The 3-year-old fillies have once again delivered us extraordinary storylines.
Four years ago it was Songbird who took us on a ride we will never forget as she blitzed the competition en route to wins in her first seven of her starts at age three before her dramatic nose loss to the older Beholder in the Breeders' Cup Distaff.
Two years ago it was Monomoy Girl who crossed the wire first in all seven of her starts at age three that culminated with a win in the Breeders' Cup Distaff.
Now we have two fillies from vastly different backgrounds in Gamine and Swiss Skydiver who are on a collision course to battle for divisional leadership in the Kentucky Oaks which is set to be run on September 4.
With the Kentucky Oaks normally run the day before the Kentucky Derby in early May, Eclipse award implications are minimal. But now with the Oaks rescheduled for this year to early September due to Covid-19, it will play an instrumental part in deciding the Eclipse for this division.
Trained by Bob Baffert, Gamine was purchased for $1.8 million by owner Michael Lund Petersen from the 2019 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Sale of 2-year-olds in training. Big things were expected from Gamine from the start, and she has certainly delievered.
With only four career starts she has already won two Grade 1 events. Two weeks ago she solidified her place near the top of the division with a facile score in the 7-furlong Test Stakes (G1) at Saratoga. The Test score followed her June triumph in the one mile Acorn (G1) at Belmont where she scorched the mile in 1:32.55 while putting 18 3/4-lengths drubbing on the field.
In Swiss Skydiver, we have a filly who attracted little attention at Keeneland in the September yearling sale of 2018 where trainer Kenny McPeek purchased her for $35,000.
Making her debut last fall for owner Peter J. Callahan at Churchill Downs, Swiss Skydiver won at first asking. But in three subsequent starts the daughter of Daredevil failed to reach the winners circle.
Sent off at 9-1 in the Gulfstream Park Oaks last March, the light went on for Swiss Skydiver and she has been a different filly since. Winning by 3 3/4 lengths that day, Swiss Skydiver was impressive. But it wasn't until her next start in the Fantasy (G3) at Oaklawn that had people believing she could be something very special.
Sent off at 16-1 as several other more accomplished fillies were entered. Swiss Skydiver showed her that previous Gulfstream win was no fluke as she powered home to a 2 1/2 length win.
A bit of a throwback, Swiss Skydiver has done it all this season. Running from at seven different race tracks in her seven starts, she has danced just about every dance she could. For good measure, she as even taken on the boys.
She followed up her Fantasy win with an easy win in the Santa Anita Oaks (G2) and then stepped outside of her division for her next start, the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) at Keeneland. She didn't win, but she enhanced her reputation with a strong runner-up finish to Art Collector where she defeated the 10 other 3-year-old males entered.
Last weekend it was Swiss Skydiver who starred at Saratoga as she delivered a powerhouse win in the 10-furlong Alabama (G1).
With Gamine and Swiss Skydiver both delivering in recent Saratoga races, the stage is now set for a fascinating showdown in the Kentucky Oaks.
The Kentucky Oaks is run around two-turns at the nine furlong distance and the prevailing question surrounding Gamine is her ability to go longer.
She has been historically good around one turn races. Her lone race around two turns she did prevail by a neck, but I am still skeptical that she can flash the same brilliance around two-turns that she has around one-turn. What is clear to me heading into the Kentucky Oaks is that Gamine has more questions to be answered than Swiss Skydiver does.
These rankings below are indicators of where we stand in the Eclipse race, and make no mistake, the looming showdown between these two is an Eclipse defining race.
If Swiss Skydiver wins the Oaks, the Eclipse race is likely over because more likely than not, the reason Gamine loses is because of the added distance. Therefore she will point to shorter races after such as the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint while Swiss Skydiver could face males in the Preakness with nothing to lose from a loss and then the Breeders' Cup Distaff where a loss to the likes of Midnight Bisou or Monomoy Girl would do little to hurt her Eclipse case.
If Gamine wins the Oaks she most certainly will have a leg up on the Eclipse, but there would still be room for Swiss Skydiver because we know she can handle two turns and will be in for the remainder of the major Grade 1 events like the Breeders’ Cup Distaff later on where a win there over Gamine could swing voters back her way.
This opinion may an unpopular one, but that's the way I see this Eclipse race unfolding.
With that, here's a look at this week's Division Rankings.
2. Tom's d'Etat – Loses nothing as far as his reputation is concerned as a result of his loss in the Whitney where he stumbled at the start, losing ground in the process, and the ridiculously slow fractions he could not overcome. He stays here at No. 2.
3. Improbable – Certainly has redeemed himself in a big way from his disappointing 3-year-old campaign. Now a winner of two straight Grade 1 races this season after his Whitney win, he is an Eclipse contender. But, he will never have the setup he had in the Whitney again.
4. Vekoma – Sensational in the Met Mile (G1)in his last start. Although he likely won't run around two turns for now, he is clearly one of the top older dirt males in the country. His connections have stated they will now wait for the Forego (G1) at Saratoga on Aug. 29 in their march toward the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. Since this year’s Breeders’ Cup is at Keeneland, the Dirt Mile would be run around two turns. Vekoma's lone win around two turns came in last year's Blue Grass (G2) at 1 1/8 miles.
