Arlington Million

Road to the Million – Vol. 9: Wednesday, August 7, 2013

| Churchill Downs Communications | 08/07/2013 #
  • Grandeur

In this edition: Arlington Million XXXI:  Europe Prepares Big Assault on Little Mike; Beverly D.:  Improving Ausus Takes on Marketing Mix and Euro Trio; Secretariat:  A Field Packed with Promise; American St. Leger:  Wigmore Hall Could Finally Achieve Arlington Glory

In what is looking to be one of the most competitive renewals of the Arlington Million, as many as seven Europeans are aiming to take on defending champion Little Mike on Aug. 17.  Add to that the intriguing Argentinian multiple Group I-winner – and recent American import – Indy Point, multiple Grade II stakes winners Rahystrada and Nates Mineshaft and Grade I-placed Finnegan’s Wake and Real Solution, and this year’s event has the look of a bettor’s paradise. 

According to the International Racing Bureau, Grandeur, Guest of Honour, Mull of Killough, Side Glance, The Apache and Hunter’s Light have all been confirmed, while 2012 Million runner-up Afsare, though doubtful, is still a possibility.   While it is difficult to pick a standout in the European horseflesh union, the most accomplished are Group I winners Hunter’s Light, from the powerful Godolphin Stable, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum and Winston Chow’s The Apache, from the potent barn of dominant South African trainer Mike De Kock. 

The Saeed bin Suroor-trained Hunter’s Light comes out of a very good third in the Group I Grosser Dallmayr-Preis Bayerisches Zuchtrennen in Munich on July 28.  In his first race since a dull sixth in May’s Group I Singapore Airlines International Cup, the son of Dubawi – one of the hottest sires in the world – made a strong bid at the quarter pole of the left-handed course only to get a bit rubber-legged late.  The race looked like a perfect fitness-building prep for the Million, which is at the same 10-furlong distance, but on a much flatter course. 

The Apache is coming off a one-paced fifth in a race which could produce multiple starters in the Million – the Group II York Stakes, which was contested on July 27 over 1 5/16-miles at York Racecourse.  In his first race since a runner-up finish in the nine-furlong Group I Dubai Duty Free in March, The Apache chased the leaders in a race that was slightly beyond his best distance and visibly a fitness builder for the 6-year-old horse.  Also in the race were the Arlington-bound duo of Grandeur and Wigmore Hall.  While the latter is more likely for the American St. Leger, Yvonne Jacques’s multiple Grade II-winning Grandeur has been aiming toward the Million all season. 

Trained by Jeremy Noseda, Grandeur was a flying second in the York Stakes, which was only his second start of the year and came only 16 days after his seasonal debut – a good fourth in the Group II Princess of Wales’s Stakes at Newmarket over an 12 furlongs – an ambitious distance for a first start in seven months.  As a sophomore in 2012, Grandeur had an extended stay in the States when winning the Grade II Twilight Derby (formerly the Oak Tree Derby) on the Breeders’ Cup undercard, finishing a hard-charging second in the Grade I Hollywood Derby and culminating his season with an impressive victory in the Grade II Hollywood Turf Cup.  A lover of firmer going and a winner of four stakes at nine to 10 furlongs, Grandeur should revel in the conditions of Million.

Both Jane Chapple-Hyam’s Mull of Killough and the lightly raced (only four times) Guest of Honour have to prove they belong at the top level of racing, but both ran superb races in the July 13 Group II Summer Mile over good-to-firm going at Ascot.  At a grueling straight course, the Summer Mile should set both horses up for big runs at Arlington if they are good enough.  While Guest of Honour has to prove he can stay 10 furlongs for trainer Marco Botti – winner of last year’s American St. Leger with Jakkalberry - Mull of Killough will definitely appreciate a return to the distance at which he won his last stakes race and at which he finished a very good fifth – beating Hunter’s Light – in the Singapore Airlines International Cup. 

