Road to the 2014 Million – Vol. 4: Wednesday, July 2, 2014
In this edition: Arlington Million XXXII: Niarchos Family Could Shine Again at Arlington; • Beverly D.: Thistle Bird Flies at The Curragh; Secretariat: Our Channel to Dial in on Arlington; American St. Leger: Big Win for Big Kick in San Juan Capistrano
ARLINGTON MILLION: NIARCHOS FAMILY COULD SHINE AGAIN AT ARLINGTON
The Niarchos Family has had its fair share of success on the Arlington International Racecourse grass – including a win in the 2002 Breeders' Cup Mile with Domedriver – and looks to return to that glory this year in the Grade I Arlington Million with Smoking Sun. An American-bred, French-trained and most recently Singapore-raced charge, Smoking Sun was recently a good second in the Group I Singapore Airlines International Cup at Kranji in May.
Earlier in the year, the middle distance specialist won the Group II Prix d'Harcourt and was a notable fourth behind dueling champions Cirrus Des Aigles and Treve in the Group I Prix Ganay. Both of those efforts came in April at Longchamp. The Million has long been on the Pascal Bary trainee's radar and the possibility grows progressively likely as we amble toward Aug. 16.
By American stallion Smart Strike, Smoking Sun would be decorated trainer Bary's second attempt at the Million. In 2009, Bary sent subsequent Dubai World Cup victor Gloria de Campeao to a ninth-place finish. The long history the Niarchos Family has with Arlington stretches back to the sixth running of the Million in 1986, where Maria Niarchos' Pennine Walk finished third behind Estrapade.
Final preparatory events for the Million will be coming in droves starting this weekend with the Group I Eclipse Stakes at Sandown in England and the Grade I United Nations at Monmouth Park. Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey's Charming Kitten looks to maintain his winning ways in the 1 3/8-miles U.N. after taking the inaugural Belmont Gold Cup last out. In his way will be none other than 2013 Million third-place finisher Side Glance, who is preparing for a possible return to Chicago with a good showing in New Jersey.
The Eclipse will feature a clash between Paul Smith's sophomore star and English Derby runner-up Kingston Hill against the likes of Andrew Lloyd Weber's star mare The Fugue, Saeed Manana's Group I 2000 Guineas victor Night of Thunder and Coolmore's multiple Grade I winner and multiple Group I-placed ex-patriot Verrazano. While the first two are unlikely to come Stateside, a good showing by Verrazano could conceivably lead to a return to America.
BEVERLY D.: THISTLE BIRD FLIES AT THE CURRAGH
Thistle Bird, whose connections have long considered the Grade I Beverly D. for their charge, finally broke through the Group I barrier this past weekend, annexing the Pretty Polly Stakes at The Curragh over Coolmore's well regarded Venus De Milo by 2¾ widening lengths. Managed carefully throughout her career, the 6-year-old daughter of George Strawbridge's brilliant miler Selkirk was only making her twentieth career start and third at top level.
Often racing against the best females in Europe, including Dank, Duntle and Gifted Girl, the bay mare may now have a chance to do what that trio did in 2013 and ship across the pond to attempt Grade I glory in America. Trainer Roger Charlton has indicated that the Beverly D. is definitely on her radar, as she not only appreciates fast ground, but has performed exceedingly well at left-handed courses – including back-to-back victories in the Group II Princess Elizabeth Stakes at Epsom. In 2013, Gifted Girl used a second behind Thistle Bird en route to a second in the Beverly D. Also possible for Thistle Bird are the Group I Prix Jean Romanet at Deauville in late August and Group I Nassau Stakes in early August, in which she finished second in 2013 while beating Group I winners Sky Lantern, Sajjhaa and Ambivalent.
Stateside, two quality fillies sprinted the Belmont Park stretch to easily best their rivals when Juddmonte Farm's Riposte and Richard Santulli's Tannery ran one-two in a formful renewal of the Grade II New York Handicap. The long-winded Riposte, a winner of the Group II Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot last year, was winning her first graded stakes below 1 3/8 miles. Unlike her victorious rival, Tannery has consistently been a force at distances closer to the Beverly D.'s 1 3/16 miles, winning the Grade I E. P. Taylor Stakes at Woodbine last year and finishing second in the Grade I Flower Bowl Invitational at Belmont – both at 1¼ miles.
