Road to the 2014 Million – Vol. 7: Wednesday, July 23, 2014
In this edition: Arlington Million XXXII: Vancouverite Joins the Vanguard; Beverly D.: Stoute and the Euros; Secretariat: The Waiting Game; American St. Leger: Suntracer Ready
ARLINGTON MILLION XXXII: VANCOUVERITE JOINS THE VANGUARD
This week the Road to the Million is more of a laundry list – albeit an exciting one – through the probables for each race, as well as a scanning of those no longer foreseeable to enter the International Festival of Racing.
Perhaps the most exciting news of the week for the Grade I Arlington Million is the expected addition of Vancouverite. The Godolphin-owned son of Dansili – whose offspring (e.g. Dank, Dandino) usually prefer the firm ground they receive in the United States – was Group I-placed earlier this year in the Jebel Hatta in Dubai and was last seen finishing a nose short in second in the Listed Doom Bar Stakes. The Doom Bar was an especially salty renewal with multiple Group I-winning comebacker Al Kazeem and the well regarded trio of Battle of Marengo, Nabucco and once Kentucky Derby-bound Out of Bounds in the field.
A 1¼-miles specialist, Vancouverite’s best winning performance was at Deauville last year in the Group II Prix Guillaume d’Ornano at said distance. When last seen at the Group/Grade I level, the Charlie Appleby trainee was eighth of 16 in the Group I Dubai World Cup behind stablemate African Story. A win by the improving 4-year-old could not only provide a little solace after Godolphin’s Hunter’s Light’s troubled trip in the 2013 Million, but also would be the outfit’s first victory since Sulamani in 2003.
The 39-year-old Appleby has never raced a charge in the Million, but has only been a head trainer for Sheikh Mohammed’s operation since July 2013. Still, he made quick headway and proved his Stateside mettle when winning the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf with Outstrip last fall at Santa Anita.
The major players in this side of the pond are still filing themselves into line, but one thing for sure is that defending champion Real Solution is training well and seemingly ready to roll. The Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey homebred son of Kitten’s Joy put in a solid five-furlong turf work in 1:00.64 on July 20 at Saratoga in company with multiple Grade I-winning stablemate (and fellow Grade I Breeders’ Cup Turf alum) Big Blue Kitten.
Plans have been since Real Solution’s impressive win in the Grade I Manhattan on June 7 to train up to the Million. Big Blue Kitten is six works into his season and should be making his 2014 debut later this summer at Saratoga, according to Ramsey stable manager Mark Partridge. Admiral Kitten, second in the Grade III Arlington Handicap last out and winner of last year’s Grade I Secretariat Stakes – both at the course and distance of the Million – is expected to join Real Solution in the gate on Aug. 16. Arlington Handicap winner Finnegans Wake is expected to return for the Million – a race in which he finished fourth in 2013 – but has not yet been confirmed.
The Ramseys may not be the only powerful stable with a double entry in the Million. The Niarchos Family – a racing family entrenched in international racing and highly successful at shipping horses Stateside for Grade I glory – has Smoking Sun as probable for the event and Main Sequence as possible. Smoking Sun is trained by Pascal Bary, who trained the Niarchos’ Domedriver to victory in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Mile in 2002 when it was held at Arlington International Racecourse. Main Sequence recently won the Grade I United Nations in his American debut and first effort for decorated trainer Graham Motion. The conditioner commented afterward that he is looking at the Million for the son of Aldebaran, but would leave it up to the owners’ discretion, as he was aware they have Smoking Sun pointing toward the race.
Listed as possible for the Million at this point is Juddmonte Farm’s Noble Mission – a full brother to the great Frankel – who is expected to run this weekend in the Group I King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes at Ascot. Juddmonte also has U. S.-based Seek Again in the Bill Mott barn as possible. A Grade I winner last fall at the Million distance, he was recently third behind Real Solution in the Manhattan one start after losing a photo to Wise Dan in the Grade I Turf Classic at Churchill Downs.