Pearl Bloodstock’s Side Glance has repeatedly tried to prove he is capable at the Grade I level.  Seven of the Andrew Balding-trained gelding’s last 13 races have been in Group/Grade I events, but he has never finished better than third.  Though he is doubtful to make the trip, last year’s runner-up Afsare also has to prove he is a Group/Grade I horse.  Originally on track to come back to Arlington this year, the Luca Cumani-trained Dubawi gelding has twice in his last three tries had severe trouble at the gate.  Though he passed a recent stalls test administered by the British Horseracing Authority, he has yet to be confirmed for a repeat journey across the Atlantic. 

Such a repeat journey would mean he would still have to beat the one they will all be chasing, Priscilla Vaccarezza’s defending champion Little Mike.  The Dale Romans-trained son of Spanish Steps returned from a layoff to run a fading fourth in the Grade I United Nations Stakes on July 6.  The loss was reminiscent of all three of his losses prior to his three biggest wins last year.  After pacesetting (and then fading) losses in the Grade III Canadian Turf Stakes, Grade I Shoemaker Mile and Grade I Turf Classic Invitational in 2012, he rebounded home an impressive winner in the Grade I Turf Classic (Churchill Downs), Grade I Arlington Million and Grade I Breeders’ Cup Turf in his respective subsequent starts.  After working five furlongs in a bullet 1:00.80 on Saturday, it looks as though he is right back on track and ready to take on the onslaught of Euros.

As of now, the horses who will not be taking on the Europeans, Little Mike or the aforementioned other Americans include Calumet Farm’s D. Wayne Lukas-trained duo of Optimizer and Skyring.  Both are expected to run next at Saratoga Race Course, instead.  Another dropped from the possibles is Wertheimer and Frere’s Nutello, an improving colt currently trained by Carlos Laffon-Parias.  He may also be headed to Saratoga in what could be a one-way trip to an American barn thereafter. 

Shadwell Stable’s Ausus has been aiming toward the Grade I Beverly D. Stakes for months by Arlington-based trainer Danny Peitz, and his belief that the filly was perfect for the race manifested beautifully on Million Preview Day when the daughter of Invasor devoured a field of eight in the course and distance prep, the Grade III Modesty Handicap.  Since then, the leggy chestnut 4-year-old has put in a good maintenance work on Aug. 2 (five furlongs in 1:03 flat) and looks to be sitting on a career race. 

If Ausus is to be successful in winning her first Grade I, she will have to beat expected favorite Marketing Mix, who comes off an impressive win over the boys in the Grade III Sunset Handicap where she only carried two pounds less than the older male highweight and defending race winner, Dhaamer.  Last year, Marketing Mix finished second in the two biggest races of her season, the Beverly D. and the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf.  This season, her connections hope to win both of those events, starting on Aug. 17.  Last year in the Beverly D. she was defeated in a photo finish by the European invader I’m a Dreamer after having to swing five-wide into the stretch.

This year, the Europeans are arguably tougher, as a trio of shippers from across the pond, headed by Group I performer Duntle, are scheduled to swarm the Beverly D.  Duntle, carrying the prestigious Niarchos Family’s Flaxman Holdings dark blue and white silks (worn famously by such great horses as Nureyev, Miesque Bago and Spinning World), exits a good second in the July 28 Group I Prix Rothschild behind the brilliant Elusive Kate.  Last year, in 2012, Duntle finished first in the Group I Matron Stakes at Leopardstown (a left-handed course) before being disqualified and placed second.  This season she flashed good form when winning the Group II Duke of Cambridge over a mile at the Royal Ascot meeting, while carrying an impressive 132 pounds. 

