Arlington Million

Road to the Million – Vol. 6: Wednesday, July 17, 2013

| Churchill Downs Communications | 07/17/2013 #

In this edition: Ramsey Litter Ready to Roar; A Profusion of Preps This Past Weekend; Past Conquerors Royer-Dupre and Weld Tip Their Hands

A phalanx of felines from the barn of Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey are set to make an assault on Arlington International Racecourse’s International Festival of Racing on Aug. 17, according to stable manager Mark Partridge.  As many as a dozen entries, all but one by Ramsey Farm stallion Kitten’s Joy (and all but two bearing the ‘Kitten’ nomenclature), from the leading owners in America could compete on the biggest day in Arlington racing. 

Headlining these possibles are the recent conqueror of the defending Arlington Million champion and a horse once considered one of the best sophomores in Europe in 2012 – Big Blue Kitten and Real Solution.  Big Blue Kitten recently handed 2012 Million winner Little Mike a sound defeat in the Grade I United Nations.  Well regarded as a sophomore, Big Blue Kitten won five of his first six races, including the Grade II Hall of Fame Stakes at Saratoga in 2011.  After a subpar 2012 which included an ambitious trip to Royal Ascot to finish 10th in the Grade I Prince of Wales’s Stakes behind world-beater So You Think, Big Blue Kitten has won three of five in 2013, including an allowance victory over Rahystrada at Churchill Downs and a closing second-place finish in the Grade II Monmouth Stakes behind Boisterous. 

Real Solution is an intriguing type.  Not only is he a rare Kitten’s Joy homebred not to bear the “Kitten” branding, but he was equally as atypical in being a Ramsey-owned charge campaigned in Europe.  As a sophomore, Real Solution won his first three races by a combined 14½ lengths before running poorly in the Group II Italian Derby at odds of 2-5.  After another poor performance in the ‘boot’ of the Mediterranean, he got the proverbial boot and was shipped to the barn of Chad Brown in America, for whom his two starts include a flying finish behind division leader Point of Entry in the Grade I Manhattan Handicap in June.  His 118 Equibase Speed Figure in that effort is not only the third best on turf of 2013, but is two points higher than Little Mike ran in his Million victory last year.

Ramsey Stable is equally as potent in the Grade I Beverly D. Stakes this year.  Though it is still a longshot that Stephanie’s Kitten will compete in both the Grade I Diana Stakes at Saratoga (three weeks prior) and the Beverly D., it is far from out of the question.  A victory in both, in addition to impressive wins in the Grade I Just a Game Stakes and Grade II Distaff Turf Mile already this year could all but sew up a championship for the 4-year-old filly.  This possibility particularly becomes more likely if she wins decisively in the Diana for leading Arlington trainer Wayne Catalano. 

Joining with or substituting for Stephanie’s Kitten in the Beverly D. could be the duo of Artemus Kitten and Emotional Kitten.  Artemus Kitten was a strong second in the course and distance prep for the Beverly D., the Grade III Modesty Handicap on Saturday.  Outrunning her 9-1 odds, the 5-year-old mare is an honest type who looks to have appreciated the extra real estate for trainer Mike Maker.  Emotional Kitten, in the barn of Wesley Ward, has blossomed this spring, including an impressive display of acceleration in the Listed Hilltop Stakes at Pimlico and a plucky runner-up finish in Saturday’s Grade I American Oaks at Hollywood Park. 

Charming Kitten, a photo-finish second in the Grade II Virginia Derby on Saturday, leads the Grade I Secretariat Stakes possibles for the Ramseys.  Improving with each turf start for national leading trainer Todd Pletcher (trainer number five, if you are counting), Charming Kitten fell a head short in a thrilling three-horse finish with War Dancer and Jack Milton.  Admiral Kitten is also a strong possibility for the Secretariat following his third-straight graded stakes runner-up finish in the Grade II American Derby – also by a head.  If either of those colts is derailed from their Arlington-bound plans, Redwood Kitten (fifth after setting the tempo on soft turf to his distaste in the Virginia Derby) could be a viable substitute for trainer Wesley Ward.  As of now, though, it is more likely that he may be pointed toward races a furlong shorter, like the Hall of Fame Stakes or Grade II Del Mar Derby. 