5. By My Standards – Runner-up again, this time in the Whitney. He again ran a strong race but not a winning one. Earlier this season he won the New Orleans Classic (G2) and Oaklawn Handicap (G2). Just a cut below the top ones right now.
Next 5: Code of Honor, Mucho Gusto, Tacitus, Midcourt, Warriors Charge.
Older Dirt Females
1. Midnight Bisou Fleur De Lis (G2). The Saudi Cup runner-up to Maximum Security has never finished off the board in 21 starts. Will point to the Spinster (G1) at Keeneland for her next start.
2. Fighting Mad - Impressive winner of the Clement L Hirsch (G1) defeating several who are ranked below, she deserves this No. 2 spot. Previously won the Santa Maria (G2) in impressive fashion, defeating Ce Ce.
3. Monomoy Girl - In her second start back after a lengthy layoff, she won the Ruffian (G2) defeating Vexatious who then came back to defeat Midnight Bisou in the Personal Ensign (G1). She will run next in the La Troienne (G1) at Churchill Downs on Sept. 4.
4. Vexatious - Makes her debut in the Top Ten at No. 4 based on her strong win over Midnight Bisou in the Personal Ensign. She was previously runner-up to Monomoy Girl in the Ruffian (G2) at Belmont Park.
5. Ollie's Candy - Ran another stellar race in the Clement L. Hirsch at Del Mar where she was runner-up to Fighting Mad. She is Grade 1 placed four times in 2020.
Next 5: Ce Ce, Dunbar Road, Point of Honor, Guarana, Serengeti Empress .
1. Tiz the Law – Turned in his best performance to date in last weekend's Travers (G1) making a mockery of the field. Has matured right before our eyes and is now a bonafide superstar. With the Kentucky Derby up next, he will likely be the shortest priced favorite since Spectacular Bid in 1979. His four grade 1 wins will be more than the entire Kentucky Derby field combined. Would take an extraordinary set of circumstances to deny him the Eclipse.
2. Authentic – He barely held on in the Haskell (G1), but a win is a win. While I don't believe 10 furlongs is in his wheelhouse, he will nevertheless head to the Kentucky Derby for his next start. Based on his 2020 resume, he deserves this spot for now. Won the San Felipe (G2) and Sham (G3) earlier this season.
3. Art Collector - Did what he was supposed to do in the recent Ellis Park Derby winning by a little over three lengths. The winner of the Blue Grass (G2) for his first stakes win in his previous start, he will have to run a career top in the Kentucky Derby, but that may not even be enough to defeat Tiz the Law.
4. Honor A. P. – No excuse in the Shared Belief Stakes where he finished runner-up to Thousand Words in his last start. The Santa Anita Derby winner will now head to Louisville for next months Kentucky Derby. Not a big fan of the choices his connections have made to get him to Louisville and he appears a cut below the top two.
5. 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 (G2), was no fluke. Apparently his connections have decided to sit him now for 126 days and train up to the Kentucky Derby. It's a questionable decision at best, in my opinion.
Next 5: Ny Traffic, Thousand Words, Dr. Post, Rushie, Caracaro.
1. Swiss Skydiver – Facile winner of the Alabama (G1) last weekend, she is on a collision course with Gamine in next months Kentucky Oaks. In her previous start she ran big in the Blue Grass (G2) against the boys where she beat all but the winner, Art Collector, quite handily.
2. Gamine - Won her second straight Grade 1 event, this time in the Test (G1) going seven furlongs at Saratoga. Her connections are going to try her again around two-turns for her next start, the Kentucky Oaks. I am skeptical of her chances and feel she is best around one turn, but she has earned the chance to try.
3. Speech – Impressive winner of the Ashland (G1) last time out defeating Venetian Harbor, among others. Remember, in her two previous starts she was runner-up to Swiss Skydiver in the Santa Anita Oaks and to Gamine in an optional claimer at Oaklawn.
4. Venetian Harbor– She hit the trifecta of runner-up finishes last weekend with her Test (G1) runner-up to Gamine. In her last three starts she has finished second to Speech, Swiss Skydiver, and now Gamine. Earlier this season she won the Las Virgenes Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita.
5. Paris Lights – The Bill Mott trained daughter of Curlin broke through in a big way in her stakes debut, a win in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks.
Next 5: Donna Veloce, Finite, Shedaresthedevil, Sharing, Crystal Ball.
1. United - Won his third graded stakes this season in his last start, the Eddie Read (G2) at Del Mar. Now 3-for-3 this season, he appears to be the horse to beat in this division. Returns to actions in this weekend's Del Mar Handicap (G2)
2. Zulu Alpha - Back from a brief freshening, the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) and Mac Diarmida Stakes (G2) winner was impressive winning the Elkhorn (G2) in his last start at Keeneland. Will try and defend his title in next months Kentucky Turf Cup (G3) at Kentucky Downs for his next start.
