Division Rankings: Abel Tasman or Unique Bella for Eclipse?

December 06, 2018 02:09pm

Two weeks ago, I featured Stormy Liberal and why it made sense for him to be considered for the Eclipse Award for top Turf Male. Last week, I tackled the 2-year-old female division debate that's coming down to Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies heroine Jaywalk or Juvenile Fillies Turf winner Newspaperofrecord.

This week, it’s the Older Dirt Female division in focus, with the race coming down to Unique Bella and Abel Tasman. 
Both of these fillies will get support, and the vote could very well be split. It’s a difficult decision.

The first thing voters need to remember is that this is not a vote on reputation. What each filly accomplished before 2018 is irrelevant when voting for the Eclipse.

Unique Bella, a daughter of Tapit, raced four times in 2018, winning three. She won two Grade 1 races. The knocks on Unique Bella are the fact that she didn’t win a race outside of California and that competition she faced beat wasn’t what Abel Tasman beat. More on that in a bit. Unique Bella also did not win at a distance over 8 1/2 furlongs, and her season ended in late July.

However, Unique Bella was consistent, as her only loss was at Oaklawn when she stumbled leaving the gate but managed to be second. As far as her season ending early, I don’t consider that a knock on her resume this year considering the competition for the Eclipse.

Abel Tasman raced five times in 2018, winning two. The knocks on Abel Tasman are obvious, as she failed to show up in three of her five starts, finishing off the board. Both of her wins were also Grade 1s with victories at nine furlongs.

Left behind in Abel Tasman’s wins were Elate and Unbridled Mo, the mare that defeated Unique Bella in her Apple Blossom Handicap defeat. Abel Tasman defeated 17 graded stakes winners in her two wins.

This is a difficult vote, and I am still unsure of which way I will go. A dreadful performance in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff really hurt Abel Tasman, and many voters will opt for the more consistent Unique Bella. In my opinion, a vote for either is respectable.

But, ask yourself this question: In a race at nine furlongs on a neutral track when both are on top of their game, who proves best? I think I know the answer, and that is likely where I will side.

Given that, here is an updated look at HRN's Division Rankings:

Older Dirt Males

Accelerate – His Breeders’ Cup Classic win capped off a tremendous season, but he's not yet done. Before heading off to stud at Lane's End Farm, the Jan. 26 Pegasus World Cup remains. He's Horse of the Year-worthy.

Thunder Snow – The Dubai World Cup winner ran his heart out in the Classic, attending to an early fast pace and holding on well. Will stay in training to defend his Dubai crown.

City of Light – Ran one of the best races on Breeders’ Cup weekend in easily dispatching a strong Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile field. He's also Pegasus-bound.

Diversify – Never had a chance in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) with the fast early fractions he set. Future plans are undecided.

Yoshida – Ran a great race to just be edged for the show spot in the Classic. The future for this guy is indeed on the dirt.

Next 5: Gunnevera, Mind Your Biscuits, West Coast, Battle of Midway, Leofric

Older Dirt Females
1.  Abel Tasman – Never was herself in the last two starts of her career. The Eclipse will come down to the Top 2 here, and it's tough to separate them. Abel Tasman won two Grade 1 races on the season.

Unique Bella – Still in with a real shot at the Eclipse now. She also has two Grade 1 wins on the season, though she didn't face the quality of competition that Abel Tasman did in her victories.

Elate – A missed opportunity in 2018, but she will be back in 2019.

Wow Cat – Really stepped up her game in her last two starts. Her Breeders’ Cup Distaff was her best race to date. Should she stay in training, and she will be among the leaders of the division in 2019.

Blue Prize – Beaten a head for the show spot in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, she too ran one of her best career races in defeat.

Next 5: Salty, Martini Glass, Champagne Problems, La Force, Fault.


Justify – Now retired, he will win the Eclipse as the top 3-year-old male. Horse of the Year, once a foregone conclusion, is now a real debate after Accelerate's Breeders’ Cup Classic win.

Audible – Returned to the races with an impressive win on the Breeders’ Cup undercard. The feeling here is that this guy may end up the second-best of this crop. He's targeting the Pegasus.

McKinzie – It was too much too soon in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He's back on the work tab.

4.  Bravazo – Ran well in the Clark Handicap (G1) when beaten just a neck for the win. He'll launch a 4-year-old campaign in the Pegasus.

5.  Mendelssohn 
– Impressed me in the Classic with how he stayed on after setting a fast pace, but couldn't replicate his effort in the Cigar Mile (G1), also his career finale.

Next 5: Catholic Boy, Vino Rosso, Firenze Fire, Axelrod, World of Trouble.  

1.  Monomoy Girl – Her campaign was among the best a 3-year-old filly has had in the Eclipse Award era. She will be a Horse of the Year finalist, and in many years, she would win the award -- but not likely this year. Will be freshened now for a 2019 campaign, with the Apple Blossom her first major target

Midnight Bisou – If not for Monomoy Girl, this filly would have won the Eclipse. She capped off a strong season with a third-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

Dream Tree - She was an impressive Prioress (G2) winner off a long layoff but missed the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint due an epigllotic entrapment found after a recent workout. She's back on the work tab.

Wonder Gadot – The long season seemed to have finally caught up to this filly in her last few starts.

