Arlington Million

Barn Notes: Friday, July 4, 2014

| Churchill Downs Communications | 07/04/2014 #
  • War Dancer (inside) beats Suntracer (outside) in Louisville Handicap. (Reed Palmer photo)

In Today's Notes: McPeek Weighing Arlington Options for War Dancer; Emotional Kitten Possible for Modesty; Geroux and Graham Tied atop Jockey Standings; Secretariat Winner Admiral Kitten Set for Arlington Return

MCPEEK WEIGHING ARLINGTON OPTIONS FOR WAR DANCER

Diamond M Stable's War Dancer has long been a project for trainer Kenny McPeek. A son of dynamite young stallion War Front out of graded stakes-placed mare Deed I Do, the dark bay showed promise from day one for his connections and has progressed steadily throughout his career. Now, approaching the fifth race of his 4-year-old season, he is fresh off a hard-fought victory in the Grade III Louisville Handicap on May 24 and has taken aim on Million Preview Day at Arlington International Racecourse July 12. Which race, though, is still up for deliberation, according to McPeek.

"Right now there's no firm decision on whether he's going to the (Grade III $200,000 Arlington) Handicap or the (Grade III $150,000) Stars and Stripes," McPeek reported. "It might depend on field size or where we think he fits best. There are a lot of factors. Someone told me a long time ago that you shouldn't make a decision until you absolutely have to." One of those factors may presumably be the assigned weight under the handicap conditions of the Arlington Handicap.

Entries are drawn for the card, which features four graded stakes worth a total of $750,000, Wednesday. All four races serve as key preps for fixtures on the Arlington Million Day card on Aug. 16. The Arlington Handicap is at the 1¼-miles course and distance of the Grade I $1,000,000 Arlington Million, while the marathon Stars and Stripes serves as a 1½-miles prep for the 1 11/16-miles Listed $400,000 American St. Leger. All of the Million Day graded stakes and their respective preps are on Arlington's world-renowned turf course.

"(War Dancer) likes a mile and a half as much as a mile and a quarter. He won the Virginia Derby last year at a mile and a quarter and has proven he's a special horse in a lot of ways," McPeek said. "He's well bred and has won graded stakes as a 3- and 4-year-old. The only frustrating thing with him is that we haven't won with him on the dirt yet – especially being by War Front."

In his last two races, War Dancer has made a positive impression in marathon events. In the Grade II Elkhorn at Keeneland on April 25, he made what looked to be a decisively winning bid at the top of the stretch, only to be caught in the closing strides by Unitarian. Subsequently, in the aforementioned Louisville Handicap, he defeated the Stars and Stripes-bound duo of Suntracer and Moro Tap in a thrilling renewal of that event. Both races were at the 1½ miles.

"He's a rock-solid horse and does everything right," McPeek concluded. "For the most part, he's very easy to handle – a very talented individual."

EMOTIONAL KITTEN POSSIBLE FOR MODESTY

Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey's Emotional Kitten is currently possible for a run in next weekend's Grade III $200,000 Modesty Handicap for fillies and mares over a grassy 1 3/16 miles. The homebred daughter of Kitten's Joy recently was eighth in the Grade I Gamely Stakes at Santa Anita on May 26 and has two stakes wins to her credit, including the Grade II Mrs. Revere Stakes at Churchill Downs last November.

"We are looking at the Modesty for Emotional Kitten. It is definitely a good option," said Mark Partridge, manager of the Ramsey stable. "She likes firmer turf, which is why we have been running her in California. She loves the tracks out there, but we definitely are still looking at Arlington."

Currently based at Churchill Downs for trainer Wesley Ward, the chestnut filly worked a bullet six furlongs on June 29 in 1:16.60. In addition to the Mrs. Revere, she won the Hilltop Stakes at Pimlico last year and has twice placed in Grade I events – the American Oaks and Del Mar Oaks of 2013.

