HRN Division Rankings: Justify silences remaining doubters

July 05, 2018 06:52pm

Count me among the observers who questioned Justify’s chances in the Belmont Stakes. As with the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes before, I didn’t pick him to win.

Horse racing is rich in history, with t
he very core of handicapping looking at the past to determine what's likely happen in future races. Pick a horse who just made his first start 69 days before the Kentucky Derby? This would seem farfetched to many longtime observers of this sport just a few months ago.

Justify winning the Derby was a revelation. The blistering early fractions didn’t faze him, and when he crossed the wire it was clear that this was no ordinary horse. But could a colt making just his fifth career start in 83 days come back on two weeks' rest and win the Preakness? Again, I had to see it to believe it, but he carried the day when he clearly did not have is "A" game on display.

By the time the Belmont rolled around Justify had smashed many of the preconceived theories for what a horse with his resume could do. Again, I convinced myself that this would be a tall order. Could he win at 12 furlongs on the grandest of stages with foundation he so lacked? Could he win after seemingly slowing down in his previous two races?

Stubbornly, I didn’t think he could. Again, I had to see it to believe it.

Overcoming a sixth start in only 112 days, Justify proved in the Belmont that he is indeed an extraordinary horse, one whose name belongs with the other 12 Triple Crown winners. The ultimate throwback, Justify thrives on racing like the horses many of us grew up watching.

Rarely do I use the term great when describing a horse, and never prematurely. It seems nowadays the word is thrown around much, and often well before a horse has earned the label on the track. Justify certainly merits it.

Racing fans new and old are very lucky right now. Think of all we have witnessed just in the last 10 years. All-time great horses in Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, Beholder, Songbird, American Phaorah and now Justify have all graced the tracks around this country.

As far as where Justify ranks on the historical scale of Triple Crown winners? The jury is still out, and we will likely never know. Horses like Affirmed and Seattle Slew furthered or confirmed their true greatness at age 4. With American Pharoah the precedent, we aren't likely to see Justify run as an older horse. After Seattle Slew’s Triple Crown sweep, he wasn’t much discussed as a great horse until he put his fully developed self on display later in his career.

For now, Justify has the distinction of being the best 3-year-old to have raced since Triple Crown winner American Pharoah three years ago. If he can complete his season with another couple of wins that includes the Breeders’ Cup Classic, he will go out on equal terms with his predecessor.

Following the Belmont Stakes, plus high-level action in many other classes, here's an updated look at HRN's Division Rankings:

Older Dirt Males

Bee Jersey, Mind Your Biscuits and Hoppertunity made the most noise over the weekend. We have two sprinters ranked in the Top 5 this week, which says a lot about this division right now. Mind Your Biscuits is possible to try to stretch out more in the Whitney or Woodward later this summer. Saturday's Grade 1 Stephen Foster looms as a proving ground.

Accelerate – He dominated a good field in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita while posting a 111 Beyer. Ten furlongs appears to be his best distance, making him one of the early favorites for the Breeders’ Cup Classic this fall.

City of Light – The distance finally appears to have caught up with this guy with his third-place finish in the Gold Cup. Still, he was only beaten 5 ½ lengths.

Backyard Heaven – Will go postward as the favorite in the Stephen Foster. A win will move this guy up to No. 2.

West Coast – Still winless on the year, he's getting some time after a runner-up Dubai World Cup finish. Will point to a late summer and fall campaign.

5.  Mind Your Biscuits
– This horse always shows up and runs his race. He ran huge in the Met Mile when losing by a nose to Bee Jersey, his first since Dubai.

Next 5: Army Mule, Bee Jersey, Dr.Dorr, Irish War Cry, Hoppertunity.

Older Dirt Females

The Abel Tasman of 2017 made her presence felt in last weekend’s Grade 1 Ogden Phipps as she overpowered the field to win by 7 ½ lengths. Left in her wake was Unbridled Mo, who was coming off a win over our previous No. 1, Unique Bella, in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn. Abel Tasman has now won Grade 1 races at age 2, 3 and 4, from coast to coast at five tracks.

Unique Bella and Abel Tasman have drawn much debate between their fans, and both have a case to be No. 1 right now. However, when putting together these rankings, I have to consider who is likeliest to earn the year-end Eclipse Award in close calls. The Breeders’ Cup is at Churchill Downs, at nine furlongs, and around two turns. Abel Tasman is the filly I would choose between these two under those circumstances.

Abel Tasman – Reclaimed this spot with a huge win in New York, and will likely be racing east of the Mississippi for the remainder of the season.

Unique Bella – Very impressive winner on her home track at Santa Anita in the Beholder Mile. She is now 2-for-3 on the season. Nine furlongs and a different racetrack will be the big questions for her to answer. 

Salty – Finally was able to defeat her rival, Abel Tasman, in the Grade 1 La Troienne. Missed the Ogden Phipps due to injury.

Fault – Injured while training to run in the grade 1 Ogden Phipps, her career is likely over but it is not life threatening. 

Elate – Will miss a planned season debut this weekend in the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis Handicap.

Next 5: Unbridled Mo, Paradise Woods, Martini Glass, Lockdown, La Force.


Justify is a deserving Triple Crown winner, and the only questions to be answered in this division are who finishes closest behind him.

Justify – Became the second Triple Crown winner in four years.

Good Magic The reigning 2-year-old champion will next target the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational, trainer Chad Brown said.

Audible – Very good in the Kentucky Derby, his connections passed on the Belmont. Look forward to seeing him back on the racetrack.

4.  Gronkowski
– Surprised nearly everyone with his strong run in the Belmont. Brown is thinking Travers later this summer.