Upcoming races to watch include the Grade III Modesty Handicap at the Beverly D.'s course and distance, as well as the Group II Kilboy Estates Stakes at The Curragh in Ireland. The latter was used by Dank in 2013 en route to Beverly D. glory and looks to be the target of highly regarded sophomore filly My Titania. The Modesty could include Juddmonte Farm's Group I winner and Grade I Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf runner-up Romantica – a daughter of champion and runaway Breeders' Cup winner Banks Hill – as well as Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey's multiple Grade I-placed Emotional Kitten. Locally based stakes horses Kepi, I O Ireland, Alette and Gulsary make for what could be a supremely competitive renewal of the event.
SECRETARIAT: OUR CHANNEL TO DIAL IN ON ARLINGTON
Abdulla al Monsoori's Our Channel will make the trans-Atlantic trip to Arlington International Racecourse to race in both the Grade III American Derby and Grade I Secretariat Stakes, with arrival plans set for Sunday July 6. A winner of two of five races, the son of Champion turf horse English Channel has raced three times on left-handed courses and was last seen finishing a tiring thirteenth in the Group I English Derby on June 7 after setting the pace through the 10-furlong mark.
A closer look at the William Haggas trainee's race at Epsom reveals a horse who could seriously take to American turf racing. Off sharply, the chestnut was aggressively pushed by Coolmore pacesetter (to eventual winner Australia) Kingfisher through honest fractions, cornered well on Epsom's sharp Tattenham Corner and kicked on to the best of his ability at the three-furlong marker down the long stretch. A son of multiple graded stakes winning dirt sprinter/miler filly Raw Gold (by Rahy), it is easy to see where he gets his pace and why he may be a perfect fit for Stateside racing scenarios.
In addition to Our Channel's aforementioned American Derby, the Grade I Belmont Derby Invitational remains the key race to watch this weekend. While it is less likely that Michael Buckley's Toast of New York will return to the States to race in the Secretariat in addition to the Belmont Derby, it is not completely out of the question. Secretariat nominees who could possibly come back in five weeks after a deserving performance include Glen Hill Farm's Global View, Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey's Bobby's Kitten, Phipps Stable's Mr. Speaker and Coolmore's bi-continental duo of the Todd Pletcher-trained Gala Award and the Aidan O'Brien-conditioned Adelaide.
Impressive on Wednesday afternoon was Mike Maker and F. Thomas Conway's Secretariat nominee General Jack, who sprinted away from a group of sophomores in the $200,000 Centaur Stakes at Indiana Grand. By Giant's Causeway out of talented stakes winner J'ray, General Jack seems to be quickly coming into his own for his connections. Maker also trains the chestnut who is now on a two-race winning streak that started with an eye-opening allowance victory at Churchill Downs June 6 – earning him favoritism in the Centaur.
AMERICAN ST. LEGER: BIG WIN FOR BIG KICK IN SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO
In years past, before the closing of Hollywood Park, the Grade II San Juan Capistrano – California's premier endurance race – was run in April at Santa Anita. This year, with the encapsulating of Hollywood Park's storied existence, Santa Anita moved the fixture to its newly minted Spring Meet at the end of June. Doing so consequently made the marathon an automatic race-to-watch for possible American St. Leger contestants.
Ernest Machowsky et al's Big Kick provided an entertaining renewal of the famed event – opening up a 10-length lead mid-race under Victor Espinoza before holding off a vigorous closing drive from Pablo Gomez's 7-10 favorite Quick Casablanca to score by 2¾ lengths. Trained by Mike Machowsky, the front-running son of Tiznow has been a slower developing type who seems to now be coming into his own with longer distances. His win on Sunday was his stakes debut and the 5-year-old's nineteenth career start.
Beaten favorite in the about-1¾ miles race Quick Casablanca was not disgraced in defeat. Closing well to the finish, the 2011 Chilean Horse of the Year is trained by veteran Ron McAnally, who has won five International Festival of Racing events – including three Arlington Millions. Quick Casablanca fits the bill of the type of horse McAnally would enjoy bringing to Chicago to attempt to be the first trainer to win all four Festival fixtures.
Off the American St. Leger trail is Niall Racing's Temeraine. Expected to be a major domestic threat to take the $400,000 event, the Tom Proctor-trained son of Arch is being given time off to refresh for the Fall. Fifth in last year's Arlington Million and second in the Grade III Arlington Handicap a race prior, Temeraine had been pointing toward a return to Million Preview Day – July 12 – in the local prep for the American St. Leger, the Grade III Stars and Stripes.