Division Rankings: Turf Eclipse is ripe for War of Will to take

Division Rankings: Turf Eclipse is ripe for War of Will to take
Photo: Coady Photography

One year ago at this time, War of Will was preparing for a run in the Pennsylvania Derby and searching for his first win since the Preakness stakes four months prior. Famous not only for that Preakness triumph, War of Will was a central player in the Maximum Security Kentucky Derby disqualification.

Still in the 3-year-old male Eclipse conversation at the time, War of Will went on to finish third, and then he was up the track finishing ninth in last year's Breeder's Cup Classic. For the son of War Front, it was a disappointing end to a season that saw him win three times from nine starts.

As we head into the home stretch of this very unusual, COVID-19-affected 2020 season, War of Will has started only two times, both on the grass. 

Stepping into Grade 1 competition for his first start of the year, he switched surfaces for the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile. In what appeared by many to be an ambitious spot for his comeback, War of Will exceeded expectations when he crossed the wire fifth, but he was beaten only a little more than three lengths. Considering the field he faced and the layoff, it was great comeback effort.

For his next start, he again faced a tough field in a Grade 1 turf event, and again many thought he was in over his head. In the Maker's Mark Mile (G1), War of Will stalked the pace and showed his heart in the stretch as he gutted out a remarkable win. With that win, War of Will joined very exclusive company, joining Secretariat and California Chrome as just the third horse in modern history to win a Triple Crown event and a Grade 1 turf race.

Now comes this weekend's Woodbine Mile (G1) and a tremendous opportunity for War of Will. The top three ranked horses in this division, as shown below, all have lost their last start, which leaves the door open for War of Will to assume leadership in this division. In addition, no male turf horse has won more than one Grade 1 event on the lawn this season. 

Should War of Will win this weekend's Woodbine Mile, not only will he win his second Grade 1 on the grass this season, he will take over the No. 1 spot in this division and, incredibly, be in control of his Eclipse fate.

With that, here's a look at this week's Division Rankings.

Older Dirt Males

1. Maximum Security – He again showed why he has held this spot for over a year. It's the same story for this guy: another win. His wire-to-wire win in the Pacific Classic (G1) was his 10th win in 12 starts. It is hard to believe there are non-believers of his heart and talent. Really would like to see him ship out of California for his next start. The Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont or the Awesome Again at Santa Anita are on the table.

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 could not overcome the ridiculously slow fractions. However, I question the decision by his connections to train up to the Breeders' Cup, where he will try 10 furlongs for the first time off of a 98-day layoff. He stays here at No. 2 for now, but he faces a tall order to win the Breeders' Cup.

3. Improbable – Certainly has redeemed himself in a big way from his somewhat 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 – Off since his sensational win in the Met Mile (G1) last June, he is clearly one of the top older dirt males in the country. 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. Back on the work tab, would like to see him get a race in prior to the Breeders' Cup.

5  By My Standards – Came up a winner in the recent Alysheba (G2). Now four for six on the year, he has quietly put together an outstanding season. Earlier this season, he won the New Orleans Classic (G2) and Oaklawn Handicap (G2). Just a cut below the top ones right now. The Breeders' Cup Classic will be his next start; don't count him out.

Next 5: Code of Honor, Global Campaign, Tacitus, Midcourt, Warriors Charge.

Older Dirt Females

1. Monomoy Girl – She has made it all the way back on top after crossing the wire a winner in her 10th straight race. Her win in the La Troienne (G1) was much like the others, won with relative ease. Now with three wins in three starts in 2020, the Eclipse will likely come down to a much anticipated matchup with Midnight Bisou.

2. Midnight Bisou – Her loss in the Personal Ensign opened the door for others in this division, and she has only one win this year, in the Fleur De Lis (G2). Runner-up to Maximum Security in the Saudi Cup, she has never finished off the board in 21 starts. Will point to the Spinster (G1) at Keeneland for her next start, where she needs a win to right the ship.