Magnum Moon – A return to dry conditions will serve him well in his next start. He is already back on the work tab.

Next 5: Vino Rosso, McKinzie, Bravazo, Hofburg, Bolt d’Oro.  


Monomoy Girl again showed us again why she will likely be the Eclipse Award winner of this division. Its only June but she has a nearly insurmountable lead in this division. Another win will lock up the Eclipse, regardless of what happens this fall.

Monomoy Girl – Disposed of two Grade 1 winners with ease in the Acorn. Will have two more starts before the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, likely the Coaching Club American Oaks and then the Cotillion.

Midnight Bisou – Came with her run in the stretch as the Oaks favorite but it was not enough, as she had to settle for third, beaten little more than four lengths. Will likely race next in the Grade 1 Mother Goose on June 30.

3.  Road to Victory
– Unbeaten filly returned over the weekend to make her 2018 debut a winning one in the listed Alywow stakes at Woodbine. Going back to last year, she handed Monomoy Girl her only loss.

Wonder Gadot – Finished second in the Woodbine Oaks over the weekend. The Queens Plate is next for this filly, who has claimed the runner-up spot in her last three starts.

Dream Tree – This unbeaten filly topped Midnight Bisou twice last year and was primed for a rematch this year before she went to the sidelines.

Next 5: Eskimo Kisses, Caledonia Road, Mia Mischief, My Miss Lilly, Moonshine Memories.

Turf Males

The entire 13-horse field in the Grade 1 Manhattan was separated by five lengths at the finish this past weekend.

World Approval – The 2017 champ's next race will be Saturday's Wise Dan at Churchill Downs. His hold on this spot is in jeopardy.

Heart to Heart – His attempt at three straight Grade 1 wins fell just short in the Shoemaker Mile on the West Coast.

Hi Happy – Ran a very good third in the Manhattan with a trip that was probably not to his liking. The most consistent so far in this division in 2018. 

Beach Patrol – Finished last of 13 in the Manhattan, he gets one free pass.

Yoshida – The talent has always been there for this Japanese-bred, and the win over Beach Patrol on Derby weekend may be the start of something new. A trip to Royal Ascot is next.

Next 5: Itsinthepost, Sadler’s Joy, Spring Quality, Synchrony, Almanaar.

Turf Females

Fourstar Crook, Sistercharlie and A Raving Beauty have taken control of this division and separated themselves with the others. A Raving Beauty was especially impressive in the Grade 1 Just a Game Stakes that she won after expending a bit of energy with her reluctance to enter the gate.

In the New York Stakes, we had two horses who were intent on trying to run away from the field early as they opened up about 24 lengths on the rest of the field down the backstretch. Sistercharlie was steadied and blocked but still came with her run to just miss catching her rival, Fourstar Crook.

Sistercharlie – Still deserves to be in this spot despite the narrow defeat.

Fourstar Crook – Had just enough to hold off Sistercharlie in the New York Stakes.

3.  A Raving Beauty
 – German-bred is the real deal. Wins her first Grade 1 in impressive fashion in the Just a Game Stakes, and she's now 2-for-2 in the U.S.

Rushing Fall – Suffered her first loss, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort as she battled with Daddy is a Legend for much of the Grade 3 Edgewood on Derby weekend. She put that one away in the stretch, only to have Toinette sweep on by at the wire to win by a neck.

5. Proctor’s Ledge
– Validated her upset win at Churchill Downs with a nice run that just missed in the Just a Game Stakes.

Next 5: 
Daddys Lil Darling, Dona Bruja, Lull, Off Limits, Cambodia.

Male Sprinters

Imperial Hint returned to his winning ways in the True North, holding off late closer Whitmore for the win. Mind Your Biscuits ran his heart out again in the Met Mile. The sprint division is loaded in 2018.

Roy H – Had every chance in the stretch to pass X Y Jet but just could not muster enough late punch in the Dubai Golden Shaheen. The 2017 Eclipse Award winner is not taken down from this spot because of one loss. He has earned his place here for at least another race. His next spot isn't yet determined, but he's in training.

X Y Jet – Ran a superb race in Dubai after being headed for the lead at the outset. He will make his next start June 30 in the Grade 3 Smile Sprint at Gulfstream.

3.  Mind Your Biscuits 
– Ran a huge race in the Met Mile to miss by a nose. The Belmont Sprint Championship could be next.

4.  Imperial Hint
– Last year’s Breeders’ Cup runner-up got his much-needed win in the True North. Now 10 for 16 on his career, he will go next in the Grade 2 Belmont Sprint Championship on July 7 or at Saratoga in the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap.

City of Light – Tried his hardest in the Gold Cup, but the distance may have proven to be too much. Still one of the top sprinters in the U.S.

Next 5: Army Mule, Limousine Liberal, Whitmore, American Anthem, Limousine Liberal.

Female Sprinters

  Selcourt – The clear leader of the female sprinter division until someone beats her, but even then she could still maintain the top spot.

2.  Lewis Bay
– Has quietly been moving up the ranks with solid races, but finally broke through in a big way when dominating a good field in the Grade 3 Bed o' Roses. The Grade 2 Honorable Miss Handicap July 25 will be her next start, with the Grade 1 Ballerina later in the summer her major goal.

  American Gal– Never really showed any interested after breaking poorly in the Bed o' Roses when last of five. Still one of the top female sprinters around.

  Finley’sluckycharm – The Humana Distaff marked her first loss at Churchill down after six straight wins there.

Skye Diamonds – Didn’t run well at all in the Humana Distaff but also may not have cared for the track condition. She is still among the best in this division.

Next 5: Ivy Bell, Ami’s Mesa, Marley’s Freedom, Miss Sunset, Curlin's Approval.


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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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