HRN Division Rankings: Midnight Bisou's time to shine in Azeri Stakes?

By Chip Gehrke
March 14, 2019 01:55pm

Oaklawn Park will hold the spotlight this weekend as several important races run, with those worth watching extending beyond the split divisions of the Rebel Stakes (G2) that include many of my top-ranked 3-year-old males.

A race that would have received much more attention on most other weekends is the Azeri Stakes (G2) for older females, which came up exceedingly strong, especially for a six-horse field.

Much has been expected of
Elate, but it has been nearly 18 months since she went back to back in Grade 1 company. The daughter of Medaglia d'Oro has run only three times since due to various setbacks. She went postward as the favorite in the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Distaff but was off the board. Last year she ran only twice due to various physical issues.

Elate is healthy now and seems ready for a full campaign. The Azeri is by no means an easy assignment, however, and Elate may not even be the favorite.

Midnight Bisou
has had an outstanding career marked by tremendous consistency. Never off the board in 12 starts, she raced in the shadow of Monomoy Girl last year. A winner of five graded stakes in her 3-year-old season, she made her first start this year in late January a winning one, but off at 1-5, she had to work for the neck victory in the Houston Ladies Classic (G3). With a race under her belt, she is my choice to win this event.

This isn’t just a two-horse race, as there is a champion also entered. Last year’s Eclipse and Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint winner,
Shamrock Rose, will attempt to stretch out to 1 1/16 miles  after disappointing in her first start of the year when sprinting at Gulfstream in late January. This seems like a tall assignment for her.

Eskimo Kisses
is another from the 3-year-old filly class of last year. She was last seen in the Spinster (G1) where she finished seventh. But she won the Alabama (G1) at Saratoga last summer, defeating Midnight Bisou, among others.

It’s still early in the season, but the older female division looks like it could be the toughest of all. There are several others who have yet to make their first start this year, including the clear No. 1, Monomoy Girl.

Given that, here's a look at all of this week's division rankings.

Older Dirt Males

McKinzie – The three-time Grade 1 winner will reportedly skip Dubai and wait for the rescheduled Santa Anita Handicap (G1) early next month.

Seeking the Soul – The runner-up in the Pegasus World Cup will try another World Cup in his next start as he joins several other U.S based older horses in the Dubai race next month.

Battle of Midway – The sudden loss of this horse stunned the racing world.

Catholic Boy– A major player on the dirt or turf. His connections will have many options this year. He posted his only work so far this year in January.

Bravazo – Fourth in the Pegasus, he will miss the Dubai World Cup trip due to a setback requiring surgery. Look for him later this year.

Next 5: Gunnevera, Leofric, Diversify, Coal Front, Prince Lucky.

Older Dirt Females

1.  Monomoy Girl 
– The Eclipse Award winner had a historic campaign last year, and there appears to be a wide gap between her and the others going into her 4-year-old season with the Apple Blossom (G1) at Oaklawn possible as a next race spot.

Midnight Bisou – With her first start a winning one this year, she will now tackle Elate this weekend in the Azeri.

Wow Cat – Really stepped up her game in her last two starts, with her Breeders’ Cup Distaff run the best to date. A South American import, she showed vast improvement in each of her four races in this country last year. I'm expecting more strides forward.

Blue Prize – Has posted several works already this year nearing her comeback race. 

Elate – Will make her first start of 2019 this weekend, and it will not be easy as she faces off against a trio of other Grade 1 winners.

Next 5: Chocolate Martini, Blamed, Champagne Problems, Eskimo Kisses, La Force, Red Ruby.


Game Winner – The unbeaten Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner will make his much-anticipated 3-year-old debut this weekend in the weaker of the split division Rebel (G2) at Oaklawn Park.

Improbable – The other unbeaten Baffert trained Kentucky Derby hopeful, this guy will have to really work for a win. He drew the outside in the other division of the Rebel, and Galilean is just to his inside.

War of Will – The bandwagon is growing after the Risen Star (G2), his third win from as many starts on the dirt. The Louisiana Derby (G2) is next.

4.  Code of Honor -  
Always highly regarded, he finally put it all together to win the Fountain of Youth (G2).

Galilean – Feel like the Cal-bred is the real deal, and I would not be surprised in the least if defeats Improbable and the others in his division of the Rebel.

Next 8:
 Instagrand, Bourbon War, Vekoma, Mucho Gusto, Signalman, Gunmetal Gray, Country House, Harvey Wallbanger.


Jaywalk – It's not the first time a 2-year-old champion has come back the next year and flopped first out as this filly did in the Davona Dale (G1). She gets one free pass before dropping.

