Racing & Wagering

Barn Notes: Sunday, May 22

| Churchill Downs Communications | 05/22/2011 #

Stidham Starts Off With Stakes Win; More to Come Saturday?; Jockey James Graham First to Fire Off Four-Win Day This Season

Veteran conditioner Mike Stidham, who won six stakes at Arlington last season to lead all his local peers in that category, has gotten off to another fast start and is in an excellent position to distance himself further from his rivals this weekend.

In Saturday’s Grade III Hanshin Cup, the Stidham-trained Workin for Hops, owned by Estrorace’s Amy Bondon and Tom McNally, took clear command in upper stretch and then increased that margin the rest of the way to win the first stakes race of Arlington’s 2011 session which runs through Sept. 25.

However, during the coming extended Memorial Day weekend program at Arlington, the second and third stakes races of Chicago’s summer season will be presented when the 77th running of the Arlington Classic goes to the post as the first leg of Arlington’s Mid-America Triple and the 75th anniversary edition of the Arlington Matron is offered on the same program.

Stidham is planning to run the precocious Willcox Inn, owned by the All In Stable, in Saturday’s Arlington Classic, but also has Stone Farm et al.’s highly regarded Upperline slated for the Arlington Matron.

Willcox Inn, incidentally, won at first asking last Sept. 18 at Arlington, defeating Team Valor’s eventual Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom in the process.  The Harlan’s Holiday colt then went on to finish third in Keeneland’s Grade I Breeders Futurity Oct. 9 and then was third once again in the Grade II Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6.  In two starts this year, Willcox Inn finished second beaten a length for the win in Fair Grounds’ Grindstone Stakes over a yielding grass course March 12 before finishing eighth in Keeneland’s Grade I Blue Grass Stakes over Polytrack April 16.

In the Arlington Classic, Willcox Inn will be returning to the grass for the first leg of the Mid-America Triple which continues with the Grade II American Derby July 9 and concludes with the Grade I Secretariat Stakes as part of Arlington’s International Festival of Racing on Aug. 13.  While preparing for Saturday’s Classic, Willcox Inn worked five furlongs in 59.40 under jockey James Graham and galloped out three-quarters in 1:11.40 on Preakness Day.

Upperline, on the other hand, also won her career debut at Arlington in July of 2009.  She went on to finish third in Churchill’s Grade II Golden Rod Stakes that fall and returned to win Arlington’s Grade III Arlington Oaks by almost five lengths over the Polytrack last July 3.

The daughter of Maria’s Mon worked a half-mile in 47.20 Sunday morning with James Graham up in advance of Saturday’s Arlington Matron, restricted to fillies and mares and to be run at nine furlongs over the local Polytrack.

“I was very pleased with the way both horses worked,” said Stidham, speaking over the phone from Maryland Sunday while he was attending a horse sale.  “I expect to be back at Arlington Wednesday.

“I just talked to my assistant Brett (McLellan) at Arlington,” Stidham said.  “He said Workin for Hops came out of the Hanshin well and that he looked good this morning.”

Significantly, Stidham won last year’s Arlington Classic (and later the American Derby) with Workin for Hops and also won last year’s Arlington Matron with Darley Stable’s Tizaqueena.

Irish-born jockey James Graham had a lucky four-leaf-clover kind of day Saturday at Arlington when he became the first rider to win four races on a single program at the northwest Chicago oval this season.

In addition to his three-length tally astride Amy Bondon’s Workin for Hops in Arlington’s Grade III Hanshin Cup for trainer Mike Stidham, the native of Finglas, Dublin, who celebrated his 32nd birthday last week, won the second half of Saturday’s Daily Double with Hugh Robertson and John Hillebrand’s Stone Free for trainer Robertson, the sixth aboard Arthur Hancock III’s Ruthville for trainer Stidham and the ninth race on Bob Gary Racing’s Albin for conditioner Richie Scherer.

The foursome of wins vaulted Graham into a tie for third with J. Z. Santana in the local standings at 10 win apiece through Saturday.  They were one win behind current runner-up E. T. Baird with 11 wins while current leading rider Junior Alvarado had 14 wins, including a double on Saturday’ s program.