Arlington Million

Road to the 2013 Million – Vol. 4: Wednesday, July 3, 2013

| Churchill Downs Communications | 07/03/2013 #
  • Afsare, runner-up in the 2012 Arlington Million, is looking forward to a return trip to Arlington for Million XXXI

In this edition: Arlington Million XXXI: Eclipse and U.N. Will Reveal Much; Beverly D.: Ambivalent and Somali Lemonade Impress, Ladys First In; Secretariat: Team Valor’s First Cornerstone Fits the Profile; American St. Leger: Euros Begin to Look Formidable

This week is all about waiting for the results of two big Group/Grade I events on each side of the Atlantic.  In Europe, the Coral Eclipse Stakes takes place at Sandown Park and features a match-up of two Royal Ascot winners – Al Kazeem and Declaration of War.  Al Kazeem, winner of the Group I Prince of Wales’s Stakes, will likely go off favored over Arlington Million nominee and Group I Queen Anne Stakes victor Declaration of War. 

Declaration of War fits the profile of a Coolmore horse possible to be sent over for the International Festival of Racing.  On the upswing and an appreciator of firmer ground, the son of American stallion War Front is also co-owned by American Joseph Allen – the same connections of Kentucky Derby contestant Lines of Battle. 

A horse who could upset the proverbial apple cart is Million nominee Pastorius, a German-trained colt who exits a poor trip in the Group I Singapore Airlines International Cup in May over very similar conditions to the Million.  Previous to that race, the Stall Antanando-owned and Mario Hofer-trained son of 2006 Arlington Million third-placed Soldier Hollow was a lights-out winner of the Group I Prix Ganay in France.

On Friday, a day prior to the Eclipse, the Listed Gala Stakes over the 10-furlong course and distance of the Eclipse could have just as much effect on the Million.  Racing in what has the look of a confidence-boosting prep, 2012 Arlington Million runner-up Sheikh Mohammed Obaid al Maktoum’s Asfare races in the Gala with a strong eye toward the Million.  The race will not be easy, as he will face four talented Group I-level charges: Mandour, Mendip, Sri Putra and Van Der Neer.  Luca Camani, a previous winner of the Arlington Million, trains the 6-year-old. 

On this side of the Atlantic, all attention will be on defending Arlington Million champion Little Mike making his first start in the United States of 2013 in the Grade I $500,000 United Nations Stakes.  Challenging Little Mike will be Arlington-based Willcox Inn, who also has his eye on a possible return to the Arlington Million after running eighth last year – pending a good performance.  Willcox Inn exits a strong runner-up performance in the Grade II Dixie Stakes over nine grassy furlongs at Pimlico on Preakness Day.  The impressive gate-to-wire winner that day, Calumet Farm’s Skyring, could also be pointed toward the Million after the U.N. for trainer Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.  Last year, Skyring shipped into Arlington to run a good third in the Grade III American Derby. 

The biggest news out of this week is that leading American contender Stephanie’s Kitten is being aimed toward the Grade I $500,000 Diana Stakes July 27, in lieu of the Grade III $200,000 Modesty Handicap on July 13.  This puts her at risk of not having enough time to recover to make the Grade I $750,000 Beverly D. Stakes, but does not completely rule it out.                  

An American charge who ran a big race this week is Caroline Forgason’s Somali Lemonade.  It has taken some time for the Michael Matz trainee to return to the form that saw her go off as one of the favorites in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies’ Turf (which was won by Stephanie’s Kitten), but the daughter of Lemon Drop Kid did so impressively in the Grade III $250,000 Dr. James Penny Memorial Handicap at Parx Racing on July 2.  With the Diana coming up sooner than her conditioner usually runs a stakes horse back, and the filly having the pedigree, running style and forward form to appreciate a little more real estate, it would not be a surprise to see this Beverly D. nominee turn up in the entry box. 

The Group I Pretty Polly Stakes, a Festival Free Pass race for the Beverly D., at The Curragh in Ireland, produced a surprising win by Beverly D.-nominated Ambivalent this week.  The daughter of Authorized made all the running and impressively staved off 2012 English Oaks winner Was under Johnny Murtagh for trainer Roger Varian and owner Ali Saeed. 

According to the International Racing Bureau, Mrs. H. Steele’s Ladys First is being aimed toward the Beverly D.  Previously mentioned in Road to the Million: Vol. 2, the Richard Fahey trainee recently led from the gate to just be caught at Royal Ascot in the Group II Windsor Forest Stakes – the same race Joviality used in 2012 en route to a third in the Beverly D.  Previous to the Windsor Forest, Ladys First was a very good third in the Middleton Stakes, also a Festival Free Pass race, at 1 5/16-miles on left-handed York Racecourse. 

