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|Arlington Park Barn Notes (6/30/05)
Contact: Graham Ross
In today's notes:
Back home in the U.S.A. last fall, Southern Africa finished fourth in his second American start as a 2-year-old in the Grade I Hollywood Futurity Dec. 18. However, the three colts in front of him were the future juvenile champion, the eventual Kentucky Derby hero and the horse that had won the Grade I Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile in his previous start.
Not a bad beginning for a repatriated Kentucky-bred youngster making only his second appearance on the main track after beginning his career on the lawns of Great Britain's Newbury, Sandown and Ascot last summer.
After pressing the pace in the Grade I Belmont Stakes June 11 in his most recent start, before weakening at the quarter pole, Southern Africa will return to the grass this Saturday as one of the favorites in the Grade III Arlington Classic, presented by Woodford Reserve.
"The connections that we bought him from in Europe seemed to think the horse would do well on the dirt," said trainer Mike Puhich Thursday morning at Arlington. "The owners were very patient when I first got the horse last summer. I never felt I had to rush him. I wasn't disappointed at all with his first start for me (a non-descript fourth in the Grade III Hollywood Prevue Nov. 20), and in the long run, I think we did right by him.
"Actually, I've been happy with every one of his races except the Sham (his first start as a 3-year-old Feb. 5 at Santa Anita.)," said Puhich, a 42-year-old native of Seattle, Wash. "For whatever reason, he just didn't show up that day. His win in the (GIII) Lone Star Derby was a good one, and I thought he ran very well in the Belmont. He's just not a mile and a half horse."
Although Puhich has never seen Southern Africa run on the grass in person, he has studied tapes of his European races on that surface, which include a win in the Hong Kong International Sales Stakes during the 2004 Royal Ascot meeting.
"He handled the grass just fine," said Puhich of the tapes he has seen. "Anytime you can win a race during the Royal Ascot meeting, you're doing all right. In that last race there, he beat a horse named Sacred Nuts who has gone on to become a very good horse, so I think those (European starts) were all quality races.
"He breezed a half Saturday (:47.80) on the main track," said Puhich. "That was just to make sure he was still hitting on all cylinders, which he was, so I'm really looking forward to running him in the Classic. If the horse runs the way I think he will on turf, that will give us a lot of options."
The Classic serves as the first leg of Arlington's Mid-America Triple, which continues with the Grade II American Derby, presented by Jack Daniel's July 23, and concludes with the Grade I Secretariat during the International Festival of Racing Aug. 13 as part of the Arlington Million Day festivities.
"Coming to Arlington this summer has been an awesome experience," said Puhich, who is based at Santa Anita but brought a string to Chicago this summer for the first time, and won Wednesday's third race with G Five Stable LLC's Token Wild One. "This is a great facility, the people here have been just great, and I hope to keep coming back in the future."
A British export of sorts with a starter in Saturday's Grade III Arlington Classic, presented by Woodford Reserve, is trainer Paul Murphy, 62, who hails from the north of England but has been training in the United States for the last 22 years.
Murphy will start Major League Partnership's Major League, a troubled fifth in Lone Star Park's Pin Oak Stud USA Stakes in his last start May 30 over the Grand Prairie green. Major League breezed three-eighths in :38 Monday at Arlington.
"He's a much better horse on grass," said Murphy of Major League, who has won one-third of his starts on that surface. "He had a lot of trouble in that last race, so we decided to give him another shot in here. He's in really good form right now."
How did Major League, whose own name and ownership group's name sound strikingly similar, get his moniker?
"It's just a name my partners and I came up with," said Murphy, who has not lost a dry British wit during his years in this country. "It doesn't really mean anything. It just a name someone thought up. Naming horses can be a tough go. Sometimes you just have to take a name someone comes up with and run with it."
Although Murphy will be in Louisville Saturday to saddle another horse at Churchill Saturday, he has been to Arlington before, most recently to saddle Top Water Stable's Esker Island to finish fifth in the 1989 Secretariat at 42-1.
"He made the pace most of the way and just fell apart in the last 100 yards or so," said Murphy of that Secretariat Stakes, "but for most of the race he ran very well."
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