5.  Shamrock Rose – Won her last four starts, which includes beating older in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. Look for her to go around two turns next year.

Next 5: Eskimo Kisses, Red Ruby, Talk Veuve to Me, Blamed, Chocolate Martini.

Turf Males

1.  Stormy Liberal 
– Outside of the box thinking has to be considered here in a division that is a mess. He is the most deserving of the Eclipse in this division.

Robert Bruce – Did win two graded stakes this year, including a Grade 1. Beaten 18 lengths in the Turf while seventh.

Channel Maker – Similar resume as Robert Bruce with one Grade 1 and Grade 2 win. Beaten 42 lengths in the Breeders' Cup Turf while 11th.

Arklow – Only one Grade 3 win on the season, but at least he finished fourth in the Breeders' Cup Turf, still beaten over 11 lengths.

5.  Glorious Empire - Was dead last in the Breeders' Cup Turf, but was very good over the summer at Saratoga.

Next 5:  Divisidero, Hi Happy, Sadler's Joy, Heart to Heart, Catapult.

Turf Females
1.  Sistercharlie – Really showed a lot of heart as she ran down the European favorite, Wild Illusion, in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf. She should win the Eclipse based off her four Grade 1 wins this season.

2.  Enable – Became the first horse to pull of the Arc/Breeders’ Cup Turf double, as she was able to fend off the 3-year-old filly, Magical. I don't believe she will unseat Sistercharlie for the Eclipse.

3.  Fourstar Crook – Played second fiddle to Sistercharlie for most of the year and ran evenly to finish seventh in the Filly & Mare Turf.

A Raving Beauty– Ran her career-best race in the Filly & Mare Turf, beaten a length for the win.

Ultra Brat – Her last two starts have been solid. She was a hard-luck Diana (G1) loser when Sistercharlie changed leads late and surged at the wire.

Next 5: Daddy’s Lil Darling, Rushing Fall, Uni, Vasilika, Californiagoldrush.

Male Sprinters
1.  Roy H – He saved his best career race for this years’ Breeders’ Cup Sprint. After overpowering the field and winning the Sprint for the second year in a row, he will repeat as the Eclipse Award winner of this division.

Imperial Hint – Ran into a buzzsaw in Roy H in the sprint but still finished up well to be third.

3.  Whitmore – Breeders’ Cup Sprint runner-up was very consistent in 2018, only out of the exacta once in eight starts.

Promises Fulfilled – Set a ridiculously fast 21.25 opening quarter in the Sprint, but held on well to be fourth, beaten less than a length for third. He'll apparently freshen up now for 2019 but has been on the work tab.

5.  City of Light – The Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner belongs here as well based off his sprint resume.

Next 5: Mind Your Biscuits, X Y Jet, Limousine Liberal, Ransom the Moon, CZ Rocket.

Female Sprinters
1.  Marley’s Freedom – Beaten two heads and a neck in the Filly & Mare Sprint, she did enough for me in 2018 to win the Eclipse. Reaffirmed my thoughts in last weekend’s Grade 3 Go For Wand with a game win over a mile distance.

  Shamrock Rose – The Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare champ won her last four starts of the season.

Selcourt – Her first start since March in the Breeders’ Cup didn’t go as planned as she finished far back in 12th, beaten over 12 lengths.

Union Strike – Her win in the Gallant Bloom (G2) also flattered Marley’s Freedom, who beat her by five in her last start, the Ballerina.

Finley'sluckycharm – Ran an even race in the Filly & Mare Sprint to finish seventh.

Next 5:
 Skye Diamonds, Chalon, Lewis BayIvy Bell, Golden Mischief.

2-Year-Old Males
1.  Game Winner – The unbeaten Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner is bred to go long.

2.  Instagrand 
 So far has looked like a monster, winning his two starts by a combined 20 1/4 lengths. After a break, he's back at the barn and ready to train toward a 3-year-old campaign. 

Improbable – Impressive winner of the Street Sense on the Breeders’ Cup undercard. He will go next in Saturday's Los Alamitos Futurity (G1).

Code of Honor – Was scheduled to run in the Remsen (G2) last weekend, but trainer Shug McGaughey removed him from consideration and will now focus on an early 2019 return in Florida.

5.  Knicks Go –
 For the Breeders' Cup Juvenile runner-up, it was one race too many as he we was well beaten at Churchill in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2).

Next 5: Signalman, Complexity,
Maximus Mischief, Rowayton, Call Paul.

2-Year-Old Females

Jaywalk – Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner dominated in her last four starts.

Newspaperofrecord – The most impressive winner on Breeders’ Cup weekend, she could challenge the top one for the Eclipse. Looking ahead to next year. Trainer Chad Brown is thinking Royal Ascot is possible.

Bellafina  Failed as the favorite in the Juvenile Fillies but was still a dual Grade 1 winner in 2018.

Restless Rider – Beaten a nose as the odds on favorite in the Golden Rod. Previously was the runner-up to Jaywalk in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Vibrance – Hung tough in her third-place finish to Jaywalk, the best of any West Coast invader. Deserves this spot.

Next 5:
  Mother Mother, Chasing Yesterday, Sippican Harbor, Serengeti Empress, Positive Spirit.


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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.

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