Division Rankings: Saudi Cup, Dubai pivotal in the Eclipse race

February 12, 2020 10:31am

Two decades ago, the most important races on the calendar that impacted the Older Dirt Male division were all based in the United States. The season ramped up with the Santa Anita Handicap, and it ended with the Breeders’ Cup Classic. In between were a several major events that attracted the stars of the division. 

With the advent of the Dubai World Cup in 1996, U.S. racing began a shift in priorities. The newcomer to the calendar was much richer than the Big 'Cap and began to erode its importance. Additionally, the events that followed, given the difficulty of traveling to Dubai, were impacted.

The dilemma for the Eclipse Awards voter also began. How to treat U.S.-based winners of races in Dubai, especially when they were no-shows domestically for the first half of the season?

With the $20 million Saudi Cup (Feb. 29) also on the 2020 calendar a month before the Dubai World Cup (March 28), the dynamic will continue to change.

One thing I feel confident in stating: The Saudi Cup and support behind it will be here to stay, just like the Dubai World Cup. In the U.S., the format of the Pegasus World Cup continues to change, putting it on more shaky ground.

How, as an Eclipse voter, should I weigh the two lucrative international races? There are no hard and fast rules for voting on champions. But at some point they may need to be considered -- for starters, with eligibility. 

In Canada, the year-end
Sovereign Awards avoid situations where a horse from another country comes in, wins one big race and steals a championship as we've seen in the U.S. No horse age 3 or older is eligible for a Canadian title unless they have run at least three times in Canada. Further, 2-year-olds must have had at least two starts in Canada.

That sort of rule may soon make more sense in the U.S., too. Should a top American-based horse go for the Saudi Cup-Dubai World Cup double, there's a possibility it wouldn't be seen here until late summer. Also, a four or five-race campaign could become normal given current day training practices and long breaks between starts.

Let me be clear: I am in favor of the idea of the Saudi Cup and Dubai World Cup. The image of Cigar crossing the finish line in the inaugural Dubai World Cup was right up there one of the best moments in racing history, for several reasons. Now, the Saudi Cup will carve out its own place.

Likewise, these events should have an impact on year-end ballots, held in the same sort of regard as the Breeders' Cup Classic given the expected depth of the fields. In reality, the Dubai World Cup field is sometimes stronger than the Classic, but given its March spot on the calendar, it isn't weighed as heavily.

That thinking needs to disappear. The Eclipse Awards should honor a full season.

So at the same time, what about horses who stay in the U.S. and win the major events now skipped by other “name” stars? What if a horse rattles off victories in the Santa Anita Handicap, Oaklawn Handicap and Gold Cup at Santa Anita to open its season? These are the questions voters will have to ask themselves when it comes time to cast the votes.

It does feel as though early season racing has never been held in the same regard as later in the year, though the presence of the Saudi Cup and Dubai World Cup are poised to change that. There is too much recency bias when voting time arrives each December. 
These upcoming events are every bit as important as the major Grade 1s in the fall.

With that, here's a look at the updated division rankings:

Older Dirt Males

1.  Maximum Security - The newly minted Champion 3-Year-Old Male inherits top spot in this division as he prepares for the Saudi Cup. If things go well in Saudi Arabia, he will likely stay in the Middle East for Dubai.

McKinzie – The Breeders' Cup Classic runner-up will open his 5-year-old season in the Saudi Cup, too, and may try a double with Dubai.

3.  Mucho Gusto - He r
an a big race in a watered down Pegasus World Cup (G1) to earn a trip to the Saudi Cup and, possibly, Dubai.

4.  Code of Honor - This i
nconsistent colt did win the Travers Stakes (G1) last season but was up the track in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Will likely get his chance this year against Maximum Security, with whom he is 0-2 against so far.

Gift Box - Won the San Antonio Stakes (G2) in late December for the second year in a row. Will stay stateside and point to the Santa Anita Handicap (G1).

Next 5: 
Tom's d'Etat, Spun to Run, Tacitus, Sir Winston, Game Winner, Midcourt.

Older Dirt Females

Midnight Bisou  The Eclipse winner in this division last year, she was sensational while winning seven graded stakes. Will be in very tough for her 2020 debut in the Saudi Cup against males.

2.  Lady Apple 
- Started the season off with a win in the Houston Ladies Classic (G3) while defeating her rivals from last season, Serengeti Empress and Street Band.

3.  Serengeti Empress - 
She followed her strong third-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Distaff by just fading from the pace in the Houston Ladies Classic. A real threat around two turns and also sprinting.

4.  Dunbar Road - 
Last year's Alabama Stakes (G1) winner, excelling over various distances, should contend for the top spot this season.

Come Dancing – Was great sprinting last year but also showed she could run longer, as evidenced by her runner-up finish to Midnight Bisou in the Ogden Phipps (G1) on Belmont day. 

Next 5:  Covfefe, Guarana, Street Band, Ollie's Candy, Monomoy Girl.


1.  Tiz the Law - Nice win in the Holy Bull (G3) made him the early Kentucky Derby favorite. He won't run again until the Florida Derby (G1) in late March.