Dark Cove, a son of Medaglia d’Oro playing the role of honorary kitten in this litter, could be the strongest favorite of any Ramsey on Million Day.  In Saturday’s Grade III Stars and Stripes he won his third consecutive graded stakes over 12 furlongs when beating defending race champion Ioya Bigtime, in addition to stakes winners Suntracer and The Pizza Man.  Next up, as of now, is the American St. Leger at 1 11/16-miles, where the strapping dark bay will have to contend with some of the best stayers from Europe at a distance three-sixteenths beyond his farthest race.  He will probably have company, though, from a stablemate in the Wesley Ward-trained Amen Kitten.  A hard-trying third on Saturday in the appropriately named Kitten’s Joy Stakes at Colonial Downs, Amen Kitten has the feel of a true stayer and already has two seconds over the world-renowned Arlington lawn.

As if having multiple serious contenders in the big four, the Ramseys are also looking to be well represented in the two supporting stakes on the Million Day – the Hatoof Stakes and Straight Line Stakes.  At a mile on the grass for sophomore fillies, it is no surprise that a Kitten’s Joy could be involved.  The Mike Maker-trained Always Kitten is currently being aimed toward the event by her connections.  After a rough trip in the Virginia Oaks on Saturday, where she finished seventh beaten five lengths after steadying twice, the stakes-winning filly hopes to get back to the form that saw her decisively land the Happy Ticket Stakes as a juvenile.  In the Straight Line Stakes, at a mile on the Polytrack main course, the Wayne Catalano-trained Believe in Kitten and Mike Maker-trained Honor the Kitten both look to step up their respective games and win a stakes.

Million Preview Day did just that on Saturday, with most of the major players promising a return on Aug. 17.  In the Arlington Million prep, the Arlington Handicap, the ageless Robert E. Courtney, Jr.’s Rahystrada won for the third time in the fixture in as many attempts and was once again a solid performer over the Arlington turf.  He is expected to return in what will be his fourth attempt at the Million after having finished fifth, fourth and in a dead-heat for third in past runnings. 

In the Modesty Handicap, Shadwell Farm’s Ausus showed a wicked turn of foot to run away from Artemus Kitten and local favorite La Tia.  Though Artemus Kitten and Hernandez Racing Club’s La Tia are only possible to come back in the Beverly D., Ausus has been aimed at the race since the Spring by trainer Danny Peitz.  In the American Derby, Team Valor’s Infinite Magic won in only his third American start for trainer Rick Mettee, and is a possibility to return for the Secretariat. The aforementioned runner-up Admiral’s Kitten is probable, as is Leonard Leveen and Michael P. Stanley’s Stormy Len who finished a nose behind that charge in third for trainer David Donk.  In the Stars and Stripes, in addition to the odds-on winner Dark Cove, runner-up Suntracer is under serious consideration for the American St. Leger.  He could be joined by fellow Team Block-owned and Chris Block-trained Ioya Bigtime, who finished second in last year’s inaugural running of the marathon event.

In New York at Belmont Park, two stakes produced possibles for Million Day.  First, last year’s Million beaten favorite Boisterous looked better than ever in decisively winning his first Grade I in the Man o’ War Stakes for owner Phipps Stable and trainer Shug McGaughey.  Though currently undecided in his next step, another crack at the Million could be in the cards for the son of Distorted Humor.  Calumet Farm’s Optimizer, who ran a disappointing fifth as the 8-5 favorite, could also reappear in the Million for trainer D. Wayne Lukas. 

Earlier in the Belmont card, the Solar Splendor Stakes turned out to be a salty affair with four stakes winners competing.  Though the winner, Repole Stable’s Notacatbutallama, is most likely bound for Saratoga, the runner-up and third-place horses look like prototypical Secretariat material.  Wade Wacker’s Joha, a Grade I winner at two on Polytrack, and Klaravich Stable and William H. Lawrence’s Balance the Books, third in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, ran huge races to just miss at a one-mile distance shorter than their optimum.

