October 20, 2021

State of the Eclipse races: Swiss Skydiver clinches, other divisions coming into focus

Swiss Skydiver
Swiss Skydiver (right) overcomes Kentucky Derby winner, Authentic (left), to win the Preakness Stakes (Jim Duley/Maryland Jockey Club)

Although we still have another Saturday of preps as well as the Breeders’ Cup itself five weeks from now, the state of several Eclipse Award races came into much sharper focus this past weekend. Indeed, we’re ready to make a call in one of them.

RELATED: Few championships up for debate after Breeders’ Cup decides most

3-year-old filly

Make no mistake, Swiss Skydiver‘s historic victory against males in the Preakness (G1) on Saturday was an absolute game-changer. Regardless of what happens in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1), a race connections are leaning more towards than the Classic (G1), it’s hard to envision a scenario where she’s denied this year’s division title.

Not only was her performance in the Preakness a huge plus for Swiss Skydiver, but so was the subsequent loss in the Spinster (G1) by Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Shedaresthedevil, who will reportedly skip the Breeders’ Cup altogether. They split decisions in two earlier meetings this year.

Older dirt female

What appeared this summer to be one of the marquee, star-studded divisions of the season has quickly disintegrated into a race for Monomoy Girl to lose. The 3-year-old champion of 2018 has looked as good as ever in a pair of stakes wins this season, and her path to a second title has become clearer following the retirement of Midnight Bisou, a head-shaking loss by Dunbar Road in the Beldame (G2), and the fact no West Coast-based older mare has emerged as a serious title contender.

3-year-old male

Even if Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Authentic had gutted out a win in the Preakness, this race was most likely going to be decided in a rematch with Belmont, Travers (G1), and Florida Derby (G1) hero Tiz the Law in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. With Authentic safely turning back any other potential candidates to this crown at Pimlico, this two-horse race likely comes down to who out-finishes whom at Keeneland on Nov. 7.

Older dirt male

The Classic also figures to decide the champion of this division as well, with Improbable and Tom’s d’Etat the leading candidates now. Maximum Security is still in the mix despite a humbling performance in the Awesome Again (G1), but his stock seems to be falling because of that.

Improbable and Tom’s d’Etat have split their two prior decisions this year, though Improbable capitalized in part on Tom’s d’Etat’s unfortunate stumble at the start of the Whitney (G1). Nonetheless, Improbable has been brilliant in three coast-to-coast victories this term and looms the potential favorite.

Turf female

This fascinating division has as its pro tem leader Rushing Fall, who’s beaten all comers so far and owns a sparkling record over the Keeneland turf. That might be enough to ensure slight favoritism in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf (G1), but this division is wide open.

Mean Mary was 3-for-3 before finishing a neck behind Rushing Fall in the Diana (G1). Canadian star Starship Jubilee just beat the boys in the Woodbine Mile (G1), while reigning champion Uni is on course for a Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) title defense after producing her best effort of the season in last weekend’s First Lady (G1).

This analysis doesn’t even account for European stars on track to coming over for the Breeders’ Cup, including Coolmore’s superstar 3-year-old Love.

Turf male

With wet conditions putting a literal and figurative damper on many of the leading events in France and England this fall, European participation at this year’s Breeders’ Cup might be stronger and deeper than usual.

However, the home forces will give it their best shots in the two leading turf events. In the Mile, Digital Age, Factor This, Ivar, Halladay, and Mo Forza are all interesting candidates.

The domestic contingent for the Turf (G1) seems less formidable. Channel Maker is well exposed, while United, though he narrowly missed to Bricks and Mortar last year when the Eclipse was already decided, is unproven outside California. Zulu Alpha, despite a setback over saturated ground at Kentucky Downs last time, still holds some appeal, but a big effort is needed to get his candidacy back on track. Although nominated to the upcoming Sycamore (G3), Zulu Alpha is reportedly training up to the Turf.

Male Sprinter

Like the older dirt female division, this race has begun falling apart following the retirements of horses like Volatile and, to a lesser extent, Win Win Win. The Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) is also likely to detract from the Sprint field with horses like Vekoma and Complexity a seemingly better fit there than in a 6-furlong dash.

While Volatile could still back into a championship with a chaotic Sprint result, the recent emergence of the versatile Diamond Oops and the 3-year-old Yaupon still makes this division one to watch.

Female Sprinter

Unusually, the Filly and Mare Sprint (G1) could prove one of the most fascinating events of Breeders’ Cup weekend. Title implications will undoubtedly be on the line when 3-year-olds such as Gamine and Frank’s Rockette square off against the older Bell’s the One and Serengeti Empress. Gamine might just be faster than these, but we’ll have to let them run the race to find out.

Steeplechaser

No division in racing has been more negatively impacted by the novel coronavirus pandemic than this one. More than half of the Grade 1 stakes in the division were or have been canceled this year, and there are literally no graded stakes left to be run at the handful of hunt meets that will go forward this month and next.

In the limited number of graded events run over the summer, the gray Moscato cruised in the Temple Gwathmey (G3) and captured the A.P. Smithwick (G1) before running third in the New York Turf Writers Cup (G1) behind Rashaan, whom he had easily beaten in the Temple Gwathmey.

If Moscato is not judged by the electorate the most accomplished jumper of an abbreviated 2020 season, something will be seriously wrong.