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Road to the Million Vol. 1
As soon as the brilliant turf runner Einstein crossed the wire a length clear in Churchill’s Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on Kentucky Derby Day, the 6-year-old Brazilian-bred’s performance stamped him as the early favorite for the Grade I Arlington Million on Aug. 9.
That’s because the Twin Spires-hosted Turf Classic annually serves as the first stepping stone on the road to the Million, centerpiece event of the Chicago Thoroughbred racing season run over Arlington Park’s world-famous turf course.
“We’ll just see how he comes out of it (the Turf Classic),” said trainer Helen Pitts in post-race comments following Einstein’s Churchill performance May 3, “but the Arlington Million would be the ultimate goal.”
Unfortunately, a short-term goal for Einstein was Belmont’s Grade I Manhattan Handicap on Belmont Stakes Day last weekend, but complex New York licensing issues involving one of Einstein’s owners kept what is arguably the best turf horse in training in the United States from competing in that test.
Consequently, Einstein, who earlier this year finished sixth in the Grade I Donn Handicap on Gulfstream’s main track Feb. 2 but came back to win the Grade I Gulfstream Park Turf Stakes Feb. 23, remained in Louisville last weekend and is now in need of another race.
That may necessitate a start in Churchill’s Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap this Saturday, putting Einstein – currently being leased to Shirley Cunningham and Melissa Green – onto what is for him the less-advantageous main track once again.
Phipps Stable’s Dancing Forever, under a typically masterful ride by Arlington’s champion jockey Rene Douglas, took down winning honors in the Manhattan, defeating TNT Stud’s Out of Control by a nose. Both Dancing Forever and Out of Control are nominated to this summer’s Arlington Million.
December Hill Farm’s Pays to Dream, who won Pimlico’s Grade II Dixie Stakes on Preakness Day, finished third in the Manhattan a half-length behind the top two, but collapsed while galloping out and was vanned off.
“At first we thought it was just heat stroke,” said Pays to Dream’s trainer David Donk Monday morning, “and he was walking soundly for some time after the race, but after awhile he began to stiffen up and a subsequent examination revealed a fractured sesamoid. His life is not in danger – he’ll probably make someone a very nice riding horse – but he has been retired as a race horse.
“It’s a shame,” Donk said. “Pays to Dream has always been such a sound horse. I was really looking forward to coming back to the Arlington Million this summer, but now I know it won’t be this year.”
Donk saddled Ryehill Farm’s Awad to win the Arlington Million in 1995, finish second in 1996, and fourth in 1997.
However, a very positive Arlington Million development occurred out on the West Coast last Saturday. The Irish-bred Artiste Royal outran three worthy rivals to win Hollywood Park’s Grade I Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap by a neck when competing at a mile and a quarter over the grass.
Following the Whittingham, Artiste Royal’s Hall of Fame trainer Neil Drysdale said he plans to point the 7-year-old ridgling to the Arlington Million. Owned by David and Jill Heerensperger, Artiste Royal won Santa Anita’s Grade I Clement L. Hirsch Memorial Turf Championship last year.
Of course, Arlington Million XXVI is only one of three Grade I events to make up Arlington Park’s one-day International Festival of Racing on Aug. 9. Also part of the Festival are the $750,000 Beverly D. Stakes for the world’s best fillies and mares and the $400,000 Secretariat Stakes for grass-favoring 3-year-olds of international caliber. The three turf tests are the only three Grade I events run in Illinois on an annual basis.
In advance of the Beverly D., part of the Belmont Stakes Day card in New York was the Grade I Just a Game Stakes for fillies and mares on the grass, where Juddmonte Farms’ Ventura withstood the late charge of Martin Schwartz’s Lady of Venice by three-quarters of a length.
Ventura, conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, and Lady of Venice, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, are both nominated to this summer’s Beverly D.
Last Friday at Belmont Park, Castleton Lyons Farm’s Gio Ponti bested Monticule Farm’s Prussian by two lengths in the Grade III Hill Prince Stakes for 3-year-olds at one mile over the Long Island lawn. North Shore Racing’s Moral Compass was a length farther back, but a length and three-quarters to the good of Godolphin’s Hatta Fort.
All four are original nominees to this summer’s Mid-America Triple at Arlington Park – a three-race grass series that is completed by the Secretariat Stakes.
Sassafras Racing and Gulf Coast Farm’s Meal Penalty, winner of the $150,000 Arlington Classic as the first leg of this year’s Triple, continued preparations for the Grade II American Derby July 12 as the Triple’s next challenge with a half-mile breeze in :47.20 on Sunday.