Duntle will be joined by the improving Dank, who finished third behind her in the Duke of Cambridge.  The daughter of Dansili is trained by Sir Michael Stoute and owned by James Wigan.  She comes off a facile victory in the Group II Kilboy Estate Stakes at The Curragh over good going.  Her time of 1:51 1/5 for the nine furlongs was impressive on a historically trying course and earned her a career high 113 Racing Post Rating.  She will have to repeat that form if she is to conquer A. D. Spence’s equally as improved Gifted Girl, a winner of the Pipalong Stakes last out at Pontefract Racecourse.  Trained by Paul Cole, Gifted Girl finished second in the Group III Princess Elizabeth Stakes at Epsom and has competed around left-handed turns in four of her last five races.

According to connections who alerted Arlington officials, as well as the Daily Racing Form, Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey’s Stephanie’s Kitten is out of consideration due to a minor hind-end injury.  Expected to be one of the favorites, the Wayne Catalano-trained Breeders’ Cup winner was coming off a third in the Grade I Diana at Saratoga on July 27.  If all goes well with treatment and recovery, the daughter of Kitten’s Joy will be aimed toward the Grade I Flower Bowl Stakes on Sept. 28 and eventually the Breeders’ Cup in November.

The Grade I Secretariat Stakes is shaping up to be a race filled with horses on the brink of great achievement.  Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey’s Admiral Kitten, who has three times finished second in a graded turf stakes in his last three races, leads a field that also is set to include Gary Barber’s talented and lightly raced Jack Milton, Dennis Narlinger’s hard-lucked and handsome Draw Two and the underachieving yet constantly improving duo of Juddmonte Farm’s Tattenham and Leonard Leveen and Michael Shanley’s Stormy Len. 

The intriguing and highly regarded European duo of Team Valor’s First Cornerstone and His Highness the Aga Khan’s Visiyani make this field a puzzle for even the best punters.  Late additions to the possible field include Peachtree Stable’s Dale Romans’ trained Balthazar, an unlucky second in a recent Saratoga allowance, and the Jeremy Noseda-trained Yeager, an American-bred son of Medaglia d’Oro out of a Fusaichi Pegasus mare who recently won the Deloitte Handicap at Ascot on July 27.

In 2010, Wigmore Hall ran an impressive second in the Secretariat Stakes behind Paddy O’Prado and then followed that up with two straight years of closing to finish less than four lengths from victory in the 2011 and 2012 editions of the Arlington Million.  This year, he may have found his road to Arlington glory in the American St. Leger.  Though the Mark Hawtin-owned son of High Chaparral has never raced beyond 12 furlongs, his best two races have been victories in the last two editions of the Grade I Northern Dancer Stakes at 12 furlongs on Woodbine’s undulating course in Canada.  After a bang-up third-place finish in a salty renewal of the 1 5/16-miles Group II York Stakes on July 27, all signs point to Wigmore Hall being in career-optimal position to take home his first International Festival of Racing trophy. 

Favoritism, at this point, looks to be a toss-up between European invader Dandino and American 12-furlong specialist Dark Cove.  Australian Thoroughbred Bloodstock’s Marco Botti-trained Dandino not only comes from the same connections as last year’s St. Leger victor Jakkalberry, but also is in the best form of his career.  On June 22, at the Royal Ascot meeting, the son of Dansili ran a courageous race when losing by a length after a terrible trip.  His 117 Racing Post Rating makes him superbly dangerous in the St. Leger – a race which is designed to get him ready for his seasonal goal (and the most prestigious marathon in the world), Australia’s Group I Melbourne Cup in November.  Last year, Jakkalberry parlayed a victory at Arlington to a placing at Flemington Racecourse. 

Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey’s Mike Maker-trained Dark Cove, though also under consideration for the Arlington Million, will be very tough to beat if he stays in the St. Leger.  The son of Medaglia d’Oro is entering off three straight 12-furlong graded stakes victories in which he simply overpowered his rivals.  Also under serious consideration for the St. Leger are four horses he has conquered – Team Block’s duo of Suntracer and Ioya Bigtime, Shadwell Stable’s Najjaar and Midwest Thoroughbreds’ The Pizza Man.