GEROUX AND GRAHAM TIED ATOP JOCKEY STANDINGS

Riders Florent Geroux and James Graham are locked in a tied battle at the top of the local jockey standings with 35 wins apiece through the card of Thursday July 3. Graham, who has consistently been a force in the standings at Arlington International Racecourse for many years – including leading in purses earned for three of the past five years – has 800 career victories at the Chicagoland oval, which is 10th all-time. The Irish-born beacon of consistency also landed the riding title for wins in 2011.

The younger Geroux, on the other hand, has been an improving sort year-by-year. In 2013, the native of Normandy, France, was third in the standings behind Emmanuel Esquivel and Graham. In 2014, the 27-year-old launched to an auspicious start at the Arlington meet, quickly establishing a lead and visibly riding with great confidence for a variety of trainers.

"With time comes that experience," said agent Doug Bredar. "Two years ago we were convinced he was going to have a great summer and then he unfortunately broke his collarbone. That's racing, but we have definitely recovered. His hands are very good, he gets horses of all kinds to relax and they almost all close for him. If there's one thing I've seen him visibly improve upon it's his overall strength. He's developed a very strong left and right whip to him."

With such ambidextrous technical talents, in addition to his aforementioned poise, Geroux has definitely received the support of numerous local horsemen. "With higher positions in the standings and him riding well, you get better business and greater opportunities," Bredar explained.

"I would say that going to the Fair Grounds instead of going to Hawthorne this winter opened up some doors for us," Bredar continued. "We made our presence felt and people started realizing he could ride. Even though there was a grass course issue at the track, we still managed to win 30 races. People started paying attention.

"In the same way, even though we didn't do that great at Keeneland this Spring, it was a similar effect. We shook a lot of hands and met a lot of people. We didn't have the most successful meet, but we certainly met new owners and trainers who are now giving us a shot. That's made a huge difference for him. Hopefully we can keep it up and win the meet," Bredar concluded.

Geroux and Graham head into the weekend with filled dance cards. By the end of the Independence Day Friday, though, Geroux will have eight chances to Graham's four to retake his lead at the top of the colony.

SECRETARIAT WINNER ADMIRAL KITTEN SET FOR ARLINGTON RETURN

Grade I winner Admiral Kitten, who impressively annexed the Grade I Secretariat Stakes on Arlington Million Day last year, looks to return to the locale of his finest performance in the Grade III Arlington Handicap next week at Arlington International Racecourse. The Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey homebred son of Kitten's Joy has raced six times since the Secretariat, including two Grade I placings – in the Jamaica Handicap at Belmont and the Hollywood Derby at Hollywood Park – and a win in the Grade III John B. Connolly Turf Cup at Sam Houston.

"He's doing just fine right now," trainer Mike Maker reported. "The Arlington Handicap is next for him and we look forward to it. Physically he looks the same as last year, but he's probably down a notch (in competition) this year. Last year he was a Grade I horse as a 3-year-old and this year he's more of a Grade II or Grade III horse. Obviously he won the Secretariat at the same distance and loves the track there." The Arlington Handicap – at a mile and a quarter on the Arlington grass – is at the same course and distance as his Secretariat victory.

Ramsey stable manager Mark Partridge echoed Maker's sentiments. "He hasn't come back to form yet, but when a 3-year-old turns four, it's definitely hard," he explained. "We'll start him in the Arlington Handicap and hopefully a good performance will earn him a spot in the Arlington Million gate with (stablemate and defending Million champion) Real Solution."

Real Solution, who is exiting a grand win in the Grade I Manhattan at Belmont Park on June 7, is training well at his Belmont base with conditioner Chad Brown, according to Partridge. "Real Solution will train up the race. It's only five or six weeks away and there really isn't anything else for him in the meantime. We would have loved to have had (multiple Grade I winner) Big Blue Kitten in the Arlington Million, too, but he won't be ready for a race until later in the year. He just came back into serious training."