in impressive fashion, and previously he scored in the Gulfstream Park Sprint (G3), also impressively. Will run next in a deep Vanderbilt (G1) this weekend at Saratoga.
3. Firenze Fire. Ran another good race in the John A. Nerud (G2) at Belmont, losing a close one to Mind Control. This guy is tough as nails, previously he won the True North (G2) at Belmont for the second year in a row. Not going to penalize him too much for his loss, so he remains in this spot, mainly because I believe he is better than the others below right now. Firenze Fire reminds me a lot of Whitmore from a year ago. A horse I never thought could win an Eclipse, but who was near the top of his division. Perhaps Firenze Fire will be this year's Whitmore. Also entered in this weekend's Vanderbilt.
4. Flagstaff. Tough old veteran fired again in the True North but was only second best. He is at the top of his game now as he scored his first Grade 1 win two starts ago in the Churchill Downs Stakes.
5. Whitmore. Another tough loss for this guy as he briefly had the lead late in the Churchill Downs Stakes but was edged at the wire, where he finished a close third in a blanket finish with four others. Previously he was twice runner-up to C Z Rocket at Oaklawn. As honest as they come, he still is at the top of his game. Will try and jump back into the Eclipse race in this weekend's Vanderbilt.
Next 5: Mind Control, Cezanne, Brickyard Ride, Drain the Clock, Special Reserve.
1. Gamine. Was dominant against an overmatched field in the Great Lady M. Stakes (G2) at Los Alamitos last week, and now she will likely head to Saratoga given that trainer Bob Bafferts NYRA suspension is now lifted. Now 3-for-3 on the season, she should stick to sprinting, and the Ballerina (G1) in late August will likely be next.
2. Bell's the One. Won her second straight in the Honorable Miss (G2) earlier this week. Previously she won the Roxelana Stakes when defeating the No. 3, Sconsin. After a disappointing effort when she was off the board in the Derby City Distaff, she has rebounded in a big way to jump back into the Eclipse race in this division.
3. Sconsin. Ran well in the Roxelana but Bell's the One was too good. Has run well now in three straight and is in the thick of things in a division that appears very top heavy. Will make her next start in the Ballerina against Gamine, among others.
4. Kimari. Still hasn't run since the first week of April. Has posted several works since, but this has been the story of her career. Brilliance when running, but she rarely runs, and this will cost her an Eclipse. In that April start she did not disappoint, edging away in the stretch for a 3/4-length win over Bell's the One in the Madison (G1) at Keeneland.
5. Estilo Talentoso. Disappointed as the favorite in the Princess Rooney (G2) at Gulfstream where she was beaten by Ce Ce after being too far back early. She stays here in this spot because she has done a lot already this season, six starts already - stakes placed in all of them - and has faced the best the division has had to offer several times.
Next 5: Ce Ce, Frank's Rockette, Lake Avenue, Venetian Harbor, Souper Sensational.
The male sprinter rankings have seen very little movement so far in 2021. The 2020 Eclipse winner, Whitmore, started the season off ranked No. 1, while Breeders’ Cup Sprint runner-up C Z Rocket was No. 2.
These top hooked up twice at Oaklawn earlier this season with C Z Rocket coming away victorious both times. As a result of those two wins C Z Rocket moved to No. 1, a spot he has occupied for all but one week since.
C Z Rocket is the headliner out at Del Mar this weekend in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby, a dress rehearsal of sorts for the gelded son of City Zip. With the elimination of Lasix in the upcoming Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar, the Bing Crosby was a perfect spot to see how C Z Rocket fares without Lasix, something he has run on for 26 races since being claimed by trainer Peter Miller. Miller has admitted that the Lasix issue is the wildcard weekend, and it bears watching.
The Bing Crosby field also has the No. 8 ranked Brickyard Ride entered. The speed of the speed, Brickyard Ride will try and go wire-to-wire. There are several other highly regarded sprinters entered who are not ranked just yet, chief among them are Collusion Illusion and Vertical Threat, both making their first starts of 2021. Collusion Illusion won this race last season at age three, while Vertical Threat won two sprint stakes last season at three as well.
Make no mistake, if C Z Rocket run the type of race he ran at Oaklawn he will come away with the win this weekend and retain his No. 1 ranking. But the Lasix question is a very real concern that the connections of C Z Rocket hope he has an answer for.
Out east at Saratoga the Grade 1 Vanderbilt is the headliner this weekend at that storied venue. The aforementioned Whitmore is entered, but he is the third choice on the morning line. The favorite is the No. 2 ranked Mischevious Alex. The winner of the Grade 1 Carter earlier this season, Mischevious Alex has won two graded stakes this season. Like C Z Rocket, his connections tried unsuccessfully to stretch him out to a mile in his last start. Back sprinting, it will be interesting to see how he handles the toughest field of his career sprinting.
Firenze Fire, who is ranked No. 3, is also entered. Firenze Fire hasn’t won a Grade 1 in nearly four years, the Champagne Stakes at age two. This season he is better than ever, winning two graded stakes from three starts. He was narrowly defeated in the Nerud Stakes (G2) last out in a tremendous stretch duel with Mind Control. In some ways, Firenze Fire reminds me of Whitmore from a year ago. A longtime player in this division, he is in the midst of his best season yet and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if it was Firenze Fire who came away with the Eclipse hardware at seasons end.
Last but least is the defending champ of the division, Whitmore. Ranked No. 5, Whitmore has run three times this season, and like clockwork, he has run his race every time. Although he hasn’t crossed the wire first, it wasn’t for lack of effort. Besides those two runner-up finished to C Z Rocket at Oaklawn, he was a head and a nose away from Flagstaff in the Grade 1 Churchill Downs Stakes when finishing third. Runner-up last season in the Vanderbilt, a win this time around would vault Whitmore back into the Eclipse race in this division.