At Colonial Downs, the Virginia Derby produced, in a photo-finish, what could be the top three American hopes for the Secretariat.  Magdalena Racing’s Kenny McPeek-trained War Dancer proved victorious by a head over Charming Kitten and Garb Barber’s Jack Milton in third (both trained by Todd Pletcher).  All three are said to be pointing toward the Secretariat, which is at the same 10-furlong distance of the Virginia Derby.  Race favorite Rydilluc, who never looked comfortable on the soft turf while finishing a well beaten eighth, has not yet been ruled out of an attempt on what was previously one of his seasonal goals.

Two races before the Virginia Derby, trainer McPeek also struck in the 12-furlong Kitten’s Joy with Soribel Stable’s Al Qasr.  A Group I winner last year in Argentina and multiple stakes winner in Peru, the son of Aptitude was making his fourth start in the United States and looked to finally return to the form that made him a Peruvian champion in 2011.  With War Dancer en route to Arlington for the Secretariat, the possible addition of Al Qasr to the St. Leger would add to an already deep possible field.

A possible favorite for the Beverly D., Marketing Mix made her second start of 2013 a striking one by beating the boys at a distance farther than she had ever attempted in the 12-furlong Grade III Sunset Handicap at Hollywood Park.  Second in last year’s Beverly D. and Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf, the Glen Hill Farm-owned daughter of Medaglia d’Oro decisively held off distance specialist Dhaamer for trainer Tom Proctor.  She is on course for an attempt to do herself one better at Arlington in the race in which she failed as the favorite in 2012.  

In Europe, the Group II Summer Mile at Ascot Racecourse produced a fine run from 10-furlong specialist Mull of Killough to finish second in the stiff eight-furlong prep.  Aimed at the Million since his fifth in the Group I Singapore Airlines International Cup in May, the Jane Chapple-Hyam trainee ran perhaps the best race of his career to finish on Saturday behind the well regarded Aljamaaheer for owner Invictus. 

After France’s Alain de Royer-Dupre tasted his first success on Million Day in 2012 with His Highness the Aga Khan’s Bayrir, it was only a matter of time until he would come back for more.  According to the International Racing Bureau, the de Royer-Dupre/Aga Khan camp is readying a possible two-pronged 2013 invasion – the well respected Sarkiyla for the Beverly D. and the other the under-achieving Visiyani for the Secretariat.  A good second in the Group II Prix du Muguet in May, Sarkiyla is an eight-furlong specialist who would be looking to stretch out to the nine and a half furlongs of the Beverly D.  Visiyani, a well bred son of Rock of Gibraltar, is multiple-group stakes placed – including a good second in the Group II Prix des Chenes at mile last year. 

In Ireland, the ever-internationally minded Dermot Weld (who won the Secretariat in 2008 with Winchester) has two fillies with eyes on the Beverly D. – Mrs. C. Regalado-Gonzalez’s Yellow Rosebud and Moyglare Stud’s Princess Highway.  Both fillies are looking to return to the form and promise they displayed as sophomores last year for the well respected Irish conditioner.  Yellow Rosebud was a smashing winner of the Group III  Irish 1000 Guineas Trial last year and has shown some traces of that quality form in 2013 – including a respectable second in the Group III Park Express Stakes at the Curragh.  On the other hand, Princess Highway was a runaway winner of the Group II Ribblesdale Stakes – destroying internationally revered mare The Fugue – at Royal Ascot in 2012 and also ran a very good third in the Group I Irish Oaks.  The daughter of Street Cry has yet to recapture a glimmer of what looked like a skyrocketing career, but should appreciate the course and distance of the Beverly D.

It has also been learned that Sir Michael Stoute is considering a run in the Beverly D. for James Wigan’s Dank, a very good 4-year-old daughter of Dansili who recently was third in the Group II Duke of Cambridge behind Duntle at Royal Ascot.  Second that day was Ladys First, who is also being pointed toward a possible run in the Beverly D.