HRN Division Rankings: All but two Eclipse races up for grabs

September 12, 2019 08:55am
HRN Division Rankings: All but two Eclipse races up for grabs
Photo: Rob Mauhar/NYRA

As we make the turn for home this season, the equine Eclipse Award races are still up for debate in all but two divisions.

Outside of Midnight Bisou (Older Dirt Female) and Bricks and Mortar (Male Turf Horse), the two runaway leaders in their respective ranks, there are questions to answer. In fact, t
wo divisions are so wide open that serval horses from each can still stake their claim for a championship if things fall the right way through the Breeders' Cup.

The Older Dirt Male division has been particularly chaotic since the start of the season with several at or near the top of this division. McKinzie, Gift Box, Thunder Snow, Vino Rosso, Seeking the Soul, Preservationist, Higher Power and Mitole have all been highly ranked at some point this season. 

A host of other highly regarded horses expected to contend for the Eclipse, Catholic Boy and Audible, come to mind. They haven’t raced much, and when they did, results weren't to expectations. 

In most divisional rankings, you’ll see Mitole, McKinzie, or Preservationist leading the way. Here, Mitole owns the No.1 spot. 

It’s simple really. Mitole defeated the deepest field this division has seen in 2019 in the Met Mile (G1). Among those behind him were McKinzie, the same McKinzie who defeated Perservationist in his very next start, the Whitney (G1), with ease. Preservationist then went on to win the Grade 1 Woodward (G1) in his last start, in the process, becoming racing’s latest recency bias horse.

What about earlier this season? Vino Rosso won the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1), narrowly defeating Gift Box. Remember Gift Box? Prior to the Gold Cup he defeated McKinzie in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1).

Don’t forget about Higher Power. He finished behind Vino Rosso and Gift Box in the aforementioned Gold Cup but went on to dominate the Pacific Classic (G1).

Only one of these horses own multiple Grade 1 wins this season, and that's Mitole. But do I believe that Mitole controls his own Eclipse destiny by winning the remainder of his races, which includes either the Breeders' Cup Sprint or Dirt Mile? Only sort of.

The horses I can see making the vote close if things proceed their way are McKinzie and Preservationist. Both are expected to go on to the Breeders’ Cup Classic. With a victory for either, that would be Mitole’s biggest challenger.

But what if Mitole doesn't win at the Breeders' Cup? And how about if neither McKinzie nor Preservationist win, either?

Another could sneak up to steal the Eclipse. Vino Rosso is scheduled to run next in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) for a second Grade 1 score this season. Higher Power will face some nice competition in Santa Anita Park's Awesome Again (G1) and could bolster his resume. Finally, should Thunder Snow make the trip here for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, I'm not sure whether the Dubai World Cup (G1) hero would get the votes -- but it would be an interesting, if not fitting end to the 2019 Older Dirt Male race.

What about the 3-year-old male division? My No. 1 is Maximum Security. He is the only sophomore male with multiple Grade 1 wins and has defeated the No. 2-ranked Code of Honor both times they have met this year. These two are certainly the front-runners for the Eclipse. But things could get interesting soon. 

Code of Honor is slated to go next against older horses Vino Rosso and Preservationist in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, while Maximum Security will face Preakness winner War of Will and up and comer Mr. Money in the Pennsylvania Derby (G1).

If these two don’t hold serve in their respective races it opens the door for the others. War of Will, despite his recent efforts, is not out of this mix. He is the Preakness winner, and a head-to-head victory over Maximum Security would move him up.

Mr. Money has won four Grade 3 stakes in a row, and a win in the Pennsylvania Derby would certainly put him in the mix.

Some will say Tacitus deserves a mention if he can come up big this fall. He hasn’t won since the Wood Memorial (G2), but he has run well in several placings since then. He will need the others to falter to have any chance.

What about Omaha Beach? Off since April, but the door is still cracked open for him. He is scheduled to come back in two weeks in Churchill Downs' Ack Ack (G2). Should he run well there and finish ahead of all of the 3-year-olds in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, he will gain support for the Eclipse.

Which horse controls his own destiny? Most certainly Maximum Security. If he comes up big in the Pennsylvania Derby for his third Grade 1 win, he should win the Eclipse. Whether he runs in the Breeders’ Cup will be irrelevant to me. His 2-0 record over Code of Honor matters.

Given that, here's a look at this week's rankings -- and how those other open divisions shape up.


