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|Arlington Park Barn Notes (7/1/05)
Contact: Graham Ross
In today's notes:
When a stable that has four wins from five starters at the meeting enters a horse with two wins from three starts this year -- that's something to consider -- and such is the case Saturday when John C. Oxley's Gold Minister goes to the post in the Grade III Arlington Classic.
Saturday's Classic, presented by Woodford Reserve, is the first of three grassy stakes races restricted to 3-year-olds that makes up Arlington's Mid-America Triple. The mile and a sixteenth affair will be followed by the Grade II American Derby, presented by Jack Daniel's July 23 at a mile and three-sixteenths, and the Grade I Secretariat at 10 furlongs as part of the International Festival of Racing Aug. 13.
Three horses -- Powhatan's Tom Rolfe in 1965, Ogden Phipps' Buckpasser in 1966, and James Schaedle III's Honor Glide in 1997 -- have swept the Mid-America Triple to date, and Gold Minister and eight others take their first steps down that road in the 71st running of the Classic.
Gold Minister is 10-1 in Saturday's morning line, but that won't discourage Oxley or Ward, who teamed up at those same odds to win the 2001 Kentucky Derby with Monarchos.
"This is a good little horse," said Sally Schu, a former trainer at Arlington who is now serving as Ward's assistant in charge of the Chicago string of Oxley color bearers, including Gold Minister. "He got a little aggressive on us at Keeneland this spring, but other than that he's been a pretty nice horse for us."
As a son of Deputy Minister out of a Time for a Change mare, the Kentucky-bred broke his maiden in his seasonal bow over the Gulfstream Park turf March 20, but finished sixth when asked to take the next step over the Lexington lawn April 9.
"He seemed to have a hard time with that surface at Keeneland," said Schu, "but we were hoping he would bounce back and run like he did at Gulfstream, and he did that in his first race here (a three-length win June 3 at the Classic distance).
"He loves this race track here at Arlington," concluded Schu. "He's going to have to step up to the plate Saturday -- there are some nice horses in that race -- but we have no qualms about running him in that spot."
British-born trainer Graham Motion will have the eyes of international racing fans focused on him at Monmouth Park Saturday when he saddles Grade I John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf champion Better Talk Now, owned by Bushwood Stable, in the Grade I United Nations Handicap on the Jersey Shore.
However, on Sunday, he sends Mrs. S. K. Johnston Jr.'s Swagger Stick to the post in Arlington's showcased Grade III Stars and Stripes Breeders' Cup Turf at a mile and a half, and although Motion won't be in Chicago to saddle Swagger Stick because of previous commitments in Italy, he thinks enough of both to have nominated them to the Grade I Arlington Million.
"I don't like to get too far ahead of myself," said Motion when asked about long range plans for the centerpiece of the Chicago Thoroughbred racing season. "I like to take each race as it comes up, but I've pretty much decided that a mile and a half is Swagger Stick's best distance. Obviously, at least for Better Talk Now, the Million remains on the radar screen.
"I tend to throw out that last race," said Motion, speaking of Swagger Stick's disappointing fifth in allowance company at Belmont Park May 27. "Maybe cutting him back to a mile and a quarter was what caused his poor showing, but this horse ran a couple of big races in Florida this winter, and I think he could return to that form at Arlington.
"The fact that I could get Ramon (jockey Dominguez) to ride him in Chicago was a big part of our decision to send him for the Stars and Stripes," said Motion.
Swagger Stick is by the good grass sire Cozzene, winner of the Grade I Breeders' Cup Mile in 1985, is out of an Affirmed mare to underline turf breeding on the bottom side of his pedigree, and he finished a close fifth in Gulfstream's Grade III Mac Diarmida Handicap Jan. 30 despite having to steady early under European-based jockey Kieren Fallon.
When he came back to run in the Grade I Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap, again at a mile and three-eighths, he finished seventh, but was only beaten a length for the win.
"That was an incredible finish," said Motion of Gulfstream's top turf graded grass test. "In fact, both those Gulfstream races were very good efforts. I didn't start him in the (Grade II) Pan American Handicap down there (at a mile and a half), because I didn't think it was fair to ask him to do that so soon after running him in a grade I race."
Jockey agents are Saturday's "Get In The Game" guests; Jeff Gordon's #24 Dupont Pepsi Chevy is displayed in the Park Area Sunday until 2 p.m.; and "Get In The Game" returns Monday with trainer Wayne Catalano, and jockeys Earlie Fires and Randy Meier as guests.
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