2.  Nadal - I don't normally move a horse this high after his first stakes win, but I really feel like this guy is for real. He should relish the longer distances after the seven-furlong San Vicente (G2).

3.  Sole Volante 
- Loved his win in the Sam F. Davis (G3) over Independence Hall, but I feel like his best distances will be between 8-9 furlongs, not all of 1 1/4 miles.

Independence Hall - I wasn't as impressed with his runner-up effort in Tampa as others were. Will he like added ground?

Thousand Words - Unbeaten in three starts, he took the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita in his 3-year-old debut.

Next 5: Dennis' Moment, Eight Rings, 
Anneau d'Or, Storm the Court, Maxfield.


British Idiom - Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and Eclipse winner will get tested by Finite off the bench in Fair Grounds' Rachel Alexandra (G2). 

2.  Bast - Has won two graded stakes since her third-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. A loss by British Idiom this weekend moves Bast to the top spot.

3.  Donna Veloce - She has been a close runner-up in two Grade 1 races in just three career starts. Will go next in the Santa Ysabel (G3) at Santa Anita on March 8.

4.  Finite - Won the Golden Rod (G2) at age 2 and started her 3-year-old season off with a win at the Fair Grounds in the Silverbulletday Stakes. Will get a shot this weekend against the No. 1 British Idiom. 
Lifetime, she is 4-for-6 with two runner-up finishes.

5.  Venetian Harbor
 - Won last weekend's Las Virgenes (G2) by over nine lengths in her stakes debut.

Next 5: Taraz, Tonalist's Shape, Perfect Alibi, Wicked Whisper, 
Frank's Rockette, Inspiressa.

Turf Males

1.  Zulu Alpha - Now age 7, he ran the biggest race of his career in the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1). Prior to that effort he was fourth in the Breeders' Cup Turf.

Annals of Time - Winner of the Sword Dancer (G1) last year, he could be the one to beat in this division for Bricks and Mortar's connections if he stays healthy.

United - Almost pulled off a shocking upset in the Breeders' Cup Turf, losing to the eventual Horse of the Year Bricks and Mortar by a head. Won the San Marcos (G2) to get his season underway. Dubai could be next.

Sadler’s Joy – This closer won the Red Smith (G3) last fall and most recently was sixth in the Pegasus World Cup Turf.

Arklow - Winner of the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) at Belmont Park last fall, he disappointed in the Pegasus World Cup Turf when fifth.

Next 5: Instilled Regard, Bowies Hero, Mo Forza, Sacred Life, Dot Matrix.

Turf Females

– Not much separates this one and Sistercharlie from holding this top spot. Her first big target of 2020 looks like the Just a Game (G1) on Belmont Day. 

Sistercharlie  Has only lost one race since June of 2018, in last November's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. Great that her connections decided to run her another season.

3.  Got Stormy
 – Simply didn't have it when finishing fourth, beaten two lengths in the Endeavour Stakes (G3) at Tampa Bay. Still, she has done enough to maintain this spot for now.

Starship Jubilee– In the best form of her life 36 starts in to her career. Won the Suwannee River (G3) to open 2-for-2 this season. Overall, she has won four of her last five starts.

Magic Wand – Globetrotting mare again ran another big race in the Pegasus World Cup Turf, finishing second, and is in for the Saudi Cup to mark her dirt debut.

Next 5:  Rushing Fall, C
ambier Parc, Beau Recall, Juliet Foxtrot, Mirth.

Male Sprinters

1.  Imperial Hint – Handed Mitole his only loss of 2019. He could start his season off in Saudi Arabia in the new sprint stakes and has the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) as the main target.

2.  Shancelot 
Breeders' Cup Sprint runner-up seems like he could be the one to beat in this division. He could take over No. 1 with a victory in Saudi Arabia.

Firenze Fire
 – Has won two stakes since fifth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint effort. Can be counted on to give his best every time.

4.  Mind Control Given a break after taking the Allen Jerkins (G1) at age 3, he kicked things off in 2020 with a win in the Toboggan Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct.

5.  Whitmore -
 Kicked his season off with a runner-up effort in the King Cotton Stakes at Oaklawn.

Next 5:  Cistron, Bobby's Wicked One, Roy H,
 Share the Upside, Engage.

Female Sprinters

Covfefe – Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint winner is back in training. Won the Female Sprint Eclipse and the 3-Year-Old-Female Eclipse.

Come Dancing – After a freshening she will look to come back in the Humana Distaff (G1) at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby day.

3.  Serengeti Empress
- We know she can sprint, as she was runner-up to Covfefe last summer in the Test (G1) at seven furlongs.

4.  Mia Mischief
- Grade 1 winner in 2019, she is on the work tab gearing up for her seasonal debut. Handed Covfefe her only loss of 2019.

5.  Break Even
- Was on the same trajectory as Covfefe last year until injury cut short her season. Six for seven lifetime and back on the work tab.

Next 5: Pink Sands, 
Special Relativity, Spiced Perfection, Royal Charlotte, Hotshot Anna.


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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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