Racing & Wagering

Road to the 2013 Million: Vol. 1 - Thursday, June 13

| Churchill Downs Communications | 06/13/2013 #

Arlington Million XXXI: Little Mike Back on Track; Beverly D.: Breeders’ Cup Winner Stephanie’s Kitten Ready to Defend America; Secretariat: Rydilluc Ready for Euros; American St. Leger: Second Edition Could Be Second to None

The journey to Arlington Million Day and the International Festival of Racing has taken so many twists and turns in recent years that its exciting challenges make it less like a road and more like a ‘maze’ to the big day.  With that said, let us dive muzzle-first into 2013’s maze to Million Day.

Priscilla Vaccarezza’s defending Arlington Million winner Little Mike has returned from a well-deserved post-Dubai rest and is back in training in Kentucky for conditioner Dale Romans.  After two failed attempts at Meydan Racecourse, including an 11th in the Group I $5,000,000 Dubai Duty Free, the Florida-bred son of Spanish Steps is being aimed at the Grade I $500,000 United Nations at 11 furlongs. 

At three turns and two furlongs farther than his previous race, the United Nations looks like a high-quality fitness-building race for the homebred en route to his defense over the two-turn 10-furlong Arlington Million conditions.  The horse’s connections, no doubt, have an eye on winning both and once again throwing their hat into the Eclipse Champion Turf Horse voting, in which they finished second last year to Horse of the Year Wise Dan. 

Over Belmont Stakes weekend, the nation saw three relevant Million prep races – the Grade I $500,000 Manhattan Handicap at Belmont Park, Grade II $202,500 Monmouth Stakes at Monmouth Park and Grade II $200,250 Charlie Whittingham Memorial Handicap at Hollywood Park.  The former and latter were both at the Million’s 10 furlongs, while the Monmouth race was contested at a furlong shorter. 

In the Manhattan, there was definitely good and bad news.  The good news was that race favorite, and possibly the best American hope in the Million, Point of Entry won well.  The bad news is that the brilliantly fast horse, the only to defeat Animal Kingdom this year, exited the race with a slight condylar fracture and will miss the next few months.  The Monmouth Stakes and Whittingham Handicap each saw solid performances from improving stakes horses.  Boisterous, a tepid morning line favorite in last year’s Million who wound up finishing a disappointing ninth, showed his class in the Monmouth race by easily defeating his rivals in what had the look of a preparatory event.  At Hollywood, the improving Tale of a Champion showcased an impressive stride when winning his first graded stakes for trainer Kristen Mulhall.

On the European front, much will not be known until after next Wednesday’s Group I Prince of Wales’s Stakes at the Royal Ascot meeting.  At 10 grassy furlongs, the prestigious event often produces one or two starters in Arlington’s marquee race.  This year, Asfare looks to make his first start since finishing second in last year’s Million at the Ascot fixture.  He will most likely take on other world travelers Dunaden, Hunters Light and Side Glance – all nominated to the Million.  

Aside from the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, there is a strong possibility that the trainer Jane Chapple-Hyam will aim Mull of Killough at the Million.  The son of 1999 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile fourth-placed Mull of Kintyre was recently a strong fifth in the Group I Singapore Airlines International Cup at Kranji under very similar conditions to those of the Million – 10 furlongs over a flat left-handed two-turn grass course.  In that race, he defeated Hunter’s Light (sixth) and Red Cadeaux (eighth), who had just finished second in the Dubai World Cup to Animal Kingdom.

Historically, American fillies have done well in the Beverly D. Stakes, and this year that seems especially promising with the possible inclusion of a Breeders’ Cup champion in the best form of her life.  Owned by Kenneth & Sarah Ramsey and conditioned by leading Arlington trainer Wayne Catalano, Stephanie’s Kitten has impressively won both of her races in 2013, highlighted by a gritty win on Saturday in the Grade I $500,000 Just A Game Stakes at Belmont Park. 

Winner of the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, Stephanie’s Kitten had an abbreviated sophomore year, but has returned in 2013 at the top of her game.  She will most likely be joined by the classy Marketing Mix, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf runner-up.  Marketing Mix made her 2013 debut a Grade I-winning one in the Gamely Handicap at Hollywood Park on May 27, and remains on target for the Beverly D., a race in which she lost in a photo in 2012 as the favorite. 

On the European front, the David Simcock-trained I’m a Dreamer is nominated but has not raced since the Dubai Duty Free in March.  England-based trainer Paul Cole is aiming his improving filly Gifted Girl to the Beverly D.  Last out, on May 31, the daughter of Breeders’ Cup Turf-placed Azamour finished a respectable runner-up in the Group III Princess Elizabeth Stakes at Epsom Downs.  Paul Cole has successfully shipped across the pond before – winning the Washington D.C. International and Canadian International, both in 1992.  

A plethora of European filly and mare races are approaching which should have a say in the European contingent for the Beverly D.  Next week at Royal Ascot, the Group II Duke of Cambridge Stakes over a mile may produce a starter as it did last year with eventual Beverly D. third Joviality.   We will also watch early July’s Group I Falmouth Stakes, used last year by Joviality as a race between the Duke of Cambridge and Beverly D., as well as Ireland’s Group I Pretty Polly Stakes in late June. 

This weekend in France, the Group I Prix de Diane (French Oaks) for sophomore fillies will be contested.  At just over 10 furlongs on turf, the race has produced subsequent Beverly D. fillies such as winner Stacelita, who was owned by Martin Schwartz – a winner of three editions of the Beverly D..  Schwartz has the noteworthy Alterite in the French Oaks, an improving filly who recently ran a respectable second in the Group I Prix Saint-Alary.

Recent $500,000 Penn Mile winner Rydilluc is being pointed toward the Grade I $500,000 Secretariat for trainer Gary Contessa.  After a scheduled start in July’s Grade II Virginia Derby, a traditional producer of Secretariat favorites like Kitten’s Joy and Silver Max, the dashing Medaglia d’Oro colt will be a formidable foe on Arlington’s world-renowned turf course.  More about the Europeans being pointed toward the Secretariat will come into focus after next week’s Group I St. James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot and the June 30 Group I Irish Derby.  As usual, all eyes will be on Aiden O’Brien and his phalanx of Ballydoyle sophomores from the Emerald Isle. 

Last year’s inaugural American St. Leger produced a superb stretch battle between international traveler Jakkalberry and Arlington-based Ioya Bigtime.  While the former is not on target for this year’s edition, the latter is.  All signs, so far, point toward this year’s edition trumping the inaugural in quality.  The possible North American contingent, aside from Ioya Bigtime, is headed by multiple Grade III winner Dark Cove, Belmont Stakes-placed Atigun and the classy Shug McGaughey-trained Air Support. 

A lot more about the European contingent will be known after next week’s Group I Ascot Gold Cup, the premier stayer’s race in the northern hemisphere.  Three interesting horses nominated to the St. Leger and possible to run in the Gold Cup are Ballydoyle’s Group I-winning Imperial Monarch, the Ed Dunlop-trained Times Up and Godolphin’s Cavalryman – arguably the best stayer in the world after his 3-length drubbing of the Dubai Gold Cup field in March.  An additional highly regarded charge who is reportedly aiming toward the St. Leger is well traveled 2011 Secretariat Stakes winner Treasure Beach, who finished up the track last year in the Arlington Million and was recently eighth in the Dubai World Cup in March.