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Horse slaughter in Illinois
|Arlington Park Barn Notes (8/6/09)
Contact: Graham Ross
In today's notes:
Einstein (BRZ) and his trainer Helen Pitts-Blasi both emerged unscathed from the torrential downpour that pelted the Louisville area on Tuesday morning and caused massive flooding. “It was a mess there,” said Pitts-Blasi of Churchill Downs, “but my barn was okay.”
But now with the Louisville rains and an uneventful van ride to Arlington Park yesterday afternoon behind her, Pitts-Blasi is hoping to avoid some of the other misfortunes that crop up from time to time with her 7-year-old son of Spend a Buck.
“We’ve had some bad racing luck,” she said, referring to last year’s fifth-place effort in the Grade I Arlington Million and his third-place finish last time out in the Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap. “When your’re the one to beat, that’s what happens. In the Foster, he got boxed in and they [the other jockeys] weren’t going to let him out.”
Pitts-Blasi hopes for a smoother journey on Saturday, but she admits that the run-and-gun pace presence of Presious Passion, throws a bit of a monkey wrench into any pre-race strategy given that Einstein usually likes to be somewhat forwardly placed.
“You just can’t go with him,” Pitts-Blasi said of Presious Passion. “You can only ride your horse and hope you can run him down. Having him in there kind of throws things off.”
Pitts-Blasi knows there are eight horses in all that Einstein must beat, and that this year is a particularly contentious renewal of Arlington’s signature race.
“It’s a lot tougher than last year,” she said. “But no Grade I stake is easy, especially when they’re giving away a million dollars.”
Pitts-Blasi is highly respectful of this year’s European contingent in the Million. “You’ve always got to be concerned with them,” she said. “They’ve certainly done well here in the past.”
One thing she is not concerned about is her horse’s ability to handle a mile-and-a-quarter.
“There’s no reason he shouldn’t like it—unless I did a bad training job,” said Pitts-Blasi.
With trainer Christophe Clement not yet in Chicagoland, preparations for Gio Ponti’s run in the Grade I Arlington Million and Laureate Conductor’s effort in the Grade I Secretariat Stakes are being overseen by fellow France native Christophe Lorieul. On Thursday morning, it was clear that Lorieul would not be willing to trade places with the connections of any other Million starter.
“He’s got to be on top at the moment, other than perhaps Einstein,” Lorieul responded when asked where he thinks Gio Ponti rates this year among American grass horses. “He’s won three Grade I races in a row at three different distances. And he runs over any kind of course—firm, soft or rock hard. We were very proud of his run in the Man o’ War last time out. That was an international race as well with a French horse and a German horse in that field. But that’s the level of competition you’re going to face as the year progresses.”
The Clement team has kept a keen eye on the challenges that Gio Ponti faces from his European-based Million competitors.
“We’ve watched them very closely,” said Lorieul. “The horse for Pascal Bary, Gloria de Campeao, is a good horse who looks very well. He was second in the Dubai World Cup and then won the Singapore Airlines Cup. And Luca Cumani’s horse, Cima de Triomphe, was fourth in the Eclipse Stakes and was supposed to run in the King George Stakes, but they decided to point for the Arlington Million instead. I’d say those two might be some of our main competition. I’m not too familiar with Walter Swinburn’s horse [Stotsfold].”
Regarding the Secretariat Stakes, Lorieul is pleased with Laureate Conductor in advance of Saturday’s race. “He’s doing very well,” he said of the son of Bernstein who has won his last two starts and never been worse than second over the grass. “This spot is a little ambitious. After he won the Choice Stakes at Monmouth, we were trying to decide between the Jersey Derby and the Secretariat Stakes. But the Jersey Derby wound up getting rained off the turf, so maybe we made the right move.”
Lorieul freely admits, however, that contention in the Secretariat Stakes runs deep.
“There are four or five horses that can certainly win this race—maybe even more. I think it’s definitely the most wide open of any of the three big races on Saturday.”
One factor that gives Lorieul confidence is Laureate Conductor’s ability to handle any pace scenario.
“He broke his maiden going wire-to-wire, and in the Choice, he came from last,” he said. “He’s pretty versatile.”
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