Last season, Bricks and Mortar went wire to wire as the No. 1-ranked horse in the Turf Male division when winning not just that championship but also Horse of the Year.
It appears nearly midway through 2020 that this year, that sort of dominance won't be replicated on the lawn.
Bricks and Mortar's retirement brought about some expected uncertainty within the division, with the question of which horse, or horses, would assert themselves as the new Eclipse Award frontrunners.
Zulu Alpha led off with a victory in the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1), then won the Mac Diarmida (G2) at the Gulfstream Park meet before defeated as the odds-on Pan American (G2) favorite. That was enough to hold the top spot until this week.
Last Saturday, Richard Mandella-trained United moved to 2-for-2 on the season. Parlaying momentum from a fast-closing Breeders' Cup Turf runner-up into 2020, he has won both the San Marcos Stakes (G2) and Charles Whittinghamd Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park. In between, he was denied a shot at a higher-class victory when Dubai World Cup night was called off due to the coronavirus.
In the Whittingham, United came through with a narrow nose win over Chad Brown-trained shipper Rockemperor. Next up, he figures to head east for a potential matchup with Zulu Alpha in Keeneland's Elkhorn (G2) now scheduled for July 12. Connections consider United even better at the Elkhorn's 1 1/2-mile distance.
One other that was eligible to rise in this division began doing so on Monday when Raging Bull made his seasonal debut a winning one in Santa Anita's Shoemaker Mile (G1). Sent off as the second choice to Brown stablemate Without Parole, Raging Bull made a swift rally out wide, winning by 2 1/4 lengths in a victory even easier than it looked.
Raging Bull was ranked several weeks last year based off multiple graded placings. He didn't win in 2019, but he was competitive. Now age 5, he clearly has matured and looks to be a serious player going a mile in a Male Turf division that's getting interesting.
With that, a look at this week's Division Rankings...
2. By My Standards – Three starts in 2020 are in the books for this son of Goldencents, and one thing is clear: He has matured into a Eclipse contender at age 4. His last win in the Oaklawn Handicap (G2) came against the best group of older horses assembled for a race on U.S. soil this season. He could take over the No. 1 spot with another win.
3. Tom's d'Etat – A winner of his last three, he is in the best form of his career now at age 7. His Oaklawn Mile Stakes win over Improbable and nine others was deceptively good. The decision to skip the Oaklawn Handicap has to be questioned, given the fact that with few tracks running there are limited stakes to choose from. He could head west next for the June 6 Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1) looking to go 1 1/4 miles.
4. Mucho Gusto – Much-improved from last season, he took an eventful Saudi Cup trip. He likely would have finished third instead of fourth had jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. not been so concerned with Maximum Security for the entirety of the race. With COVID-19 leading to cancellation of the Dubai World Cup (G1), his more recent plans were dashed.
5. Warrior's Charge – Deserves to be placed in the top five based off of his Razorback (G3) win and his strong runner-up to By My Standards in the Oaklawn Handicap. Next up, Churchill's Stephen Foster or the Metropolitan Handicap (G1).
Next 5: Mr. Freeze, Tacitus, Improbable, Combatant, Owendale.
Older Dirt Females
2. Ce Ce – With two Grade 1 wins already in 2020, more recently in the Apple Blossom (G1), she is moving quickly to challenge for the top spot. She is a serious Eclipse player in this division. Could resurface in Sunday's Santa Maria (G2) at Santa Anita or wait for the June 13 Ogden Phipps (G1).
3. Ollie's Candy - Ran a top race race in the Apple Blossom, as she did all the work on the front end while setting some quick fractions. She has finished behind Ce Ce in both of her starts this year, the other being the Beholder Mile (G1) at Santa Anita. She could run next in the Santa Maria as well.
4. Point of Honor - Closed from 14th, where she was more than 23 lengths back, to run third in the Apple Blossom after getting squeezed back at the break. She has run well in both of her starts this season and has the Ogden Phipps on her calendar.
5. Serengeti Empress - Ran a clunker in her last when she checked in 11th in the Apple Blossom. Prior to that, this need-the-lead type was a romping winner of the Azeri (G2).
Next 5: Street Band, Dunbar Road, Monomoy Girl, Pink Sands, Hard Not to Love.
1. Nadal – Showed in the Arkansas Derby that he is the top 3-year-old in the land by defeating the best assembled group of sophomores so far in 2020. His three graded stakes wins lead his class, and he should only get better as he goes longer. It's looking like the newly rescheduled Belmont Stakes -- at a drastically reduced distance of nice furlongs -- will be his next start on June 20.
2. Tiz the Law – Unseated recently from the top spot, he has only two starts this year. I believe he is at or near the top of the division, but you have to run to win Eclipse awards. The Belmont is confirmed as his next start.
3. Charlatan – His status is now uncertain due to a positive test exiting Arkansas Derby Day. Should the split sample also come back positive, he will most likely be disqualified and lose his Kentucky Derby qualifying points.
4. Authentic – Unbeaten in three career starts, he was sensational last out in the San Felipe (G2), defeating a strong field that included the runner-up, Honor A. P., who was making his season debut. He should make his next start in the rescheduled Santa Anita Derby (G1) on June 6.
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, was no fluke. Connections stated they will skip the Belmont and train up to the Kentucky Derby.