Older Dirt Males

1.  
Mitole – Has the best resume of anyone in this division. The Breeders’ Cup is the long-range target with the Dirt Mile or Sprint as options.

2.  McKinzie 
– Scored the biggest win of his career in the Whitney (G1), which is enough for him to remain near the top of this division. Will likely go next in the Awesome Again on September 28 before an expected run in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

3.  Preservationist 
– Proved best in one of the weaker renewals of the Woodward, and before that was off the board in the Whitney to McKinzie and Vino Rosso. Did win the Suburban (G2) over Catholic Boy at the Breeders’ Cup Classic distance. Could go next in the Jockey Club Gold Cup on September 28.

4.  
Vino Rosso – The Gold Cup at Santa Anita winner will go back to 1 1/4 miles in the  Jockey Club Gold Cup in his next start.

5.  
Thunder Snow – Was scratched from the Whitney due to an elevated temperature. His Breeders’ Cup status is now in doubt.

Next 5: Higher Power, Yoshida, Seeking the Soul, Gift Box, Catalina Cruiser.


Older Dirt Females

1.  
Midnight Bisou  Had everything against her in the Personal Ensign, as she wasn’t supposed to like the nine furlongs and hadn't performed at Saratoga. But Midnight Bisou still gutted out a sixth straight win. With the Eclipse now most certainly secured, Horse of the Year is in play.

2.  
Elate – Her record against Midnight Bisou in 2019 fell to 0-3 in the Personal Ensign. She has a stranglehold on the second spot here. Connections may try males in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but the Spinster (G1) at Keeneland on October 6 will be her next start.

3.  
She’s a Julie – No match for the top two in the Personal Ensign, but she did edge Wow Cat for the show spot. 

4.  
Wow Cat  Disappointed with her fourth-place effort in the Personal Ensign, her first finish off the board effort in 14 career starts.

5.  Come Dancing
- Won her last sprinting in the Ballerina (G1), but prior to that was runner-up to Midnight Bisou in the Ogden Phipps (G1) on Belmont Day.

Next 5: Blue Prize, Secret Spice, Escape Clause, Ollie’s Candy, Golden Award.


3-Year-Old-Males

1.  
Maximum Security – The Travers Stakes (G1) results only enhanced his position here at the top. He doesn’t seem to get the respect he deserves, crossing the wire first in three Grade 1 events this season. The Pennsylvania Derby is next.

2.  Code of Honor 
– The Travers winner remains well behind the leader here in my eyes. Remember, he finished behind Maximum Security both times they met this year and will get just one chance to turn the tables. Will face older next out in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

3.  
Tacitus – Another nice showing in the Travers, but one that left him short of the winner's circle. This time with blinkers on, he showed much more early speed but didn’t have enough left to hold off Code of Honor.

4.  
Omaha Beach – Had some bad luck with the throat issues that caused him to scratch from the Derby and miss time. He will target the one-turn Ack Ack against older horses on Sept. 28 at Churchill Downs.

5.  
Game Winner – Ran as expected in his Los Alamitos Derby (G3) romp. He missed the Travers, and plans are up in the air.

Next 5: War of Will, Mucho Gusto, Sir Winston, Mr. Money, Country House


3-Year-Old-Females

1.  
Guarana  Passed another test in the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1), but she had to work for it in the stretch after setting a slow pace. With only three starts into her career, she already has two Grade 1 wins. The Cotillion (G1) at Parx on Sept. 21 is next.

2.  
Dunbar Road  With the Alabama (G1) and Mother Goose (G2) wins now on her resume, she could reel in Guarana for the top spot with a win in her next start over older. The Beldame (G2) on Sept. 28 at Belmont or the Spinster could be next.

3.  
Serengeti Empress – Was game in a runner-up finish when sprinting in the Test Stakes (G1). Previously, she was simply second best in the Acorn after going extremely fast early.

4.  
Point of Honor  Black-Eyed Susan (G2) winner finished well in her runner-up finish to Guarana in the CCA Oaks but was no match for Dunbar Road in the Alabama.

5.  
Covfefe 
 The Test Stakes winner has been super impressive this season in a deep class of female sprinters. She'll prep for the Breeders' Cup in Churchill Downs' Dogwood Stakes.

Next 5: 
Bellafina, Jaywalk, Street Band, Concrete Rose, Royal Charlotte. 


