HRN Division Rankings: Whitney could yield a new leader

July 31, 2019 12:00pm

In the wake of Mitole’s defeat in last week’s Alfred G Vanderbilt Stakes (G1), the opportunity is there in Saturday's Grade 1, $1 million Whitney for a new name to take over atop the older male division.

No fewer than four of the top six older males on dirt are slated to run nine furlongs at Saratoga, chief among them my No. 2 and 3 horses, McKinzie and Thunder Snow.

Last week, I focused on early Horse of the Year scenarios, with one revolving around Mitole running the table. With a defeat, however, his chances have severely diminished. So who could replace him, entering the discussion leaving the Whitney?

McKinzie will go off as the favorite, and rightfully so. Some believe he was the best in the Met Mile, where he finished a runner-up to Mitole while not able to find a way through traffic in the lane at Belmont Park. Before that, he won Churchill Downs' Alysheba (G2) and posted narrow runner-up efforts in a pair of graded races back home in California.

A win Saturday will most certainly move McKinzie to the head of his division, and with some help from others this fall, an outside shot at Horse of the Year would exist.

Thunder Snow, meanwhile, could continue revamping his image stateside going back to his failed effort in the Kentucky Derby. 
He is a unique horse, the likes of which we haven’t before seen come out of Dubai to this country. In four previous trips, Thunder Snow was mostly successful, and a near miss in the Met Mile proves the two-time Dubai World Cup winner belongs. He should also only look better going longer distances.

Vino Rosso, ranked No. 5 on my list, captured his first Grade 1 event in his last start, the Gold Cup at Santa Anita. I think the jury is still out on whether he belongs with the aforementioned McKinize and Thunder Snow, but this weekend that verdict will arrive.

Last to discuss is Preservationist, a new shooter if there could ever be one at age 6. He has only started eight times and just once in stakes but made that effort count, dominating the Suburban (G2) last time out in an easy defeat of Catholic Boy. The feeling here, however, is that Catholic Boy is not as good on the dirt as he is on the turf, and that Preservationist will again face a class test in the Whitney.

Given that, here's a look at this week's rankings:

Older Dirt Males

– Super impressive in the Met Mile (G1) but came up short in the Vanderbilt (G1). Despite the defeat, he will hold on to this spot in this division for now, but could be passed after this weekend’s Whitney.

2.  McKinzie 
– Came running in the Met Mile, but it wasn’t quite enough. Will make his next start back around two turns this weekend in Whitney.

Thunder Snow – Ran a remarkable race in his first start since Dubai. He's the real deal and a serious player with longer U.S. races ahead.

Seeking the Soul – I would like to see some consistency from the Stephen Foster (G2) winner. Will travel west for his next start in the August 17 Pacific Classic (G1) at Del Mar.

Vino Rosso – Finally broke through to win the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1) at the Breeders' Cup Classic distance and over the track where the Classic runs Nov. 2. It makes him a contender here.

Next 5: Preservationist, Quip, Catholic Boy, Gift Box, Catalina Cruiser.

Older Dirt Females

Midnight Bisou  A facile victory in the Molly Pitcher (G3) on the Haskell undercard only continued her run of dominance in 2019.

Elate – With no Midnight Bisou to worry about, she found the winner's circle in the Fleur De Lis (G2) and dominated the Delaware Handicap (G2). They could meet again at Saratoga.

Blue Prize – A runner-up to Elate at Churchill Downs, she then finished third to the same mare in the Delaware Handicap.

Wow Cat - Breeder’s Cup Distaff runner-up finally made her 2019 debut in the Shuvee (G3), where she finished runner-up again. I feel like she should take a huge step forward in her next start and be a factor in this division in the fall.

She’s a Julie – Just edged out for the place in the Fleur De Lis by Blue Prize but well clear of the rest. She was then third in the Shuvee.

Next 5: Come Dancing, Secret Spice, Escape Clause, Ollie’s Candy, Golden Award.


Maximum Security – He doesn’t seem to get the respect he deserves and is clearly the leader of this division after his Haskell (G1) score. Crossing the wire first in three Grade 1 events this season, he has shown to be a very game horse in the stretch, proving difficult to get past.

Game Winner – Ran as expected in his Los Alamitos Derby (G3) romp. Will go next in the Travers as a possible favorite. He has a chance to take over leadership of this division from there.

Tacitus – Rough start that may have cost him against Tax in the Jim Dandy (G2), but part of being good in this sport is breaking. Will be among the favorites in the Travers.

Omaha Beach – Had some bad luck with the throat issues that caused him to scratch from the Derby and miss time. He's back to breezing and could return in Del Mar's Aug. 25 Shared Belief Stakes.