Newspaperofrecord – Unbeaten on the grass, the expectations are very high for her this year. She will make her first start of 2019 in the Edgewood (G3) on the first Friday in May going 1 1/16 miles. If all goes well, she could also head to Royal Ascot.

Bellafina  Has put her Breeders’ Cup defeat behind her with two graded stakes scores already this year. The Santa Anita Oaks (G1) should be her next race.

Serengeti Empress – Sensational in her 3-year-old debut as she dominated the Rachel Alexandra (G2) by a geared down four plus lengths.

Enaya Alrabb – Ranked high here after narrowly missing to Bellafina. She would have been tough to beat had the Santa Ysabel (G3) run as scheduled last Sunday.

Next 5:
  Restless Rider, Chasing Yesterday, Feedback, It’sjustanillusion, Chocolate Kisses.

Turf Males

Bricks and Mortar – When healthy, the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) winner is good. There's a chance he could appear again on March 23 in the Muniz Memorial at the Fairgrounds.

Stormy Liberal – In his most recent start, the Eclipse Award winner stumbled turning for home, causing him to lose his action but was caught late at the wire. He remains on course, however, for a Dubai World Cup night start.

Catholic Boy – Was solid last year in his two starts on the grass, winning the Pennine Ridge (G3) and Belmont Derby (G1). He could run on multiple surfaces in 2019.

Glorious Empire – The Eclipse finalist for this division in 2018, he has won four of his last five starts. His only loss was a poor effort in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

Catapult – The Breeders’ Cup Mile runner-up didn’t get the trip his connections envisioned over a soggy turf course in the Pegasus.

Next 5: Zula Appha, Channel Maker, Synchrony, Robert Bruce, Delta Prince.

Turf Females

Sistercharlie – The champ will be back in 2019, and it will take multiple losses for her to be unseated from this spot. I see a wide gap to the rest. 

Vasilika – Already with two graded wins in 2019, she has turned into a real star, winning 11 of her 13 starts the last two seasons. The Royal Heroine (G2) on April 6 at Santa Anita could be next, and a trip to Churchill Downs for a race on Kentucky Derby weekend remains possible.

Rushing Fall – The hype surrounding this one going into her 3-year-old year was similar to what we saw with Newspaperofrecord. Hasn’t quite lived up to it, mostly because she hasn’t run enough.

Newspaperofrecord – Yes, she is only a 3-year-old, but she looks like she could truly be any kind.

Uni– She capped off an abbreviated unbeaten 2018 campaign with a win in the Matriarch (G1) over a strong field. Will stay in training for 2019.

Next 5: Rymska, Hawksmoor, Competitionofideas,
 Daddy Is a Legend, Precieuse.

Male Sprinters

Roy H – The Eclipse Award winner looked better than ever in his 2019 debut, cruising in the Palos Verdes Stakes (G2). The Dubai trip is next for the Golden Shaheen (G1).

Whitmore – Breeders’ Cup Sprint runner-up made his first start of 2019 a winning one, easily handling four others in the Hot Springs Stakes at Oaklawn. He will go next in the Count Fleet Sprint Stakes (G3) on April 13.

Promises Fulfilled – Will train up to his first of the year, the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) on March 30, when he will face off against several other U.S. based sprinters.

X Y Jet – Narrowly missed in Dubai twice, but will get another chance for the win later this month. Won his prep by more than seven lengths, beating some nice horses in a Gulfstream Park allowance.

5.  Mitole – 
The feeling here is that before seasons end, this guy will get the chance to prove himself as the best dirt sprinter in the world. Easily won his first start since Preakness weekend last year.

Next 5: Imperial Hint, World of Trouble, Coal Front, Limousine Liberal, Patternrecognition.

Female Sprinters

Marley’s Freedom – Dominated a very good field in her 2019 debut, winning the Santa Monica (G2). With a gap to No. 2 in this division, she may stretch out next.

Dream Pauline – Easily took care of business in her first start this year, the Hurricane Bertie (G3). Champion Shamrock Rose was among those left her in wake.

Selcourt – Maybe not be as good as last year, but on her best day is near the top of this division.

Shamrock Rose – The Eclipse and Breeders’ Cup winner came up empty in her first start this year, beaten more than six lengths by Dream Pauline. She will stretch out and run this weekend in the Azeri.

Late Night Pow Wow – This West Virginia-bred has won 11 of 12 career starts and is already 2-for-2 in 2019. Her latest was a win in the Barbara Fritchie (G3), defeating Grade 1 winner Spiced Perfection, among others.

Next 5: Dream Tree, Spiced Perfection, Mopotism, Stonesintheroad, Spring Lily.


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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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