Turf Males

1.  
Bricks and Mortar – With the Eclipse now seemingly sewn up, Horse of the Year is within reach. What path his connections choose for the remainder of the year is still up for debate. Can he compete against Europe’s best at the Breeders' Cup Turf distance?

2.  
Annals of Time  He vaults all the way up to fourth after his Sword Dancer (G1) win over several in the Top 10. Does have some back class with his Hollywood Derby (G1) win back in 2016. 

3.  Sadler’s Joy
– It may be a stretch to rank him this high with only a runner-up effort this year, but the division has no other horse who has stepped forward beside the top two, and you know he'll show up in the big spots.

4.  
World of Trouble  It will take a monumental effort to defeat this guy sprinting on the lawn, but a setback has kept him from his last two scheduled starts.

5.  Raging Bull 
– Third to the No. 1 two back in the Manhattan (G1), and runner-up to the filly Got Stormy last out in the Fourstardave (G1), he will go this weekend in the Woodbine Mile (G1).

Next 5: Channel Cat, Channel Maker, Zulu Alpha, Arklow, Acclimate.


Turf Females

1.  
Sistercharlie  She's quite simply one of the best turf female stars we have seen in quite a long time. Her course record Beverly D. (G1) win was outstanding, and another Eclipse is in her sights with Belmont's Flower Bowl (G1) next.

2.  
Vasilika – Back in the winner’s circle in Del Mar's John Mabee Stakes (G2), she won for the fifth time in six starts this year, all in graded company. Before the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita, she may need to run out of town due to Jerry Hollendorfer's ban in California.

3.  
Rushing Fall – Was second best to Sistercharlie in the Diana, and I can’t envision her beating the No. 1 anytime soon. Will go next in the First Lady (G1) at Keeneland on October 5.

4.  
Magic Wand – Another runner-up finish to Bricks and Mortar, this time in the Arlington Million. Although she hasn’t won this season, she has finished runner-up to males three times.

5.  
Beau Recall – Has been solid this season, winning three of her five starts. Her Yellow Ribbon (G2) win over Vasilika marked her second graded stakes score.

Next 5: Got Stormy, Rymska, Homerique, Concrete Rose, Cambier Parc.


Male Sprinters

1.  
Mitole  Returned to the winner's circle in a big way when taking Saratoga's Forego (G1) in stakes-record time. He could get one more start before the Breeders' Cup or train straight into it.

2.  
World of Trouble  Previously, his Jaipur (G1) score made him a Grade 1 winner this year on turf and dirt. Now his Breeders’ Cup status is up in the air.

3.  
Imperial Hint – Clearly, Saratoga is his favorite track. Won the Vanderbilt for the second year in a row in track-record time for his first win of 2019. He’ll need consistency to advance in this division. He will now target the Vosburgh (G1) at Belmont Park on September 28.

4.  
Roy H – Since scratching from the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1), he's getting back into the swing of things and is expected to point straight to the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

5.  
Promises Fulfilled – Really packed it in after being pressed early by Mitole in the Forego when finishing in last place. Still one of the best sprinters in the country, he will look to regroup in Keeneland's Phoenix (G2).

Next 5: Catalina Cruiser, X Y Jet, Cistron, Firenze Fire, Giant Expectations.


Female Sprinters

1.  
Marley’s Freedom – A model of consistency the last two seasons, she was back in the winner's circle in the Great Lady M. Stakes (G2) at Los Alamitos. Will go next in the L.A. Woman Stakes (G3) on October 5 at Santa Anita.

2.  
Come Dancing – The Ballerina (G1) winner is 3-for-4 on the season with her only loss a runner-up finish to Midnight Bisou. She will travel cross country for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, and the Eclipse will likely come down to the top three who are ranked here.

3.  
Covfefe – This 3-year-old filly really stepped up her game in her last out Test Stakes win over the Kentucky Oaks winner, Serengeti Empress. The Breeders’ Cup will give her a chance at an Eclipse.

4.  
Spiced Perfection – The Madison (G1) winner finished fourth in the Humana Distaff (G1) at Churchill Downs in May but hasn’t raced since.

5.  
Late Night Pow Wow – At 12-for-14 on her career, she's entered for Monday's Presque Isle Masters, which has served nicely as a springboard to the Breeders' Cup in years past.

Next 5: Mia Mischief, Royal Charlotte, Break Even, Amy’s Challenge, Serengeti Empress.

 

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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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