An interesting Million possible is 2013 Canadian Horse of the Year Up with the Birds, who was extremely impressive this past weekend in the Grade II Nijinsky Stakes at Woodbine. Returning to the winner’s circle for the first time in three 2014 races, the talented Sam-Son Farm homebred defeated a good field of graded stakes winners, including 2013 Grade I Breeders’ Cup Mile runner-up Za Approval. Trainer Malcolm Pierce mentioned the Million and the Grade II Sky Classic as possible next targets for the colt, with the caveat that he and the owners were trying to separate the top two turf horses in their barn – the other being recent Grade III Singspiel Stakes winner Aldous Snow. Up with the Birds’ participation would give Sam-Son a chance to avenge the loss of its losing favorite in the 1992 Million, Sky Classic.
This weekend is all about Europe as far as last preps for Million possibles. Keep a keen eye on the aforementioned King George, as well as the Group II York Stakes in England and Group I Grosser Dallmayr-Preis in Germany. All three have produced Million starters in the recent past, including three last year (Hunter’s Light from the Grosser Dallmayr-Preis, and The Apache and Grandeur from the York). Also, keep watch on local turf allowances for longshot last-minute Million entries. The last two years have seen impressive wins by local horses (Willcox Inn in 2012 and Nates Mineshaft in 2013) garner an entry into the big dance.
Owner Gary Barber has three possibles for the Million: the Mark Casse-trained Kaigun – who has been knocking heads with the best Americans all season – as well as the Todd Pletcher-trained duo of Boisterous and Jack Milton. That triad joins Moyglare Stud’s Speaking of Which, Pearl Bloodstock’s Side Glance, Phipps Stable’s Imagining, Diamond M Stable’s War Dancer, and Coolmore’s duo of Verrazano and Ruler of the World (the latter co-owned by Al Shaqab Racing) as horses under serious consideration.
BEVERLY D.: STOUTE AND THE EUROS
The most intriguing part of this week’s catch-up on the Grade I Beverly D. doings is anticipating what conditioner Sir Michael Stoute is strategizing. After winning last year with James Wigan’s Dank en route to Breeders’ Cup and Eclipse Award glory, the trainer and owner expressed an interest in returning to Arlington and Santa Anita once again in 2014. Some hoof issues have bothered the filly since her uncharacteristic unplaced showing against the world’s best 10-furlong horses in the Group I Prince of Wales’s Stakes in June, so she is left as a mere ‘possible’ to make said appointments.
Even without last year’s runaway winner, Stoute’s yard has an enviable breadth of talent in the form of middle-distance turf fillies and mares. Leading the pack is Cheveley Park Stud’s Integral, who recently landed the Group I Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket on July 11 and the Antoniades Family’s Mango Diva, who annexed the Group II Kilboy Estate Stakes at The Curragh on July 20 – the same race Dank won in 2013 en route to Chicago.
While it is more likely that Integral will point toward events like the Group I Prix Jean Romanet or Group I Prix de l’Opera in France in the next couple months, Mango Diva looks increasingly likely to take Dank’s place if she does not make the trip. A homebred daughter of Holy Roman Emperor, Mango Diva has only raced nine times, but has landed two Group victories, including the Group III Lanwades Stud Fillies Stakes at Gowran Park at the Beverly D.’s 1 3/16-miles distance. Much like Dank at this time last year, the bay filly has yet to land a victory at the top level, but is definitely on the improve and with Stoute’s patient and calculated handling it only seems a matter of time.
Just the Judge, who was mentioned in last week’s Road to the Million, has gone from possible to probable, according to the International Racing Bureau. Owned by Qatar Racing Limited and the Sangster Family, the Charlie Hills trainee is coming into her own at the right time and could appreciate firmer and quicker American racing. She is joined by another under serious consideration, the attractive Pia Brandt-trained mare L’Amour de Ma Vie. A daughter of Dansili, she was last seen finishing a very good second in the Group II Duke of Cambridge at Royal Ascot behind Integral for owner Md Bloodstock Limited. The Duke of Cambridge was used by Dank last year (two races prior) en route to the Beverly D. and by Princess Haya of Jordan’s Joviality in 2012, who finished an excellent third in that year’s Beverly D.
