Racing & Wagering

Barn Notes: Wednesday, September 4, 2013

| Churchill Downs Communications | 09/04/2013 #

In Today’s Notes: Veteran Graham and Apprentice Esquivel in Title Dogfight; Arlington Infants: Friday Presents Intriguing Maiden

Entering the last four weeks of racing for 2013, the jockey race continues to be a compelling one for race fans.   It is no surprise that last year’s runner-up (and 2011 champion) James Graham is leading by one win going into Thursday’s card.  In fact, Graham’s 749 career Arlington International Racecourse wins put him on the cusp of passing Juvenal Diaz’s 757 wins and moving into 10th all-time at the Arlington Heights oval.  What is surprising is that his main competition is apprentice Emmanuel Esquivel – a rider in only his second lifetime meet. 

“I really hope I can win it, but I am just happy that I have been doing really good and that everyone has helped me a lot,” said a very humble Esquivel.

Esquivel, represented by agent Ben Allen, has been supported by horsemen across the board at the current meet, and has ridden a meet-high 428 mounts through Sunday’s card.  His 14% strike rate (62 wins) and 42% in-the-money have remained as constant as his mounts and the only major shift has been a marked improvement in his turf prowess. 

Graham (represented by Britt McGehee), on the other hand, has 63 wins in 397 rides, giving him a strike rate of 16% and 46% in-the-money.  Per usual, he has been a picture of consistency and a tough rider to beat in the heat of battle – which was on display in Saturday’s Grade III Washington Park Handicap. 

To kick off the homestretch of their battle for meet supremacy, they will ride head-to-head in five of the nine races on Thursday.  Esquivel will have rides in eight of the nine races, while Graham will have six. 

While many of the best local juvenile males with wins to their credits will face off in Saturday’s Grade III $150,000 Arlington-Washington Futurity, Friday’s maiden special weight over the same course and one-mile Polytrack distance may offer a preview of some compelling youngsters on the rise. 

The race is led by Glen Hill Farm’s Malibu Moon gelding Ex Pirate, a once-raced homebred out of Island Hop, a stakes-placed daughter of the great stallion Dynaformer.  Enough cannot be said about the year Malibu Moon is having as a sire.  From Kentucky Derby winner Orb to recent Grade II Saratoga Special-winning juvenile Corfu, the son of A.P. Indy is hitting on all cylinders.  In his debut, Ex Pirate ran a credible second and figures to improve for his connections.  Eddie Castro rides for trainer Tom Proctor. 

Team Block’s Illinois-bred homebred Full Metal will make his debut and carry the flag of the local breeding industry for trainer Chris Block.  A son of Illinois champion Fort Prado, Full Metal is out of the Sword Dancer mare Jousting – herself a daughter of multiple stakes-winning filly Cerada Ridge.  There is a good balance of precocity and endurance in this pedigree with Bold Ruler, Riva Ridge and Fortunate Prospect (damsire of Fort Prado) steadied by classic stamina influences Nijinsky and Sadler’s Wells.  This bloodlines almost solely say grass and distance, but it would be no surprise for that to translate into a successful attempt on debut in a one-mile Polytrack event.  Eduardo Perez rides.

One to watch in this race is Smarty’s Echo, who will be making his second career start for trainer Anne P. Smith and Windy Hill Farm – the same connections as Arlington-Washington Futurity competitor Whyruawesome.  In his grassy two-turn debut, the son of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones was caught wide and ran greenly, but still closed to finish a decent third.  A long half-mile run into the lone turn may help Julio Felix, who gets the return call, find a better trip this time. 

Smarty’s Echo has arguably the best juvenile pedigree in the race.  Smarty Jones was a blazingly fast 2-year-old before learning to settle and become one of the most talented and publically beloved sophomores in recent memory.  Smarty’s Echo is out of Silver Echo, a daughter of Eastern Echo who placed in three stakes in her short 9-race career, including one as a juvenile.  Eastern Echo, himself, was a fragile but eye-catching 2-year-old son of Damascus who was undefeated in three starts for Rokeby Stable, including a flashy win in the Grade I Futurity in 1990.  Eastern Echo’s top three offspring, Grade I Santa Anita Derby winner Buddy Gil, Grade I Hollywood Futurity winner Swiss Yodeler and Grade III Laurel Futurity winner Western Echo all showed their best form at two and early in their sophomore seasons.