3. Factor This - Has now won four straight, his latest was a win in last weekend's Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Cup Stakes. This 5-year-old is in the best form of his career and an Eclipse contender for trainer Brad Cox.
career renaissance this son Arch is in the midst of. Grade 1 placed at age two on the dirt, he finished fourth in the 2018 Kentucky Derby. He has found a home now on the grass at age 5 as he won his first Grade 1 race, the Manhattan at Belmont Park last time out. Now with two graded wins in the grass this season, he is very much in the Eclipse race here. Will go next in the Old Forester Turf Classic (G1) on Sept. 5 at Churchill Downs.
5. War of Will - A major player on the grass now as he pulled off a remarkable win in the Maker's Mark Mile (G1) at Keeneland last time out. He joined Secretariat and California Chrome as just the third horse in modern history to win a Triple Crown event and a Grade 1 turf race. He will continue on the lawn for his next start in the Woodbine Mile on Sept. 19.
Next 5: Raging Bull, Admission Office, Bemma's Boy, Rockemperor, Decorated Invader.
Clearly, this is a different Rushing Fall as compared with the version that ran the past two seasons. Last year, she simply wasn't good enough, and the previous season her connections ducked the top mares in the division. The Wiley was her career best effort, and she beat a top notch filly in Jolie Olimpica. Will run the Diana (G1) at Saratoga on August 23.
-for-4 this season, she is a leading contender for the Eclipse in this division and will take on Rushing Fall in next weekend's Diana.Ballston Spa Stakes (G2) at Saratoga. Now 4
Le Prevoyante Stakes (G3) and Orchid Stakes (G3) she is a surprise contender in this division. She too will go next in the Grade 1 Diana on August 23 at Saratoga.
4. Newspaperofrecord - Has rebounded very nicely from a disappointing 3-year-old season to take her first two races in 2020, both graded stakes. Her win in the Just a Game (G1) last out came at the expense of the defending champ of this division, Uni. She will run next on September 5 in at Churchill Downs in the Distaff Turf Mile (G2). The Breeders' Cup Mile against the boys is the long range goal
Next 5: Juliet Foxtrot, Uni, Sistercharlie, Keeper Ofthe Stars, Bodhicitta.
1. Vekoma - Like Mitole last year, he may run away and hide in this division as he now has a commanding lead here after his second straight Grade 1 win, this one in the Met Mile. Now 3-for-3 on the season. Will run next in the Forego (G1) at Saratoga.
2. Volatile - Nice win in the Vanderbilt (G1) over several others ranked below. Not nearly as dominant as he was at Churchill, but as the controlling speed, he should be commended for quick finishing fractions to hold off all comers. Will be interesting to see how he handles Vekoma down the road, if they face one another. Will have one more start before the Breeders' Cup Sprint, the Vosburgh at Belmont Park.
3. Whitmore - After breaking through the gate prior to the start, he still ran his race in the Vanderbilt when only defeated by 1 3/4 lengths. Earlier this season, he won the Count Fleet Sprint (G3) at Oaklawn. Shows no signs of slowing down at age seven.
4. Mind Control - He too ran big in the Vanderbilt, beaten just two lengths. Started off 2020 with a win in the Toboggan Stakes (G3) and the Tom Fool (G3) at Aqueduct.
5. Network Effect - Has to move up here based off of his last two starts, where he was runner-up twice to Vekoma in the Grade 1 Carter and Met Mile.
Next 5: Firenze Fire, McKinzie, Flagstaff, Collusion Illusion, Echo Town.
1. Guarana - Clarity in this division as this gal takes over the top spot here after her game win in the Madison (G1) over a tough customer in Mia Mischief. Trainer Chad Brown has stated the year-end goal is the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. She recently suffered a setback in training and was forced to miss the Ballerina (G1) at Saratoga.
2. Serengeti Empress - Make no mistake, this gal turned in the best sprint race performance by any female in 2020. Running fractions of 21.75 and 43.74 with pressure the entire way, Serengeti Empress ran the sprint race of her life in defeating a strong Ballerina (G1) field. She rockets to this No. 2 spot and will now point to the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.
3. Gamine - Dominant winner of her last two including the recent Test (G1) at Saratoga, she has all the tools to be a great sprinter. Her connections will try her again around two turns for her next start, the nine-furlong Kentucky Oaks. Her lone start around two turns resulted in a loss via disqualification. I suspect we may see her back around one turn pointing for the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint after her Kentucky Oaks endeavor.
4. Mia Mischief - Passed Guarana turning for home in the Madison (G1) at Keeneland and looked on her way to victory but was beaten to the wire by a very game Guarana. A tough loss for sure, but she was clearly the best of the rest and will get more chances later this year to avenge the loss.
5. Bellafina - Was game when runner-up in the Ballerina to Serengeti Empress, earlier this season won the Desert Stormer (G3) at Santa Anita.
Next 5: Bell's the One, Kimari, Break Even, Special Relativity, Come Dancing.