Road To The Million I: Wednesday, June 10, 2009
French-born conditioner Christophe Clement, an acknowledged master handler of turf-favoring Thoroughbreds, has won the last two renewals of Arlington's Grade I Beverly D. Stakes but somewhat surprisingly has never saddled a winner of the Grade I Arlington Million.
However, that possible gap in Clement's impressive résumé could be rectified less than two months from now, prefaced last weekend by the dramatic last-to-first score of Castleton Lyons Farm's Gio Ponti in the Grade I Manhattan Handicap on Belmont Stakes Day in New York.
Gio Ponti, an original nominee to the upcoming Million, had already established impressive credentials prior to taking last Saturday's 10-furlong Manhattan Handicap on the turf. In his previous outing March 7, he took down winning honors in Santa Anita's Grade I Frank E. Kilroe Mile Handicap on the California grass. Last summer, while still a sophomore, the Kentucky-bred captured Colonial Downs' Grade II Virginia Derby at the Arlington Million distance of 1 1/4-miles over the Mid-Atlantic grass, and earlier in the 2008 season he won New York's Grade III Hill Prince Stakes on turf.
Arlington Million XXVII - signature event of the 2009 Chicago Thoroughbred racing season - will go to the post late in the afternoon Aug. 8, preceded by the 20th anniversary edition of the Beverly D. and followed by the 33rd running of the Grade I Secretariat Stakes.
Together, the only three Grade I races contested in Illinois on an annual basis make up Arlington's one-day International Festival of Racing, and this summer's Arlington Million gets added international prestige because the winner will receive an automatic invitation to the Group I Japan Cup when it is run in Tokyo later in the year.
Not long after Gio Ponti won last weekend's Manhattan, Juddmonte Farms' Midships, also an original nominee to the upcoming Arlington Million, came from just off the pace to win California's Grade I Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap at 10 furlongs over the Hollywood Park lawn. Previously, Midships captured Santa Anita's Grade II San Juan Capistrano Handicap April 18 as well as that oval's Grade II San Luis Rey Handicap March 21.
Midships is conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, who guided Juddmonte's Chester House to victory in the 2000 Arlington Million and won it a second time with that same owner's Beat Hollow in 2002.
Locally last weekend, Chrysalis Stables' Silverfoot, still another original nominee to the 2009 Arlington Million, was up to be best by a neck in Arlington's $54,100 The Tin Man Stakes. Silverfoot finished fourth in last summer's Million.
Incidentally, Midnight Cry Stable's Einstein, sixth in the 2008 Million, became the only two-time winner of Churchill's Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on Kentucky Derby Day this spring and is an expected starter in this Saturday's Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap under the Twin Spires in an alternate main track step toward this summer's Million.
However, last weekend in Louisville, significant developments on the road to this summer's Grade I Beverly D. occurred when original nominations to the upcoming sister race to the Arlington Million finished first, second and third in the Grade III Early Times Mint Julep Handicap for fillies and mares at 1 1/16-miles on the grass.
Helen Alexander and Helen Groves' Acoma, third in Oaklawn's Grade I Apple Blossom Handicap on the main track in her previous start April 4, returned to her winning ways over the Louisville lawn by posting a neck tally in Saturday's Mint Julep after taking the Grade II Mrs. Revere Stakes there last November.
Lewis Lakin's Pure Clan, a 2009 Beverly D. nominee and winner of Hollywood's grassy Grade I American Oaks Invitational in 2008, was runner-up in this year's Mint Julep, 4 3/4-lengths in front of the Arlington-based Tizaqueena, trained by Mike Stidham. That Darley Stable color bearer had won her previous four starts, including Churchill's Grade II Distaff Turf Mile on Kentucky Derby Day and Fair Grounds' $60,000 Fortin Handicap March 21.
In New York's Grade I Just a Game Stakes for fillies and mares at one mile on the grass, the eight-furlong favoring Diamondrella, owned by Castletop Stable but not an original Beverly D. nominee, was the clear victress at that shorter distance. However, Just a Game runner-up Forever Together, heroine of the Grade I Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf last fall and Arlington's $53,600 Reluctant Guest last spring, is one of 68 fillies and mares nominated to the 2009 Beverly D.