3. Fighting Mad – Impressive winner of the Clement L Hirsch (G1), defeating several who are ranked below, she deserves this spot. Previously won the Santa Maria (G2) in impressive fashion, defeating Ce Ce. Will have a shot to win this Eclipse in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. She will go next in the Zenyatta Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita on Sept. 26.

4. 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 and will get more chances to breakthrough this fall.

5. Vexatious – After two straight stellar efforts, she took a step back when finishing fifth behind Monomoy Girl in the the La Troienne. She previously won the Personal Ensign (G1), defeating Midnight Bisou.

Next 5: Dunbar Road, Point of Honor, Guarana, Serengeti Empress, Ce Ce.

3-Year-Old-Males

1. Tiz the Law – Ran his race in the Kentucky Derby, but he met his match in the ultra-game Authentic. He had no excuses. He still holds on to this spot, but only narrowly. His previous wins will not be ignored here, and his resume is still the best in this division. Still a slight chance he runs in the Preakness, but I expect his connections will choose to train up to the Breeders' Cup Classic.

2. Authentic – Ran a remarkable race in the Kentucky Derby, showing tremendous grit in the Churchill Downs stretch to pull away late for the win. Silences all distance critics and will take over the top spot with a win in the Preakness next month.

3. Art Collector – Scratched out of the Kentucky Derby because of a minor foot problem, he now will be pointed to the Preakness. The winner of the Ellis Park Derby and Blue Grass (G2) in his previous two starts, he likely will be Authentic's biggest obstacle if Tiz the Law doesn't run.

4. Honor A. P. – Recently retired, he will come off this list next week. Never a threat to win, but ran a good race to finish fourth in the Kentucky Derby. Have to question the route his connections took to get him to Churchill Downs as one of the reasons he wasn't there at the end.

5. King Guillermo – His connections decided to sit him for 126 days after his Arkansas Derby runner-up finish and train up to the Kentucky Derby. It was a decision that backfired and cost them an entire summer of racing. He was scratched because of a fever, and now he will miss the Preakness because of suspensory problems.

Next 5: Thousand Words, Rushie, Max Player, Ny Traffic, Dr Post.

3-Year-Old-Females

1. Swiss Skydiver – Although she finished runner-up to Shedaresthedevil in the Kentucky Oaks, she loses nothing in stature and is still the clear leader in the division and Eclipse race. Remember, she has put together an impressive resume in 2020. The Alabama (G1) winner has won three other graded stakes and was runner-up to the boys in the Blue Grass. Her connections are once again thinking outside the box and are seriously considering the Preakness for her next start.

2. Shedaresthedevil – Jumps from No. 8 to this spot here based off of her third straight win, this time in the Kentucky Oaks (G1). She has matured greatly since her last loss, a third-place finish in the Fantasy (G3), where she was beaten by Swiss Skydiver by 13 lengths. The Eclipse is still a long shot for this gal, though.

3. Gamine – No excuses in her Kentucky Oaks try, where she set soft fractions but couldn't hold on. Always felt the Kentucky Oaks would be too far for her; connections will likely point to the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. She was spectacular when sprinting during the summer.

4. Speech – No real excuses when checking in fourth in the Kentucky Oaks (G1). While she didn't have much of a pace to run at, she was never too far back. The Ashland (G1) at Keeneland is her lone stakes win so far this season.

5. Venetian Harbor – She hit the trifecta of runner-up finishes 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. Skipped the Kentucky Oaks and is expected to stick to sprinting.

Next 5: Sharing, Paris Lights, Crystal Ball, Finite, Donna Veloce.

Turf Males

1. Zulu Alpha – No excuses when third in last weekend's Kentucky Turf Cup (G3) beaten by Arklow. His stay here at the top spot might be short-lived if War of Will wins this weekend. Has won three graded stakes this season.