The European contingent for the Grade I $500,000 Secretariat Stakes is taking shape as Team Valor’s First Cornerstone starts to look the part of a possible ship-in from the other side of the Atlantic.  A group II winner as a juvenile, the Andy Oliver-trained son of Hurricane Run was recently a tired 15th in the Group I Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) on short rest after a respectable fifth in the Group I Irish 2000 Guineas.  In the latter, First Cornerstone finished only a couple of lengths behind subsequent Group I Irish Derby winner Trading Leather. 

On the local front, two key races happen on July 13 – the Grade III $200,000 American Derby at Arlington International Racecourse and the Grade II $500,000 Virginia Derby.  Both races often produce key American contestants and victors in the Secretariat.  A lesser stakes to watch this weekend is the Listed $125,000 Charlie Barley Stakes at Woodbine Racetrack.  Leading Arlington trainer Wayne Catalano ships up to Canada to send out an improving and dangerous longshot named Gentleman’s Kitten, who enters off an impressive score at Churchill Downs for owners Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey.  With a pedigree that screams 10-furlongs on turf (by Kitten’s Joy out of a Deputy Minister mare) and a trainer moving him up to an open stakes after only three career starts, it is worth watching to see what happens with this colt.

Perhaps the most significant American prep this weekend for the grassy Secretariat is not even on the turf.  The Grade II $150,000 Swaps Stakes over Hollywood Park’s synthetic Cushion Track surface features a colt many consider one of the best turf sophomores in America, Java’s War.  After winning the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes at Keenelend over Polytrack, Java’s War ran poorly in the Kentucky Derby after a dull start and subsequently was considered for the Group I St. James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot until ultimately being given more time.  Owned by Charles Fipke and trained by Kenny McPeek, two-time turf winner Java’s War could be using the the Swaps as a prep for the Secretariat, the Grade I Travers Stakes or the Grade I Pacific Classic against older horses, depending on the outcome.  

The second running of the American St. Leger continues to look like a phenomenal race with growing interest shown from the Europeans.  A key race to look at is the May 30 Henry II Stakes at Sandown Park in England, which was contested at just over two miles.  There are two horses from that race who could possibly show up in the St. Leger – Gloomy Sunday and Sir Graham Wade.  Both charges skipped the subsequent Group I Ascot Gold Cup, which was covered last week’s Road to the Million

The impressive four-length winner (at 20-1 odds) was a 4-year-old filly named Gloomy Sunday.  A Simon Springer-owned and Cristophe Ferland-trained daughter of Singspiel, Gloomy Sunday has found her niche as a stayer and drew off impressively in the Henry II.  The St. Leger may also lure Sir Graham Wade, a son of Dalakhani who made a run in the Henry II but faltered to finish an even ninth. 

The powerhouse Godolphin stable unleashed a serious St. Leger threat in Lost in the Moment on June 29 in the Listed Fred Archer Stakes at Newmarket over 12 furlongs.  A seasoned veteran, the 6-year-old has previously shown his class with a second in the Group II Goodwood Cup (which is often filled with Group I runners) in 2011 and Group II Lonsdale Cup in 2012.  A proven stayer who is best between 12 and 16 furlongs, the son of Danehill Dancer is nominated to the St. Leger. 

A day later, June 30, Godolphin’s rival Coolmore proved that they have a staying star also rising in Ernest Hemingway in the Group III Curragh Cup over 14 furlongs.   A lightly raced 4-year-old with only six starts (with two wins and a second), Ernest Hemingway engulfed a field that included Irish St. Leger winner Royal Diamond – a charge that may also be under St. Leger consideration.  With massive strides, the son of Galileo gave a farewell to arms, hooves and any other appendages with a superbly impressive performance that would mark him a force with which to be reckoned if entered in the St. Leger.

On this side of the pond, it will be interesting to see what happens in the Grade III Singspiel Stakes at Woodbine Racetrack Sunday, July 7.  At 12 furlongs and sporting a $150,000 purse, the race is worth watching for new potential St. Leger starters.  Locally, on July 13, Arlington International Racecourse hosts the Grade III $150,000 Stars and Stripes Stakes, which will feature 2012 St. Leger runner-up Ioya Bigtime.  The following day, July 14, the Grade III $100,000 Sunset Handicap takes place at Hollywood Park under the same conditions and could produce starters for either the St. Leger or the Arlington Million.