Road to the 2014 Million – Vol. 6: Wednesday, July 16, 2014
In this edition: Arlington Million XXXII: All Eyes on Europe; Beverly D.: The Diana Again Dynamic; Secretariat: Our Channel Draws Form Lines; American St. Leger: The Pizza Man Expands His Franchise
ARLINGTON MILLION XXXII: ALL EYES ON EUROPE
The closer Arlington Million XXXII gets, the more the racing public must scrutinize the usual suspects – not the horses, but the prep races. The quandary of deciphering which races carry more merit in predicting the field for the Million is surprisingly easy to answer – but is not without its surprises.
Leading the way in recent years in terms of starters is the course and distance prep, the Grade III Arlington Handicap, which took place this past Saturday on Arlington International Racecourse's Million Preview Day. Won by Donegal Racing's Finnegans Wake, the 1¼-miles event was a chess match with dawdling fractions and a superb stalk-and-pressure ride from Victor Espinoza on the winner for trainer Dale Romans. Unlucky in the race was Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey's Admiral Kitten, who returned to form after a few subpar performances with an excellent closing drive that came inches short after splitting horses late for trainer Mike Maker.
Both the winner and runner-up are assumed to be Million-bound, especially considering the former has raced in the last two International Festivals of Racing – including a second in the 2012 Grade I Secretariat Stakes and a fourth in last year's Million – and the latter seized the Secretariat last year. Gary Partridge, manager for the Ramsey Stable, had mentioned prior to the race that Admiral Kitten's goal was to run well enough to garner joining his defending champion stablemate Real Solution in the main event.
Needless to say, Finnegans Wake has proven for the third time that he flourishes at Arlington, which one would surmise – much like his excellent performance in last year's Grade II Bowling Green Stakes at Belmont Park – is aided by his need for sweeping, gallop-friendly turns and a sizeable stretch. A long, sturdy horse with a muscular frame and a lot of reach like his sire (and Million winner) Powerscourt, he has consistently raced poorly on tightly turned courses (e.g. his unplaced Grade I United Nations run at Monmouth Park immediately preceding the Arlington Handicap). It will be exciting to see how much his first graded stakes victory improves his confidence level heading back into the Million.
Finishing a good third was Diamond M Stable's beaten favorite War Dancer. A somewhat inconsistent sophomore last year, the Kenny McPeek trainee earned a slot into the Million with his performance and one would expect him to improve off this race, especially considering he was coming off two tough races going 1½ miles and may have bounced slightly. After tracking the glacial pace along with Finnegans Wake, the son of War Front was beaten to the punch by the winner and passed in the final strides by the runner-up. Though he seems better at 12 furlongs as opposed to 10, he has proven he can win at this distance by virtue of his win in last year's Grade II Virginia Derby and his newfound consistency only adds to his intrigue.
While it is no surprise that the Arlington Handicap has produced the most runners (seven) in the past two Millions, it is somewhat of a revelation that the Group II York Stakes at York Racecourse on July 27 is second with four starters – especially since the race is a course and distance prep for the main international rival to the Million – the Group I Juddmonte International Stakes on Aug. 20 (four days after the Million), which boasts a purse of approximately $1.28 million and is run over a left-handed, fairly flat and usually fast course. Last year the York produced Grandeur – the morning line favorite – and post-disqualification runner-up The Apache, and in 2012 it yielded runner-up Asfare. Furthermore, in 2010 the race furnished fans with a shocking winner in Debussy. The York Stakes may be one of the last major preps for the Million, but it might wind up becoming the first in relevance.
Another race to watch overseas on July 27 around a left-handed, mostly level course is the Group I Grosser Dallmayr Bayerisches Zuchtrennen at Munich. While it may not have the credibility of the York, Eclipse or Prince of Wales's in producing European contenders for the Million, the German race did produce Hunter's Light last year, who was making an ominous move on Arlington's far turn before being forced to check and losing all chance. One must admit that even if such lucklessness was the case in 2013, sporting competitors exiting Deutschland have done quite well on the world stage at reaching their goals, per sé, in 2014.
