|Arlington Park - Road To The Million
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HAP HURLS HIMSELF INTO ARLINGTON MILLION XIX PICTURE; ASTRA ASCENDS LIST OF PRIMARY BEVERLY D. CANDIDATES
Allen E. Paulson Living Trust's Hap, moving to the forefront of the nation's top turf contenders, stamped himself as prominent candidate for the Grade I Arlington Million with an impressive seven-length tally in the Grade III New Hampshire Sweepstakes at Rockingham Park June 23.
In the days before Hap's dominant New England outing, Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott had said: "If he stays in good form, we'd like to go to the Arlington Million with him. We're still trying to figure out how good he is."
Minutes after the New Hampshire Sweepstakes, Mott assistant Don Stettler, who accompanied Hap to New England, seemed to confirm a date for Hap in Arlington Million XIX on August 18 with his own assessment of Hap's prowess.
"He's a pretty special horse," Stettler said. "He's a good horse when he's a fresh horse. After today, I'd say he's a very good horse."
Ridden by talented turf rider John Velazquez, Hap surged past his rivals on the final turn and drew off steadily in the lane.
"He ran the way I expected," Velazquez said. "I've watched so many of his races and I know he's a horse who doesn't get into the race early, so I rode him with confidence. I just shook the whip at him, I never hit him with it, and he took off and then opened up. He's really a good horse."
Hap, a 5-year-old son of Theatrical (third behind Manila in the 1987 Arlington Million), was the 123-pound highweight and 1-5 favorite in the New Hampshire Sweepstakes, shortest price since Hall of Famer Dr. Fager was sent off at similar odds in the 1967 renewal of Rockingham's premier attraction. Hap, a compact chestnut with a distinctive white blaze, accomplished the "about" a mile and an eighth distance over the grass in 1:46.32.
In his previous trip to the post, Hap had won the Grade II Dixie Handicap by a length and a quarter at Pimlico on Preakness Day, May 19.
The Arlington Million is the third leg of the Emirates World Series Racing Championship, a 12-race series contested in 10 countries on four continents.
One day after Hap's impressive tally in the New Hampshire Sweepstakes, a similarly dominant performance was turned in on the West Coast by one of the leading candidates to Arlington's Grade I Beverly D. That grassy filly and mare test, to be contested on the same day as the Arlington Million as part of Arlington's one-day International Festival of Racing, has had its purse increased to $700,000 for this year's 12th renewal.
Coincidentally, Astra, the mare who captured Sunday's Grade I Beverly Hills Handicap at Hollywood Park, is also owned by Allen E. Paulson Living Trust, as is Hap.
Also like Hap, she is by Theatrical. She is also a 5-year-old, and is being strongly considered for a date in the Midwest at Chicago's premier Thoroughbred oval August 18.
"She runs well off a layoff," trainer Simon Bray said following the Beverly Hills Handicap. "The plan probably now - we're looking at the Breeders' Cup - is maybe the Beverly D. and the Breeders' Cup."
In the June 24 Beverly Hills Handicap, Astra made up for a defeat by Happyanunoit in last year's renewal of the same race. Happyanunoit, owned by Amerman Racing LLC, is also a Beverly D. nominee who finished second in the Beverly Hills, four lengths behind Astra.
Interestingly, Michael Tabor's Kalypso Katie, Gary A. Tanaka's Polaire, and John Stewart's Jig, who finished third, fourth and fifth respectively in the Beverly Hills, are also Beverly D. nominees.
Never far back in the Beverly Hills, Astra challenged the pace-contesting Happyanunoit inside the furlong grounds and drew off late.
"I said I'd go halfway around the world and back to ride this mare, and she was worth it," said Astra's jockey Kent Desosrmeaux, who flew into Southern California from Japan earlier in the day. "She has the best turn-of-foot of any mare I've ever ridden. She is very, very special, obviously, and I don't think people realize how aggressive she used to be. She is very much a lady now, and Simon taught her how to be like that. She is just responding to my cues. She is good, really good."
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