2. United – No excuses for this guy either when disappointing as runner-up in the Del Mar Handicap (G2). He previously won three graded stakes in a row, including the Eddie Read (G2) in his last start.

3. Factor This – His four-race win streak came to an end in the recent Turf Classic (G1) loss to Digital Age at Churchill Downs, but he stays here at No. 3. Still an Eclipse contender who might train up to the Breeders' Cup Turf.

4. War of Will – Will run in this weekend's Woodbine Mile (G1), where a win will vault him to the No. 1 spot. 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 third horse in modern history to win a Triple Crown event and a Grade 1 turf race.

5. Mo Forza – Returned after a seven-month layoff to demolish his competition in the Del Mar Mile (G2) last out. He was a three-time graded stakes winner in 2019.

Next 5: Halladay, Digital Age, Red King, Arklow, Rockemperor.

Turf Females

1. 
Rushing Fall – Clearly, this is a different Rushing Fall as compared with the version that ran the last two seasons. Was sensational in a win over the very best in her division in her last start, the Diana (G1). Now 3-for-3 with three Grade 1 wins this season, she might finally win the Eclipse that has eluded her for years.

2. 
Mean Mary – Was very game in defeat to Rushing Fall in the Diana. In her last start, she romped in the New York Stakes (G2). With three graded stakes wins now on the season, previously winning the Le Prevoyante Stakes (G3) and Orchid Stakes (G3), she is a surprise contender in this division.

3. 
Starship Jubilee – I think she ran her race in the Diana, but it simply wasn't good enough when beaten four lengths by Rushing Fall. I love the decision her connections made with the bold move of tackling the boys in this weekend's Woodbine Mile (G1). She is 4 for 5 on the season.

4. 
Jolie Olimpica – Ran a winning race in the Jenny Wiley when runner-up to Rushing Fall. Earlier this season, she won the Monrovia (G2) and Las Cienegas Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita. Could be a major player in the Breeders' Cup Mile in the fall. She was slated to run in the recent Ladies Sprint (G3) at Kentucky Downs, but reportedly fell ill and did not make the trip from Southern California for trainer Richard Mandella.

5. 
Newspaperofrecord – No way around it, she disappointed as the huge favorite in the Distaff Turf Mile (G1) at Churchill Downs. It will be interesting to see whether her connections point to the Breeders' Cup Mile. In her previous two starts this season, she rebounded very nicely from a disappointing 3-year-old season to take the Just a Game (G1) and Intercontinental Stakes (G3) at Belmont.

Next 5: Beau Recall, Sistercharlie, Sharing, Got Stormy, Uni.

Male Sprinters

1. Vekoma – His lack of a race since the Met Mile has left this divisional Eclipse open for others to take and also has seen his Horse of the Year chances evaporate. 3-for-3 on the season, he is finally back on the work tab, which could lead to a start later this month in the Vosburgh (G1) at Belmont Park. Would like to see him once more prior to the Breeders' Cup, where a run in the Dirt Mile or Sprint are on the table.

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 have one more start before the Breeders' Cup Sprint, the Vosburgh at Belmont Park.

3. Whitmore – I am tossing his last in the Forego, which was run in a torrential downpour over a sloppy track. Previously, he ran his race in the Vanderbilt when defeated by only 1 3/4 lengths by Volatile. Earlier this season, he won the Count Fleet Sprint (G3) at Oaklawn.

4. Collusion Illusion – Unbeaten in three starts this year, he won the Bing Crosby (G1) in his last start. Not convinced he is anywhere near the top two, but he will get chances to prove me wrong. Will get one more start prior to the Breeders' Cup, the Santa Anita Sprint (G1) in October.

5. Complexity – Maybe a bit highly ranked here, but not much separates the next half-dozen in this division. In only his second start of 2020, he was runner-up in the sloppy Forego. I get the feeling he could be a contender in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

Next 5: Network Effect, Win Win Win, C Z Rocket, Mind Control, Yaupon. 