Next 5: Sole Volante, Maxfield, Ete Indien, Honor A.P, Independence Hall.
1. Swiss Skydiver – Her Fantasy Stakes (G3) win came over the deepest group this division has seen in a race this season, and I get the sense she is here to stay. She now has two straight graded stakes wins and is expected to ship west to shoot for the Santa Anita Oaks (G2) on June 6.
2. Donna Veloce – Big things were expected this year from the daughter of Uncle Mo, and she certainly delivered in her first start of 2020, winning the Santa Ysabel (G3). She is back on the sidelines now, however, due to a physical setback.
3. Venetian Harbor – The runaway Las Virgenes (G2) winner tried her best in the Fantasy but was simply second best. Some 10 lengths clear of third place, she looks like a candidate for the newly rescheduled Acorn Stakes (G1) at Belmont.
4. Finite – Disappointed as the odds-on favorite in the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) when she was off the board, finishing fourth. This snapped a five-race winning streak. Previously ranked No. 1, she took a big drop but will have opportunities to move back up returning to training soon after minor bone chip surgery.
5. Tonalist's Shape – Rebounded from her loss to Swiss Skydiver in the Gulfstream Park Oaks with a nice win in Gulfstream's Hollywood Wildcat Stakes. She now has three stakes wins on the season and could join the fray in the Acorn.
Next 5: Bonny South, Shedaresthedevil, Franks's Rockette, Kimari, British Idiom.
1. United - Takes over this No. 1 spot after last weekend's nose win in the Whittingham Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita. Also the winner of the San Marcos to get his 2020 season underway, he's 2-for-2 on the year.
2. Zulu Alpha - On the sidelines for a brief freshening, the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) and Mac Diarmida Stakes (G2) winner tasted his first defeat of the season last out in the Pan American (G2) at Gulfstream when runner-up to Bemma's Boy. Could get the chance to reclaim the No. 1 spot in his next expected start in the Elkhorn at Keeneland, where United may also be in the gate.
3. Raging Bull
4. Arklow - Winner of the Joe Hirsch (G1) last fall at Belmont, he has appeared once this season, when he finished fifth behind Zulu Alpha in the Pegasus World Cup Turf.
5. Factor This - At 2-for-3 on the season, he won the Muniz Memorial Stakes (G2) and the Fair Grounds Stakes (G3) in his last two starts.
Next 5: Next Shares, River Boyne, Bemma's Boy, Sadler's Joy, Mo Forza.
Starship Jubilee – With three starts already this season she is stacking up victories. Tampa Bay Downs' Hillsborough (G2) was her latest win in a career that has seen her run 35 times. Starship Jubilee was also recently named Canada's 2019 Horse of the Year. Scratched from an expected start last weekend when Gulfstream's Powder Break Stakes came off the turf, she'll resurface at Belmont Park. Keeper Ofthe Stars – A nice win in the Gamely (G1) last weekend at Santa Anita makes it two graded stakes win in a row for this daughter of Midnight Lute. She is now 2-for-3 on the season.
Next 5: Magic Star, Jehozacat, Gentle Ruler, Lady Pename, Beautiful Lover.
1. Whitmore - He takes over the top spot here having defeated the best field in the division so far, the Count Fleet Sprint (G3) at Oaklawn. And Whitmore did so handily. With two wins in three starts, he shows no signs of slowing down at age 7.
2. Firenze Fire
3. Mind Control - Started off 2020 with a win in the Toboggan Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct. And last out a few weeks ago, he looked beaten but put in a spectacular stretch run to win the Tom Fool (G3). Should return in the Carter (G1) on June 6.
4. Flagstaff - Off the board only once in 12 career starts, he ran a bang-up second to Whitmore in the Count Fleet, rallying after a slow break. Previously in 2020, he won the San Carlos (G2) and finished runner-up in the Palos Verdes (G2) at Santa Anita.
5. New York Central - Won the Saudi Cup Sprint his last out but was off the board in his three previous starts. Maybe turned a corner at age 5? It will be interesting to see whether he continues campaigning overseas for Saudi Arabian interests or tries his hand again in the U.S.
Next 5: Imperial Hint, Cistron, Captain Scotty, Vekoma, Bobby's Wicked One.
1. Hard Not to Love - Covfefe left a huge void at the top of this division. This Grade 1 heroine in 2019 returned a winner in the Santa Monica (G2) at Santa Anita and then tried to stretch out in the Beholder Mile at Santa Anita, where she was runner-up to Ce Ce. She may try and stretch out again in this weekend's Santa Maria.
new owner, Stonestreet Stables, she could take over the top spot with a win this weekend in the Winning Colors Stakes (G3) at Churchill where she will take on Break Even and Spiced Perfection, among others.
4. Serengeti Empress - Never saw the lead in the Apple Blossom and faded to finish 11th. Although she hasn't sprinted yet this season, we know she can hang with the very best as she showed last August when runner-up to Covfefe in the Test at Saratoga. Stays ranked here in this division for now.
5. Pink Sands - In a division lacking depth, she cracks the top five. Won her only start this year sprinting in the Inside Information (G2) at Gulfstream.
Next 5: Special Relativity, Spiced Perfection, Kimari, Amy's Challenge, Break Even.