Qatar Racing also has another shot in the Beverly D. in the regally bred Secret Gesture, who is also co-owned by breeder Newsells Park Stud for trainer Ralph Beckett. The daughter of Galileo has placed three times in Group I races, including a third behind The Fugue in last year’s Yorkshire Oaks and a second in the classic English Oaks. Interestingly, she is entered this weekend against the boys in the Group II York Stakes at York Racecourse as a prep.
An intriguing charge from Europe is George Strawbridge’s Sparkling Beam, an American-owned Irish-bred filly trained in France by an Englishman. It does not get more ‘international’ than that. The daughter of Nayef hails from the yard of Jonathan Pease, who must be considered formidable when he ships a horse Stateside, especially considering he has been snagging graded stakes here with well-placed charges since 1987 – including two Breeders’ Cup victories. Sparkling Beam has not been a standout performer in Europe, but has been consistent in Group II and III events in France.
Stateside, the Grade I Diana Stakes was the final domestic prep for the Beverly D. The $500,000 event attracted no less than five Grade I winners and finished with six as Caroline Forgason’s Michael Matz-trained Somali Lemonade showed marked improvement from her last two races to win by a driving neck under Luis Saez. Now considered a possible for a trip to Chicago, the daughter of Lemon Drop Kid joins Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey’s runner-up Stephanie’s Kitten, Andrew Stone’s Strathnaver, Phipps Stable’s Abaco, Juddmonte Farm’s Emollient and Martin Schwartz’s Alterite from the Diana field as Beverly D. ‘maybes.’ Alterite, a disappointing eighth after contesting the pace, has had the Beverly D. penciled in since before the Diana for her three-time Beverly D.-winning owner, but her attendance may be in jeopardy after such a lackluster showing.
SECRETARIAT: THE WAITING GAME
The Grade I Secretariat Stakes could go either way this year in terms of field size and class. There are many interested and twice as many wavering on committing at this point. One thing is clear: it looks like Adelaide is on his way from Ireland and Our Channel may be returning as well from England after his solid performance in the Grade III American Derby. The X-factors on this side may be which horse(s) Todd Pletcher decides to send – as he has the talented duo of multiple stakes winner Gala Award and American Derby winner Divine Oath at his disposal – and whether or not Phipps Stable sends Mr. Speaker after his excellent victory over Adelaide in the Grade I Belmont Derby Invitational.
AMERICAN ST. LEGER: SUNTRACER READY
One thing was for sure after the Grade III Stars and Stripes – Team Block’s Suntracer only had a chance to run for about 150 yards. Trainer Chris Block expressed this soon after, saying that his charge was ready to go again a few days later. Second in last year’s Listed $400,000 American St. Leger, the son of Kitten’s Joy will have to wait three more weeks to once again take on Dandino and whatever possible Europeans make the trek, not to mention Midwest Thoroughbreds’ Stars and Stripes winner The Pizza Man.
Defending champion Dandino, according to owner Australian Thoroughbred Bloodstock, is aiming toward running, despite a poor performance at Newmarket last out in the Group II Princess of Wales’s. The son of Dansili prefers firm ground and will be hoping for such if he makes the trip for trainer Marco Botti. The rest of the field seems up for grabs and – like the Secretariat – it should become much clearer by next week. Botti, who has two other possibles in his barn, has yet to completely tip his hand on his Festival entries, but such should be disclosed soon.
Three-time Grade I winning globetrotter Joshua Tree is under serious consideration once again this year, but this time seems more apt to running. The 7-year-old Ed Dunlop trainee enjoys North American racing – as evidenced by his three Canadian International victories – and also does well when treated with Lasix. The son of Montjeu was last out seen finishing seventh – not far behind Dandino – in the Group II Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot.