Arlington Million

Barn Notes: Friday, Aug. 16 – 1st Edition

| Churchill Downs Communications | 08/16/2013 #
  • Little Mike on the Arlington Polytrack Friday morning. (Four Footed Fotos)

In Today’s Notes: Little Mike Connections Hope Million Sets Up Showdown with Wise Dan

If Little Mike wins the Arlington Million on Saturday at Arlington International Racecourse, then breeder-owner Carlo Vaccarezza might use the winner’s circle as a platform to challenge Wise Dan to a match race.

That’s a big “if”, of course, considering that no horse has won consecutive editions of what Little Mike’s trainer Dale Romans called “the most prestigious turf race in America.” There’s also the matter of Little Mike having to regain his Grade I form following three consecutive unplaced finishes this year by a combined 17 lengths, but Romans said Friday morning that Little Mike is ready.

“He’s back to where he was last year, and we’re really looking forward to [Saturday],” Romans said after Little Mike galloped 1½ miles on Friday after arriving at Arlington on Thursday. “He looked as good as he could out there, and I feel better about his chances now than I did when I woke up.”

Both Little Mike and Wise Dan won three Grade I races last year, but Wise Dan was the overwhelming choice not only for champion turf male but also Horse of the Year (he also won the Eclipse Award as champion older male). It’s a decision that still bothers Vaccarezza.

“From my mouth to God’s year, if we win the Arlington Million again on Saturday, I’m going to put up my own money to challenge Wise Dan to a match race,” Vaccarezza said. “Little Mike is the Rodney Dangerfield of racing – he doesn’t get any respect. I won more prestigious races than [Wise Dan] did last year at more demanding distances, and I feel we deserved the Eclipse.

“I’m sick of hearing about [Wise Dan] – I want to prove we’re better.”

Twelve competitors stand between Little Mike and Million immortality, including six who made their last starts in Europe, but Vaccarezza is not drinking that Kool-Aid either.

“They say the Europeans are better, and that our Grade I races are like their Group II’s, but Wise Dan beat their best at a mile last year, and we beat their horses at 1½ miles,” Vaccarezza said, referencing Breeders’ Cup wins by Wise Dan in the Mile and Little Mike in the Turf.

Vaccarezza said pace dynamics compromised Little Mike’s chances in the United Nations on July 6 at Monmouth where he dueled with Skyring through a half in :47.80 and six furlongs in 1:12.40. When Little Mike won the Million the pace was :49.80 and 1:39.40. Skyling faded to last eight in the United Nations while Little Mike was fourth.

Nates Mineshaft is the most likely pace threat to Little Mike off a gate-to-wire score in a turf allowance race at one mile on July 27 at Arlington.

“We’re going to give our horse every chance to race on the lead, but if Nates Mineshaft wants it bad enough then we’ll just pretend he’s not even there,” Romans said.

Little Mike has won 12 of 24 races lifetime and has earned $3,104,412.