Arlington Million

Barn Notes: Friday, June 21, 2013

| Churchill Downs Communications | 06/21/2013 #
  • La Tia could start next in the Grade III Modesty Handicap on Million Preview Day. Photo by Four Footed Fotos

In Today’s Notes: Shadwell’s Ausus and Najjaar Take Aim at Million Preview Day; De La Cerda Excited About the New and Improved La Tia

On May 25, trainer Danny Peitz came within two lengths of winning two Grade III races at two different tracks within two hours.  Suffice it to say, not all good things come in pairs.  At Arlington International Racecourse, his late-closing mare Ausus had little pace at which to run, but still closed resolutely to finish a length-beaten fourth in the Grade III $150,000 Arlington Matron.  Not long after, the trainer’s Najjaar outran his odds but not the opposition when finishing third, beaten only a half-length, in the Grade III $100,000 Louisville Handicap at Churchill Downs. 

On July 13, Peitz hopes to channel chagrin into celebration as he brings both of those charges, each owned by Sheikh Hamdan’s Shadwell Stable, to Arlington for graded stakes on Million Preview Day.  “Najjaar is going to the (Grade III $200,000) Arlington Handicap and Ausus is going in the (Grade III $200,000) Modesty (Handicap) the same day,” the trainer reported. 

Najjaar, a slightly overlooked 11-1 in the Louisville, was nipped for second by 2-1 favorite Atigun, while finishing a half-length behind the streaking second-choice Dark Cove.  The compact bay colt who has finished on the board on all three surfaces was making his first start beyond nine furlongs in the 12-furlong turf marathon.  By a Belmont Stakes winner out of a stamina-saturated European damside, the colt’s versatility is both a blessing and a nuisance for Peitz. 

“I am not sure what his best distance is, but being by Jazil we were thinking he could go long (in the Louisville Handicap).  I’m glad he ran as well as he did going a mile and a half.  Now, we’ll come back here and not have to ship and see how he runs at a mile and a quarter on the grass,” the trainer stated.  Last year, the colt out of the Irish-bred Hasheema, a daughter of European champion stayer Darshaan, finished third on the Arlington lawn in the $125,000 Arlington Classic. 

A return to Arlington and an initial attempt at a medial distance might be exactly what the late-running colt needs to return to the winner’s circle for the first time since March of 2012.  The Arlington Handicap is a course and distance prep for Arlington’s showcase event, the Grade I Arlington Million on August 17.

Ausus, a slight favorite at 5-2 in the Arlington Matron when defeated in a blanket finish, switches from Polytrack to turf for the Modesty.  Contested at 1 3/16 miles, the Modesty is a course and distance trial for the Grade I $750,000 Beverly D. – America’s most prestigious filly and mare turf race outside of the Breeders’ Cup.   

“I think the longer distance is what we’re really looking for with her.  I would love to see her race even longer – maybe a mile and three-eighths,” Peitz conjectured.  The daughter of Horse of the Year Invasor is bred to appreciate the extra ground and the return to turf.  Closely related to Group I-winning European turf performer Saratoga Springs, the attractive chestnut mare ran a deceptively good fifth in the Grade I Jenny Wiley Stakes at Keeneland previous to the Arlington Matron. 

Another Peitz/Shadwell filly to watch at the Arlington meet this season is the swift filly Ascot Eye, a daughter of Shadwell’s outstanding miler Daaher.  On May 29, the filly demolished a band of promising fillies in a maiden special weight by nearly eight lengths.  After a forgettable turf experiment in a June 16 allowance, the elegant filly should be a force with which to be reckoned when returned to the main track. 

“She got bothered at the start and never got running in that last race.  She’s such a good filly and very fast,” said Peitz.  “I’m hoping that once Churchill’s meet is done, we’ll get some horses here to fill a (first level) allowance for her.  We know now she’s probably better on the Poly and maybe dirt than she is on the grass.”  The bay filly from the family of crack sprinter Dumaani, who twice won the Keeneland Breeders’ Cup Sprint for Shadwell, has turned in four consecutive bullet works.

When Hernandez Racing Club’s La Tia beat a quality field of mares by nearly five lengths in a May 11 allowance at a generous 8-1, the 2012 Grade III Arlington Oaks winner immediately garnered the respect of the Arlington betting public.  That regard was evident when she stepped up in the Lincoln Heritage Handicap on June 15 and ran to her 3-5 odds with a 3½- length victory.  Next, the filly looks to possibly ascend an even mightier mountain in the Grade III $150,000 Modesty Handicap on July 13 for freshman trainer Armando De La Cerda. 

“She came out good and looks great so far.  Sometimes the problems come two or three days after the race, but she’s been very sound,” reported De La Cerda.  “So far I think we’ll see who’s coming, but we will most likely go after the Modesty.”  The Modesty could also lure Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey’s Breeders’ Cup and Grade I winner Stephanie’s Kitten. 

The Modesty would not only be La Tia’s first attempt at a graded stakes on turf, but the 1 3/16 miles fixture will also be her first start beyond nine furlongs on any surface.  “I think she can go farther.  She’s a nice big filly and has a lot of power,” the trainer explained with confidence.  

A confirmed frontrunner, La Tia has won five of her six attempts at Arlington and trained impressively in the mornings at the greater Chicago oval.  “She doesn’t have to go fast.  She can slow down,” De La Cerda explained.  “She’s very smart and takes care of herself.  She can relax, now.  Even when she is back at the barn, all she does is sleep in her stall.

“Last year she was too high strung, but now she’s more focused on what she’s doing,” he continued.  “She listens and does what you want when you work her.  I worked her fast (five furlongs) in 1:00 and out (six furlongs) in 1:12, but I could have had her go 1:05 or 1:06 (for the five furlongs).  She is the kind of horse who does what you want.”

De La Cerda also believes the filly will perform optimally on any type of ground.  After winning the allowance on good ground and the Lincoln Heritage on yielding going, the filly has yet to compete on a firm course.  “I think she’ll be fine on hard ground,” the trainer speculated.  “Last year, she ran on almost the same conditions and only lost by a length.”  On Arlington Million Day 2012, the filly finished fourth in the $65,000 Hatoof Stakes. 

The trainer, who is elated to have a stakes-quality filly in his first season as a head trainer, was with La Tia the last two seasons when that filly was with Brian Williamson and he was the trainer’s assistant.  Now on his own and with the support of owners like La Tia’s Hernandez Racing Club, Crystal Racing Enterprise and Sugar Daddy Stable, De La Cerda is having a dynamite meet for a first-year trainer. 

Striking at 18.4% and a flat 50% in the top three, De La Cerda is tied for seventh in the trainer standings behind such household names as Wayne Catalano, Larry Rivelli and Mike Stidham.  “I like to be patient with my horses and pick good races,” the trainer explained.  “I don’t like to push too much.  I like horses to run for many years.”

The conditioner is also very high on another filly in his barn, Crystal Racing Enterprise’s sophomore Brick House Road.  Second in by a heartbreaking neck in a June 19 allowance, the filly has a tremendous amount of speed and even more potential according to the trainer.  “She was a little off before her Hawthorne race (an eighth in the $100,000 Pretty Jenny Stakes).  She’s a little crazy right now like La Tia was, but I think she’ll be very good,” he remarked. 

If La Tia’s maturation for De La Cerda this season is any indication, the daughter of Illinois stallion Road Ruler could prove to be an intriguing local runner.  “I know I’m a new trainer, but I’ve worked with racehorses for 20 years,” said the conditioner who also worked under the wings of Noel Hickey and Stidham – both known for their prowess in developing horses over multiple seasons.