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Barn Notes: Sunday, May 18, 2014

| Churchill Downs Communications | 05/18/2014 #
  • Fordubai (outside) is eyeing the Hanshin Cup for his next start. (Four Footed Fotos)

 

In Today’s Notes: Hanshin Cup Could Be a Hearty Affair; Moment in Dixie and La Tia Lead Arlington Matron Noms; Futurity Winner Solitary Ranger Leads Arlington Classic Possibles

HANSHIN CUP COULD BE A HEARTY AFFAIR
Next Saturday’s Grade III $150,000 Hanshin Cup could produce a solid field, if nominations are of any indication.  The 62nd running of one-turn mile event at Arlington International Racecourse has attracted 36 nominees, with many talented stakes winners intending to run.  The possible field is led by William Stiritz’s defending champion Hogy, who recently returned to form in grand style on May 11 – defeating the talented Saint Leon in a six-furlong main course allowance race in a sharp 1:09.86.

Lothenbach Stable’s Mister Marti Gras, a very good second in last year’s event, is looking to turn the tables in 2014.  The 2011 Grade III Washington Park Handicap winner is looking for an about-face in form, after two subpar showings so far this year.  Another looking to return to form with past success at the track is Jim Tafel’s multiple stakes winner Fordubai, a two-time course and distance winner at Arlington.  Last year, the son of E Dubai was a determined winner of the Straight Line Stakes on Arlington Million Day over Mongolian Stable’s fellow Hanshin nominee (and intended runner) Mongolian Saturday. Last out, Fordubai was a discouraged fourth – beaten over 20 lengths – by Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice.

Another course specialist hoping to turn things around this year is Swifty Farm’s Pataky Kid.  Trained by Tom Proctor, the son of Rockport Harbor won the Coach Jimi Lee Stakes last July over the Arlington Polytrack at seven furlongs as a sophomore and the Grade III Arlington-Washington Futurity over the Hanshin course and distance in 2012 as a juvenile.  Last out, in the San Simeon – a downhill turf sprint at Santa Anita Park – he was a non-threatening seventh, but has every reason to return to form over what seems to be his favorite track. 

Grade I winner Joha adds some intrigue to the event for owner Wade Wacker and trainer Josh Flores (ex-assistant to Joha’s previous trainer Tom Albertrani).  The son of Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Johar has performed at the highest level in the past, but has been dull in his three 2014 starts, including a sixth in the Grade III Ben Ali Stakes at Keeneland, a nine-furlong Polytrack event. 

Third in the Ben Ali and a fellow Hanshin nominee is Richard Sherman’s Nikki’s Sandcastle.  The David Kassen-trained gelding, despite his seven years of age and 39 previous races, seems to be in the best form of his career.  Earlier this season, the emblazoned chestnut was a close fifth in the Grade I Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap and last year won the Grade II Fayette Stakes over nine Polytrack furlongs to cap off his 2013 season.

Another talented old-timer intending to run is 6-year-old Pass the Dice from the Wayne Catalano barn.  Unlike the aforementioned Nikki’s Sandcastle, his starts have been sparse over his career – managing only 10 – but they have included huge performances for the Gary and Mary West homebred.  The versatile horse worked lights-out on May 16, signaling his affection for the Arlington surface, in advance of his second start of 2014 after a solid runner-up season debut at Keeneland April 30.

MOMENT IN DIXIE AND LA TIA LEAD ARLINGTON MATRON NOMS
Recent Grade II Doubledogdare Stakes runner-up Moment in Dixie and multiple Illinois champion La Tia head the nominee list for the Grade III $150,000 Arlington Matron to be run on May 24 at Arlington International Racecourse.  The event is one complete circuit – nine furlongs – around the Chicagoland oval’s main course.  Moment in Dixie, a homebred of Darby Dan Farm’s Phillips Racing Partnership, has been a gradual project for respected trainer Jimmy Toner and is exiting one of the best performances of her career, just missing the win at the wire in the aforementioned Keeneland fixture.  From the last crop of famed sire Dixieland Band, she should be a force with which to be reckoned if entered. 

Hernandez Racing Club’s La Tia exits a sharp 2014 return, finishing second to the well regarded Every Way after setting a vicious pace in a stakes-quality allowance May 9.  The attractive dark bay mare is trained by Armando De La Cerda and has a win over the course and distance in the 2012 Grade III Arlington Oaks. 

While 2013 Arlington Oaks winner My Option is passing on the Matron to aim toward next month’s Grade III Chicago Handicap, G. Watts Humphrey’s runner-up Frivolous has been aiming toward it since her victorious 2014 debut at Keeneland last month.  A daughter of Empire Maker, Frivolous seems to flourish at nine furlongs and also appears to have turned the proverbial corner as she embarks on her 4-year-old season. 

Others worth noting who appear on their way to the Matron are I Dazzle – owned by the partnership of The Farm on 4, Brent Gasaway and trainer Mike Stidham – a tough turf mare who won the Red Camelia at Fair Grounds this season, Edward A. Cox, Jr.’s developing and lightly raced Naples Gold and Lothenbach Stable’s three-time 2014 stakes-placed Ambusher. 

FUTURITY WINNER SOLITARY RANGER HEADS ARLINGTON CLASSIC POSSIBLES
Susan Moulton’s 2013 Grade III Arlington-Washington Futurity winner Solitary Ranger leads the possibles for the Grade III $150,000 Arlington Classic on May 24 at 1 1/16-miles over Arlington International Racecourse’s world-renowned turf course.  The Wayne Catalano-trainee from the first crop of U S Ranger has won two of his four races this season – including the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes at Turfway Park – but was last seen finishing fifth in the Grade II Lexington Stakes at Keeneland.  While both of those races were on Polytrack, the smallish colt might appreciate a return to the grass, over which he won his only attempt. 

Joining Solitary Ranger in the list of nominees leaning toward running is Lothenbach Stable’s Ry’s the Man from the barn of Neil Pessin.  The homebred son of Officer has been consistent in his eight starts, including a runner-up finish in a sprint prep last out at Keeneland.  Also prepping in Kentucky was Suzanne Stable’s Chief Barker, a recent European import for locally based trainer Larry Rivelli.  The son of 2005 Champion European older horse Azamour won a minor stakes in England at Haydock Park last year and recently worked a very good six furlongs on the Arlington turf in 1:13.20 on May 12.  In his American debut, he ran a dull eighth in the Grade II American Turf Stakes at Churchill Downs after a lethargic break. 

The most compelling possible is easily the Mike Stidham-trained filly Istanford.  Owned by the partnership of Ike and Dawn Thrash and Janet and Sam Alley, the daughter of Istan won her debut in flamboyant style by five lengths over the Arlington lawn in August before going on to compete against the best of her generation in the Grade I Ashland Stakes earlier this year.  After experiments that indicated she may not be as effective on dirt or Polytrack, the front-running filly returned to form at Churchill Downs last out with a very good second in the grassy Edgewood Stakes.

Others worth noting who appear on their way to the Arlington Classic are Bourbon Lane Stable and Michael McMahon’s Laurel Futurity runner-up Tiger Bourbon, who has not raced since an allowance victory at Churchill in October, and Team Block and Thomas Fedro Sr.’s Afortable, a lightly raced recent winner at Keeneland who won his September debut at Arlington.