May 22, 2019

The state of Eclipse Award races three months out from Breeders’ Cup

Unique Bella and jockey Mike Smith speed to victory in the Beholder Mile (G1) at Santa Anita Park on Saturday, June 2, 2018 © Benoit Photo

We’re about three months away from the Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs, a weekend that should decide most divisional championships that are still undecided at that time.

As usual, early August is far too early to speculate on either of the juvenile races. However, each week brings ever more clarity on other divisions. Here’s how we see things at this juncture.

Three-Year-Old Male: Justify, of course, clinched this honor with his Triple Crown coronation on June 9.

Monomoy Girl strolled clear of Midnight Bisou in the Coaching Club American Oaks (Photo by NYRA/Coglianese/Chelsea Durand)

Three-Year-Old Filly: Monomoy Girl obviously has a big (perhaps insurmountable) lead with consecutive wins in the Rachel Alexandra (G2), Ashland (G1), Kentucky Oaks (G1), Acorn (G1), and Coaching Club American Oaks (G1).

Dethroning her is made less easy by her likely absence from the August 18 Alabama (G1). Would-be rivals for the honor will at most have two more opportunities to do so, presumably the Cotillion (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1). For a rival like Midnight Bisou, who has already lost to Monomoy Girl twice this year, she’d have to win out.

Wonder Gadot has won the first two legs of the Canadian Triple Crown, both restricted to Canadian-breds, and is bound for the Travers (G1), a race no filly has won in more than a century. A mild upset by her there would undoubtedly boost her credentials, but not enough to overtake Monomoy Girl unless she later makes amends for her Kentucky Oaks loss.

If she were to win the Alabama in the same style she won the Delaware Oaks (G3) and Black-Eyed Susan (G2), Red Ruby would become an interesting contender for the championship. She’d almost certainly accumulate fewer top-level wins than Monomoy Girl by season’s end, but hasn’t yet met the divisional leader and thus hasn’t lost to her. If or when they do meet, her slate will be clean.

Diversify was a romping winner of the Suburban (Chelsea Durand/Adam Coglianese Photography)

Older Dirt Male: Assuming this division doesn’t turn into a complete mess and a plurality of the electorate feel compelled to reward Gun Runner for his Pegasus World Cup (G1) swan song…

The two coasts have their respective leaders. In New York, Diversify has won the Suburban (G2) and Whitney (G1) decisively, while Accelerate has been atop the West Coast group for some time following wins in the Santa Anita H. (G1) and Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1). However, neither have enjoyed success in their limited forays outside their home base. That should raise red flags on Breeders’ Cup Day at Churchill regardless of what they do between now and then.

Absent since back-to-back seconds in the Pegasus and Dubai World Cup (G1), West Coast probably needs to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic plus whatever he happens to prep in. Thunder Snow, his Dubai conqueror, will definitely enter the discussion should he win the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) as a prelude to the Classic.

Given his form earlier in the season, Stephen Foster H. (G1) winner Pavel probably can’t afford another loss the rest of the way, while San Diego H. (G2) winner Catalina Cruiser perhaps has the raw talent to make a late bid this fall. Mile specialists typically don’t factor for this award, but if it’s still a muddle with all of the above, Bee Jersey would be a player if he takes the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1).

Older Dirt Female: Unique Bella, Abel Tasman, and Elate are the biggest guns of the division and it would be a surprise if someone other those three prevails.

Whether Unique Bella stretches out for the 1 1/8-mile Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) or tries to make amends for her loss in last year’s seven-furlong Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) presumably will impact her chances at this award. She has not yet raced beyond 1 1/16 miles and has suggested at times that she might be vulnerable the longer she goes.

Abel Tasman and Elate might meet for the first time this season in the Personal Ensign (G1) on August 25, so their own interim pecking order could be determined on that date.

Sistercharlie and Fourstar Crook finished one-two in the Jenny Wiley (Photo courtesy Coady Photography)

Turf Male and Turf Female: The action this Saturday at Arlington and Saratoga will go a long ways toward determining whether any domestic hopes will have the necessary talent to block any would-be invader from Europe swooping and claiming either prize on Breeders’ Cup weekend.

Spring Quality, Oscar Performance, and Almanaar will look to enhance their credentials in the Arlington Million (G1), while Heart to Heart and Yoshida will attempt to do the same in the Fourstardave H. (G1).

Given he’s trained three of the past six champion turf mares, it’s no surprise Chad Brown holds the cards in the division again this season. Sistercharlie and Fourstar Crook head a strong domestic contingent in the Beverly D. (G1) on Saturday with divisional leadership on the line. A Raving Beauty, not in action this weekend, is another leading contender for Brown.

Male Sprinter and Female Sprinter: Imperial Hint was most impressive in the recent Alfred G. Vanderbilt (G1), but this division is absolutely loaded with other championship aspirants. In alphabetical order: City of Light, Limousine Liberal, Mind Your Biscuits, Ransom the Moon, Roy H, X Y Jet, and Whitmore. This one won’t be ironed out for a while.

As alluded to above, the female division really depends on what Unique Bella does. Lewis Bay, Finley’sluckycharm, Selcourt, and American Gal are others in the discussion at present.

Steeplechase: With three Grade 1s — the New York Turf Writers Cup, Lonesome Glory, and Grand National — left to be run, Iroquois (G1) winner Zanjabeel is probably the lukewarm favorite given his consistency this season.