Arlington Million

Road to the Million – Vol. 7: Wednesday, July 24, 2013

| Churchill Downs Communications | 07/24/2013 #
  • Depending on his finish in Saturday's Group II York Stakes, Hunter's Light could be Million-bound.

In this edition: Arlington Million XXXI:  Final Euro Prep the Most Influential; Secretariat: UAE Derby Winner and Runner-Up Target USA; American St. Leger:  Joshua Tree Would Bring Serious Class Edge

After a lush European middle distance spring/summer season that has seen such superb Group I fixtures as England’s Coral-Eclipse Stakes and Prince of Wales’s Stakes, France’s Prix Ganay and Prix d’Ispahan, Ireland’s Tattersalls Gold Cup and Italy’s Premio Presidente della Repubblica – all at or close to the 10-furlong distance of the Arlington Million – it is hard to believe that the most influential European prep for the Million is going to be a Group II stakes at the course and distance of the biggest rival race to the Million itself. 

The Group II York Stakes, the trip prep for the Juddmonte International Stakes (Aug. 21 – 4 days after the Million), is to be held Saturday, July 27, and features no less than six Group I winners from six different countries, including four contenders being pointed directly toward the Arlington Million, pending a good performance.  Last year, Asfare used a solid runner-up performance in the York Stakes en route to a runner-up finish in the Million. 

Headlining the probables is Godolphin’s Hunter’s Light, winner of the Group I Maktoum Challenge Round III in March at Meydan over 10 furlongs on the all-weather Tapeta surface.  As a 4-year-old, Hunter’s Light proved he can win at the top level on the grass with a victory in the Group I Premio Roma at Capannelle in Italy.  He has been out of action since two subpar performances in rich 10-furlong international races – the Dubai World Cup and Singapore Airlines International Cup.  Hunter’s Light’s stablemate and fellow Million nominee Aesop’s Fables is also expected to run at York.  A Group I-winner of the one-mile Prix Jean Prat at three last year, the Kentucky-bred son of Distorted Humor has not returned to that form in five subsequent starts in three different countries.

Hunter’s Light’s main challenge might come from another Dubai veteran, The Apache.  Owned by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Kalifa Al Maktoum and trained by Mike De Kock, the grandson of Storm Cat may be in slightly over his head as far as the distance goes, but the race should set him up perfectly to be a tough customer in the Million next out.  A two-time Group I winner in his native South Africa, The Apache does his best running at nine and 10 furlongs, as opposed to the about 10½ furlongs of the York Stakes. 

International Festival of Racing veteran Wigmore Hall is once again under consideration for a trip across the pond.  The gelding is winless in four starts since landing the 12-furlong Grade I Northern Dancer in Canada, but did show some life in two recent Group II events over 12 furlongs at Newmarket.  Seventh and fourth in the last two Arlington Millions and second in the Grade I Secretariat Stakes on Million Day in 2010, Wigmore Hall made the trip over last year despite a sixth in the York Stakes.

Grandeur, who last year came to America to land two of three starts, including the Grade II Hollywood Turf Cup – a race won by John Henry before his second Million win – relishes firm turf and 10 furlongs.  He makes his second start of the year in the York Stakes, which looks to set him up well for a trip to Arlington.  Jeremy Noseda, a dangerous trainer when shipping internationally, trains the son of Dalakhani for Miss Yvonne Jacques.

The most interesting entrant in the York is Unbridled Command – the same Unbridled Command who won the Grade I Hollywood Derby, defeating Grandeur.  In an experiment, his ownership team of Lewis Lakin, David Bernsen and Kevin and Colleen Bamford reversed the normal trend and sent their charge to be trained in Europe after making his first 11 starts in America.  Trained now in England by Ed Dunlop, the handsome gray was seen last out chasing home none other than Point of Entry and Animal Kingdom in the Grade I Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap in February.

Mukhadram, who has never won a Group I, should achieve favoritism.  Trained by the Roger Varian for Shadwell Stable, the speedy son of Shamardal has fallen twice to division leader Al Kazeem this summer after setting a good early pace – a second in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes and a third in the Coral-Eclipse Stakes.  Though nothing has been stated as to whether this Million nominee is considering a run at Arlington, it is keenly noted that his Varian-trained stablemate – owned by another member of the royal family, Sheikh Ahmed Al Maktoum – is now being rerouted to run in the Pacific Classic.  If the young 34-year-old trainer would ever wish to bag two Grade I $1,000,000 races in a span of eight days, there is no time like 2013. 

On the domestic front, it has been indicated to Arlington officials that Calumet Farm and trainer D. Wayne Lukas plan to run one or both of their two big turf stars – Optimizer and Sky Ring – in the Million.  Both charges are coming off subpar performances in Grade I events, but have the back-class, speed figures and pace versatility to be major players in the Million.  On the west coast, Robert LaPenta and B.J. Wright’s Jeranimo ran perhaps the most impressive race of his career in the nine-furlong Grade I Eddie Read Stakes at Del Mar.  Though the son of Congaree has never raced at 10 furlongs on the grass, his mature and calculated closing style speak to a horse ripe for the attempt.

Though Team Ballydoyle has been fairly tightlipped on its International Festival of Racing entrants, it has been discovered that the partially American-owned Lines of Battle, who has already shipped to the United States twice to finish off the board (in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf and Kentucky Derby), is being aimed toward a run in the Secretariat Stakes.                                                                                                                                     
A winner of the Group II UAE Derby in March, Lines of Battle is a homebred of American Joseph Allen by one of the hottest stallions on the continent, War Front.  He is exiting a better-than-appeared eighth-place finish in the one-mile Group I Prix Jean Prat at Chantilly, closing from last to lose by a dwindling four lengths.  Previous to that, Lines of Battle was a solid second to subsequent Group I Irish Derby victor Trading Leather and a late-charging seventh in the aforementioned Kentucky Derby. 

A fantastic second in the UAE Derby, Elleval is looking for revenge on Lines of Battle, but this time in America.  Trained in Ireland by David Marnane for owner Damian Lavelle, the colt whose name is derived from his owner’s spelled backwards has had only one race since Dubai – a fifth in a listed one-mile stakes at The Curragh on June 29 – his first race on the grass after seven consecutive all-weather starts.

It has been learned that globetrotting Joshua Tree, who has twice won the Grade I Canadian International, is under consideration for the second running of the American St. Leger.  If the 6-year-old does indeed participate, it would be his 11th country of competition.  In an interesting twist of plot, his chief rival, if all goes well, would be fellow European and ex-stablemate Dandino, trained by his former conditioner Marco Botti.  Now trained by Ed Dunlop for owner Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda and Kamal Albahou, Joshua Tree has made three starts in 2013, including a good third behind St. Nicholas Abbey in the Group I Coronation Cup in June.  A powerful stayer, one of Joshua Tree’s best career performances was over 15 furlongs in the Group II Prix Kergorlay at Deauville in 2012 over Americain, the previous year’s Melbourne Cup winner.