5.  War of Will
– No real excuses in his off the board finish in the Jim Dandy. As the most traveled of the top tier 3-year-olds, he may get a rest and point to the Pennsylvania Derby (G1).

Next 6: Tax, Code of Honor, Sir Winston, Country House, Mucho Gusto.


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. Only three starts into her career, she already has two Grade 1 wins.

Serengeti Empress – She was simply second best in the Acorn but went extremely fast early. The loaded Test Stakes (G1) at Saratoga will be her next start this weekend.

Bellafina  Her fifth-place finish in the Oaks was disappointing for her connections. Nine furlongs may be a bit too far for the daughter of Quality Road. Will also go in the Test Stakes.

Lady Apple – Got the job done with a half-length win in the Iowa Oaks (G3). The Fantasy Stakes (G3) winner also gave a good account of herself in the Kentucky Oaks with her third-place finish. 

Dunbar Road – The Mother Goose (G2) winner looked good in victory, but I question who she really defeated. Will likely go next in the Alabama (G1) at Saratoga.

Next 6: Point of Honor, 
Champagne Anyone, Break Even, Jaywalk, Concrete Rose, Covfeve

Turf Males

Bricks and Mortar – Has about as big of a lead in a division as you can with a last out Manhattan (G1) win, but how good is he? Magic Wand, who finished second to him in the Pegasus, finished far back of the leaders in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes in England. Will appear next in the Arlington Million (G1).

Catholic Boy – Although he may focus more on dirt races now, I believe he is better on the grass. Will we see him on it again, though? His connections seem intent on keeping him on the dirt for the Woodward (G1).

Robert Bruce  Ran a great race when second to “Bricks” in the Manhattan, with a rematch up next at Arlington Park.

World of Trouble
It will take a monumental effort to defeat this guy on the lawn. Runs again this weekend in the Troy Stakes (G3) sprinting 5 1/2 furlongs on grass at Saratoga.

Channel Maker – The Man o’ War (G1) winner had every chance in the Bowling Green (G2) last weekend but couldn’t get it done when finishing fourth, beaten less than a length.

Next 5: Arklow, Channel Cat, Almanaar, Bowie’s Hero, Delta Prince.

Turf Females

Sistercharlie - 
Eight months removed from her last start, the reigning Eclipse Award winner from this division was outstanding in her Diana (G1) win over Rushing Fall and Homerique. She's rapidly moving up the list of the best U.S.-based females this division has had in many years. Likely goes next in Arlington’s Beverly D. (G1).

Vasilika – The wins keep piling up, with her latest score in the Gamely Stakes (G1). It’s hard to envision her losing to her California rivals in this form. Likely to go in Saturday's Yellow Ribbon Handicap (G2) at Del Mar.

Rushing Fall – Was second best to Sistercharlie in the Diana, and can’t envision her beating the No. 1 anytime soon.

Magic Wand – Did well running against the boys here in the U.S, but just finished far back of Enable and Crystal Ocean in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes in England.

Uni – Finally made her 2019 debut in the Perfect Sting Stakes and came through with her fifth straight win at Belmont Park. Prior to that, she was last seen defeating Vasilika last fall at Del Mar.

Next 5: Rymska, Homerique, Beau Recall, Concrete Rose, I’m So Fancy.

Male Sprinters

Mitole – Don’t let the post-Vanderbilt overreaction fool you. He is still the best one-turn dirt horse in the world. Stuck on a dead rail, first race back after a grueling Met Mile, and an opponent who happens to freak once a year on the Saratoga surface. If he was going to lose a sprint race, last weekend was it.

World of Trouble – Jaipur (G1) score made him a Grade 1 winner this year on turf and dirt.

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.

Promises Fulfilled – Got some class relief in the John A Nerud (G2), and he came through with an easy win. Back on the work tab, the August 24 Forego (G1) at Saratoga will be next.

Roy H
 – Since scratching from the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1), he's getting back into the swing of things and is expected to point to the Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G1) before another title defense in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

Next 5: X Y Jet, Bobby’s Wicked One, Shancelot, Whitmore, Catalina Cruiser.

Female Sprinters

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. Next, it's back to Saratoga for a defense of the Ballerina (G1).

Mia Mischief – Upset last week in in the Honorable Miss (G2) when finishing fourth, she won the Humana Distaff (G1) earlier this season.

Spiced Perfection – The Madison (G1) winner finished fourth in the Humana Distaff (G1) at Churchill Downs.

Break Even – The 3-year-old is still unbeaten after her sixth straight win in Saratoga’s Coronation Cup on the grass. Will likely go next in the Test (G1) at seven furlongs on Aug. 3. 

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. Hasn’t been in action since.

Next 5:, Amy’s Challenge, Late Night Pow Wow, Covfefe, Anonymity, Royal Charlotte.


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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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