The Group II Summer Mile, which produced two starters in last year's Million, took place this past weekend at Ascot on its testing eight-furlong course. Amusingly, the same two-three finishers from last year's Summer Mile who competed in the Million – Invictus' Mull of Killough and Guiliano Manfredini's Guest of Honour – returned in 2014 to finish one-two. Unfortunately for Mull of Killough, he was once again unable to leave the role of runner-up, but Guest of Honour showed marked maturation in his half-length victory for conditioner Marco Botti. Last year, upon interviewing Marco's wife and assistant trainer Lucie Botti, she advised Arlington media that the lightly raced son of Cape Cross was still developing and would improve with age – even going as far as mentioning that he would be much more formidable in "next year's Million." Hopefully the 5-year-old's connections follow through with such an assertion and return to improve upon last year's ninth-place finish.
The main domestic race to keep an eye on is the Grade I Eddie Read Stakes at Del Mar on Sunday, July 20. Four weeks out from the Million this year, it would not be a surprise to see an increase in participation with an impressive performance or two – especially as the Grade I Pacific Classic (on Aug. 24) is looking formidable with champion juvenile Shared Belief and 2013 Pacific Classic title holder Game on Dude zeroing in on the 1 ¼-miles Polytrack event.
BEVERLY D.: THE DIANA AGAIN DYNAMIC
This year, thanks to the stakes scheduling gods, talented fillies and mares who wish to attempt both the Grade I $500,000 Diana Stakes and the Grade I $750,000 Beverly D. can now do so with a more satisfactory four-week aperture between the events, instead of the unfashionable three weeks it has been over the last few years. With Grade I winners Emollient, Discreet Marc, Alterite, Stephanie's Kitten and Tannery all penciled in as part of the 10-horse field, the Diana is the best domestic race for turf fillies and mares thus far in 2014 and should prove as the most complex Beverly D. prep for those endeavoring to the Midwest four weeks later.
After this weekend, the Diana will join a list of quality filly and mare turf preps for the Beverly D., including last weekend's course and distance trial, the Grade III $200,000 Modesty Handicap. With the first three finishers automatically earning a berth in the Beverly D., it looks as if we could very well see the trio of Hit the Board Stable's winning I'm Already Sexy, Glen Hill Farm's runner up Gulsary and Elm Racing's Street of Gold return for round two at the Chicagoland oval on Aug. 16.
The winner, in particular, would be an interesting entry in the Beverly D., as she is undefeated in four starts – including two graded stakes – at Arlington and proved on Saturday that she can go the distance. Trainer Wayne Catalano indicated after the race that if all goes well, he is more than willing to "take on the best" again with the game daughter of Ready's Image. In her only Grade I attempt, I'm Already Sexy was sixth – beaten only three lengths – in last year's Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland.
Also this past weekend, Europe's Group I Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket Racecourse produced an impressive victory from Cheveley Park Stud's rising star Integral, from the barn of 2013 Beverly D. winning conditioner Sir Michael Stoute. While Stoute still has James Wigan's Dank as possible for a repeat attempt at the Beverly D., it would not be a surprise to see Integral make the trip instead. Perhaps the most intriguing runner in the Falmouth was the most disappointing – Ben Keswick's Sky Lantern. A winner of four Group I races in her career, the Bevery D.-nominated Sky Lantern ran fifth behind rival Integral for the second time in as many starts this season. The gray filly appreciates fast ground and her long strides would presumably revel in the ease of Arlington's turns if her connections decide to cross the pond.
Keep an eye this Sunday in Ireland on the Group II Kilboy Estates Stakes – the same race Dank used as her final prep last year. At nine furlongs on a testing course at The Curragh, the Kilboy Estates is an ideal trial for European milers asking the distance question before venturing Stateside, like the reigning champion turf filly did in 2013.