Female Sprinters

1. Serengeti Empress – Yes, she came up a nose short in the Derby City Distaff (G1), but once again she set ridiculous early fractions and was there at the wire. With two straight outstanding sprints, she is the best in this division when she is on her game. The front-runner for the Eclipse right now.

2. Guarana – Hasn't run since her Madison win last June. At the time, trainer Chad Brown stated the year-end goal was the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, but she suffered a setback in training and was forced to miss the Ballerina (G1) at Saratoga.

3. Gamine – A real Eclipse contender if she is kept sprinting. Look for her back around one turn in her next start after her Kentucky Oaks loss. I had always felt she would end up pointing for the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint after her Kentucky Oaks endeavor.

4. Bell's the One – Ran a strong race to nail Serengeti Empress on the wire in the Derby City Distaff, where her closing kick was aided by a fast pace. Prior to her win in the Derby City, she was third in the Madison (G1) at Keeneland.

5. 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. Scratched out of the recent Derby City Distaff.

Next 5: Bellafina, Come Dancing, Frank's Rockette, Kimari, Break Even.

2-Year-Old Males

1. Jackie's Warrior – The first horse since Favorite Trick in 1997 to pull off the Saratoga Special (G2) and Hopeful (G1) double at Saratoga. Has built a large lead in this division, winning all three of his starts. The real question is, can he maintain this form around two turns?

2. Sittin On Go – Certainly was impressive in the Iroquois (G3), where he won going away at the mile distance. He is 2-for-2 on his career and should start next in the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland on Oct. 3.

3. Reinvestment Risk – Impressive maiden winner was runner-up to Jackie's Warrior in the Hopeful. I get the sense that this guy will enjoy going longer.

4. Dr. Schivel – Winner of the Del Mar Futurity on Labor Day, but beat only five others.

5. Breeze on By - Unbeaten in South Florida, where he has won all three of his starts easily. The In Reality Stakes at Gulfstream on Sept. 26 will be his next start.

Next 5: Calibrate, Golden Pal, Spielberg, Freedom Fighter, Midnight Bourbon.

2-Year-Old Females

1. Vequist – Dominant winner of the Spinaway (G1) in her second start, she has run the fastest of all of the graded stakes winners in this division. The daughter of Nyquist seems to have a bright future, as her pedigree suggests she will relish the longer distances. Her connections have stated her next start will be around two turns. Look for her to appear at Keeneland for her next start.

2. Dayoutoftheoffice – Not much separates this gal from Vequist. Winner of her first two starts, she was impressive in the Schuylerville  (G3). Finally back on the work tab, she could run next in the Frizette (G1) at Belmont on Oct. 10.

3. Princess Noor – Certainly the leader of this division out West, she won the Del Mar Debutante (G1) by six widening lengths. May ship east for her next start; she is 2-for-2 on her career.

4. Girl Daddy – Best of the Midwest so far, she is also 2-for-2 on her career. Her Pocahontas (G3) win at Churchill Downs was over the one-mile distance.

5. Thoughtfully – Adironack (G2) winner has won both of her career starts and will stretch out in her next start, possibly in the Frizette.

Next 5: Toby's Heart, Crazy Beautiful, Forest Caraway, Cantata, Campanelle.


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 local sports radio show appearances as an on-air racing expert. Now also a weekly contributor on FOX Sports radio's "The Fast Track," Chip can be heard giving his thoughts on the racing world every weekend.

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, along with following him on Twitter at @doctorderby.

Manila and the Arlington Million

California Chrome in Rarified Air

Cigar and the Pacific Classic

Spending Time With Game on Dude

Go For Wand: Gone But Not Forgotten


Top Stories

Pre-entires for the Breeders' Cup were submitted o...
According to a newly disclosed report from the Cal...
There is no event in racing that offers better val...
All 14 Breeders' Cup races carry their own intrigu...
Calling them his “dream team,” trainer Bob Baffert...