Racing & Wagering

Barn Notes: Fri. June 10

| Churchill Downs Communications | 07/18/2012 #

Belmont’s Manhattan ‘Cap Saturday Previews Arlington Million;Belmont’s Just a Game Stakes Saturday Previews Beverly D.;Hollywood’s Whittingham, Churchill’s Mint Julep Also Saturday

The 143rd running of the Belmont Stakes takes center stage Saturday as the final jewel of the 2011 Triple Crown but two other stakes on that same New York program serve as stepping stones to Chicago’s International Festival of Racing now only nine weeks away on Aug. 13.

The one-day International Festival, always the centerpiece event of the Chicago Thoroughbred Racing season, consists of the Grade I Arlington Million which annually attracts some of the best grass horses in the world, the Grade I Beverly D. Stakes for some of the world’s best turf-favoring fillies and mares, as well as the Grade I Secretariat Stakes, restricted to sophomore grass campaigners of international caliber.

Castleton Lyons Farm’s Gio Ponti, who won the Arlington Million two years ago and was clearly second best last year as the choice in the wagering, goes to the post as the star attraction in Saturday’s Grade I Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap, to be contested as the race immediately prior to the Belmont.  Once again this year Gio Ponti has to be considered the long-range favorite for the 2011 Arlington Million.

Following his highly respectable runner-up finish in last summer’s Arlington Million, Gio Ponti proved clearly best in Keeneland’s Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile and then was once again a respectable second in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Mile to Wertheimer et Frère’s Goldikova, who was winning that event for an unprecedented third straight time.

In his only start this year, Gio Ponti finished fifth in the Group I Dubai World Cup over the synthetic going in Meydan, but in the Manhattan ‘Cap, run over the Long Island lawn, Gio Ponti will be competing at the same distance as the Arlington Million over Arlington’s world famous turf course.

There are three other Manhattan Handicap contestants that are also original nominations to the 2011 Million.  They are Mrs. John Magnier and Mrs. David Nagle’s Viscount Nelson, second choice in the Manhattan morning line; Casa Farm One’s Prince Will I Am, third choice in Saturday’s morning line; and Brous Stable and Wachtel Stable’s Al Khali, conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott and a horseman particularly noted for his success with grass runners.

Interestingly, the race immediately prior to the Grade I Manhattan Handicap at Belmont Park Saturday is the Grade I Foxwoods Just a Game Stakes at one mile on the grass, and that filly and mare test serves as a stepping stone to the Grade I Beverly D. Stakes Aug. 13 as the Arlington Million’s sister race run at a mile and three-sixteenths.

Juddmonte Farms’ British-bred Aviate, an original nominee to the 2011 Beverly D. and the morning line favorite for the Just a Game, is conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott and comes into the Just a Game off a length and half victory in Churchill’s Grade II Distaff Turf Mile, contested over the Louisville lawn on Kentucky Derby Day.

Second choice in the morning line for Saturday’s Just a Game is Augustin Stable’s British-bred Fantasia, also an original nominee to this summer’s Beverly D.  Conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard, Fantasia was third behind Aviate in the Distaff Turf Mile, second in Keeneland’s Grade II Jenny Wiley Stakes in her first start of the year earlier in the spring, but won her final 2010 start by taking Canada’s $101,000 River Memories Stakes last fall at Woodbine Race Course.

Another original Beverly D. nomination is the third choice in the morning line for the Just a Game, and that is Team Valor et al.’s South African-bred Gypsy’s Warning, trained by this spring’s Kentucky Derby-winning conditioner Graham Motion.  Gypsy Warning finished third in the 2010 Beverly D. behind Richard Duchossois’ Éclair de Lune and Nelson McMakin’s Hot Cha Cha.

A fourth original 2010 Beverly D. nominee slated for the Just a Game is Mrs. Paul Shanahan’s Irish-bred Justaroundmidnight who won Gulfstream’s Grade III Marshua’s River Stakes in January and is trained by Patrick Biancone.

Elsewhere around the nation Saturday, Hollywood’s Grade I Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap has attracted a pair of original nominations to the Grade I Arlington Million and Churchill’s Grade III Early Times Mint Julep Handicap boasts three early nominations to the Grade I Beverly D.