A filly to keep track of domestically is Amerman Racing's Coffee Clique. A winner of two straight quality turf mile events, including the Grade I Just a Game on Belmont Day, the daughter of Medaglia d'Oro is an undefeated three-for-three in 2014. The Bryan Lynch trainee was withdrawn from consideration from the Diana because of a muscle pull and may consequently be in prime shape to resurface in the Beverly D.
SECRETARIAT: OUR CHANNEL DRAWS FORM LINES
Last weekend's Grade III $200,000 American Derby produced an exciting finish when Rabbah Bloodstock's English invader Our Channel was nailed at the wire by Let's Go Stable's Divine Oath. Both horses are considered possible to return for the Grade I $500,000 Secretariat Stakes, where they will meet Gary and Mary West's third-place finisher Highball, a lightly raced son of Lemon Drop Kid who charged late in only his third career start for trainer Wayne Catalano.
The compelling aspect of Our Channel is that – unlike European invader Infinite Magic who annexed the American Derby in 2013 – the William Haggas trainee has European Group I form behind him, albeit an off-the-board performance in such. The assumption here is that Our Channel is a quality Group II- or III-level 1 1/8-miles to 1¼-miles colt and those who finished in his vicinity at Arlington are of the same caliber in what seemed to be a truly run race. That being said, the waters get much deeper in the Secretariat and the additional sixteenth of a mile can represent a significant challenge for such a speedy sophomore.
With such form lines drawn, it is easy to assume that Coolmore's Adelaide – second in the Grade I Belmont Derby Invitational two weeks ago – is a couple lengths better than Our Channel, especially considering his performance at Royal Ascot two weeks prior. While it is doubtful that Aidan O'Brien trainee will return to the States so soon, it is highly likely that the race is on the radar of the multitude of Group II- and Group III-level horses at Ballydoyle and elsewhere trying to achieve Grade I glory.
Meanwhile Stateside, Opening Day at Saratoga has produced a salty $100,000 Sir Cat Stakes at a mile on the turf for sophomores worth watching. Gary Barber and WinStar Farm's Bill Mott-trained morning line favorite Tourist and Santa Rosa Racing Stable's Chad Brown-trained second choice Storming Inti represent the class of the field, but the most gripping entrant is Lee Lewis' Mark Hennig-trained Cabo Cat. A recent winner of the Manila Stakes at Belmont, the son of 2004 Secretariat Stakes winner Kitten's Joy is bred to appreciate more ground and another win in New York will hopefully propel his connections into attempting Grade I waters at Arlington.
AMERICAN ST. LEGER: THE PIZZA MAN EXPANDS HIS FRANCHISE
Million Preview Day produced a home team win in the Grade III $150,000 Stars and Stripes – the local prep for the Listed $400,000 American St. Leger – as Midwest Thoroughbreds' favored The Pizza Man went directly to the lead and walked the proverbial dog to an exciting win over longshot O'Prado Olé and last year's American St. Leger runner-up Suntracer. The Pizza Man has all but been confirmed to come back on Aug. 16 in the American St. Leger – a race he passed on last year – while the same can also be said for his aforementioned closest pursuers.
The Pizza Man is riding a four-race – all stakes – winning streak for trainer Roger Brueggemann at distances ranging from one mile to 1½ miles, with four different jockeys aboard. The versatile son of English Channel (also the sire of O'Prado Olé) may be best at three turns, considering how comfortable he appeared during the entirety in the Stars and Stripes. The question is whether he can expand his curriculum vitae the extra furlong and a half in the 1 11/16-miles American St. Leger.
Another query The Pizza Man will be asked – especially with the pending announcement of who two-time defending trainer Marco Botti will send from his Newmarket yard – is that of class. The incoming Europeans will represent a significant challenge, as will possible entrants from the stamina-heavy barns of Graham Motion, Christophe Clement and Shug McGaughey. All three of those East Coast-based conditioners have multiple prospects for the marathon event, but none have committed.