Gehrke: Mitole leads mid-season Eclipse Award winners

June 12, 2019 10:28am

With the conclusion of the Belmont Stakes, thoroughbred racing has reached the unofficial halfway point of its season, and it’s time to hand out some mid-season awards.

When voting for the year-end Eclipse Awards, I take into consideration the entire season, not just the Breeders' Cup. The same line of thinking was applied here.

With that, let’s get started.

Male Sprinter

This would have made for a tough call a little over a month ago, but exiting Belmont Stakes weekend it’s clear.
Mitole has blossomed into racing’s brightest star, and after his second straight Grade 1 win in the star-studded Met Mile (G1), he merits the nod here. Overall, Mitole is 4-for-4 so far in 2019. An honorable mention goes to World of Trouble. He sports the same record along with Grade 1 wins on the dirt (Carter) and Turf (Jaipur). Maybe we'll see those two meet down the line.

Female Sprinter

This was toughest of all the divisions to figure out a current leader. There are a couple of 3-year-old fillies in
Break Even and Covfefe who may have a say by Breeders’ Cup time, but they don’t have the credentials for the mid-season awards. The two major Grade 1 sprints for females, the Humana Distaff (G1) at Churchill and the Madison (G1) at Keeneland, were won by Mia Mischief and Spiced Perfection. This season, Mia Mischief is 3: 2-1-0 and Spiced Perfection 3: 1-1-0.

Marley's Freedom, who was robbed of an Eclipse in 2018, won her first start this year in the Santa Monica (G2), then finished second stretching out in the Beholder Mile (G1). Last out she finished a closing second to Mia Mischief in the aforementioned Humana Distaff. I don’t fault anyone for choosing any of these three, but I'm siding with the recent winner Mia Mischief over Marley's Freedom in a photo finish.

Turf Female

Vasilika has had an outstanding 2019 season thus far. Another who's 4-for-4, all her victories are in graded company with a last out win in Santa Anita Park's Gamely Stakes (G1). Yes, Rushing Fall has come back nicely this season, winning her first two starts, both Grade 1 events. When comparing the two, the barometer is Rymska. Vasilika beat her by one length, the same winning margin that Rushing Fall had over Rymska in the Jenny Wiley (G1) at Keeneland. With the stronger resume so far, Vasilka merits the mid-season Eclipse.

Turf Male

In an easy decision, 
Bricks and Mortar wins this in a landslide. It would take a collapse of epic proportions to deny this son of Giant’s Causeway the year-end Eclipse as well. He galloped home in the Manhattan (G1) last Saturday to go 4-for-4 with other victories including the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) and Turf Classic (G1) at Churchill Downs. It will be interesting to see how this guy stacks up when he is forced to go longer -- if he goes longer. Chad Brown has said Bricks and Mortar isn't a 1 1/2-mile horse. Could he skip the Breeders' Cup?

Three-Year-Old Female

This division became a bit tougher to decide after the events of last weekend.
Guarana was certainly impressive in the Acorn (G1) when handily defeating Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Empress over a fast racetrack at Belmont Park. But that was Guarana’s first stakes win and only her second career start. I need to see her do it again. Serengeti Empress has two stakes wins this year, and one of those was the biggest in this division, the aforementioned Oaks. Her resume wins out here for the mid-season award, setting up an interesting second half of the year for the real deal.

Three-Year-Old Male

I think most can agree that
Maximum Security should win this. He hasn’t been beaten across the wire in a race in his career. Although he was rightfully disqualified in the Kentucky Derby, he still showed he was the best in this division with that performance. After running a 22.31-second opening quarter in the slop, he could have been done. But this talented front-runner slowed things down in the middle part of the race and had enough in reserve late. Prior to the first Saturday in May he also easily won the Florida Derby (G1). War of Will and Omaha Beach get honorable mentions here.

Older Dirt Female

Midnight Bisou has been outstanding in 2019, and really, for her entire career. Also perfect on the season, her last two victories came in the division's biggest first half spots, the Apple Blossom (G1) and Ogden Phipps (G1). For fans of Monomoy Girl, who has yet to start this season, returning in the fall with one race before the Breeder’s Cup may not be enough to garner the Eclipse, even if she were to win both. Having started her season in late January, Midnight Bisou could have this division wrapped up before the fall if she continues stacking up wins -- and rightfully so.

Older Dirt Male

Mitole owns this spot, too. His win over an all-star field in the Met Mile sealed it for him. Left in his Met Mile wake were
McKinzie and the two-time Dubai World Cup (G1) winner Thunder Snow. No other older dirt male has more than one Grade 1 win this year. It will be interesting to see what the connections of Mitole choose to do next. His pedigree suggests stretching out a bit more may be no problem. To garner Horse of the Year consideration, however, I don't think he needs to go longer. The sprint division is strong, and he also owns a "Win and You're In" spot in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.

Mid-season Horse of the Year

For me, Mitole narrowly gets this over Bricks and Mortar. My reasoning is simple. I believe Bricks and Mortar is beating up on a historically weak division. The best American-based horses could do in last falls’s Breeders’ Cup Turf was fourth and seventh. Finishing seventh was Arlington Million winner Robert Bruce, beaten by 18 lengths. Robert Bruce finished second to Bricks and Mortar in last weekend’s Manhattan, beaten a length and a half. Mitole just won a stellar edition of the Met Mile, the best race of the year on paper, defeating five Grade 1 winners. His previous races this year were equally as spectacular.


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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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