Arlington Park Road to the Million (6/26/13)
Contact: Michael Adolphson
ARLINGTON MILLION XXXI: EUROPE HEATS UP
The majority of the action leading toward the Arlington Million took place across the pond this week, as top-notch fields competed in the Group I Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud at Saint-Cloud Racecourse and Group II Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot.
An eventful running of the Hardwicke saw the betting favorite slip and lose his jockey while leading half-way through the race, the second choice throw in a clunker of a performance and an ill-fated winner. Thomas Chippendale won over a hard-luck Dandino, while Shadwell Farm’s 5-2 favorite Ektihaam slipped and caused many horses to alter course midway through the race. Mount Athos, the second choice in the wagering, threw in a surprisingly dull race. Dandino is nominated to the St. Leger and Million, but is probably more likely to contest the St. Leger if he makes the trip, so he will be explored in the St. Leger entry, below.
The horse worth mentioning of these as a possible Million prospect is Ektihaam. The son of crack sprinter Invincible Spirit is trained by Roger Varian and may prove to be better at 10 furlongs rather than the 12 he was attempting before his mid-race mishap. His speed-heavy breeding, high cruising rate and runner-up performance in last year’s 10-furlong Group II Dante Stakes – arguably his best performance – speak to this being a strong possibility.
It is obviously not yet known what Ektihaam’s plans are after such an unfortunate event, but the bay colt has the pace for an American-style race, handles firm turf well and is nominated. What may help his chances of coming over is if his stablemate, Group I Prince of Wales’s runner-up Mukhadram, runs well in the Group I Coral Eclipse Stakes on July 6. If such occurs, perhaps Shadwell will ship Ektihaam across the Atlantic to avoid a clash with his fellow colorbearer.
In France, the world’s top-rated horse Cirrus Des Aigles made his first start since valiantly losing to the great Frankel by two lengths in last year’s Group I Champion Stakes at Ascot in the Group I Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, going off as the 3-2 favorite. After getting visibly rubber-legged from the layoff, he was passed by eventual winner Novellist and runner-up Dunaden, who is Arlington Million-nominated.
Pearl Bloodstock’s world-traveling Dunaden ran a tremendous runner-up race for the second consecutive time. Last out, the 7-year-old chased 2011 Breeders’ Cup Turf winner St. Nicholas Abbey home in the Group I Coronation Cup at Epsom Downs. This time it was the improving German-trained Novellist who beat him to the punch at Saint-Cloud. Next, Dunaden is possible for the Coral Eclipse Stakes or the July 27 Group I King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. After that, we will know a lot more about what his August may entail.
On this side of the pond, a field of promising older turf horses battled in the Grade II Colonial Turf Cup at Colonial Downs. Perplexing performances by favorites Atigun and Air Support, the latter a St. Leger nominee, as well as having a 50-1 longshot winner may preclude this event from having much effect on the Million, but one performance was worth noting. Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey’s runner-up Hyper, a 10-furlong specialist who seems to be improving for trainer Chad Brown, turned in an impressive run from dead-last, circling the field after relatively soft fractions. Though the Ramseys already have multiple charges possible for the Million, and Hyper is not currently nominated, they are never an outfit to shy away from throwing another worthy hat into the ring.
BEVERLY D.: DON’T DISCOUNT DALKALA
The Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud may turn out to be a key race for Million Day. The second big disappointment of the race was His Highness the Aga Khan’s 4-year-old filly Dalkala, who ran an uncharacteristic ninth as the 8-1 fourth choice in the wagering.
A stellar winner of the 10½-furlong Group II Middleton Stakes at left-handed York prior to the Grand Prix, the daughter of American stallion Giant’s Causeway ran into trouble on the far turn when 100-1 Lateran Accord backed up sharply into Dalkala’s path after setting a pace beyond his means. The filly smoothly avoided the issue under jockey Christophe Lemaire and made a run at the leaders, but quickly folded in a too-bad-to-believe effort. It would not be a surprise to see her connections, the same owner-trainer-jockey as last year’s upset Grade I Secretariat victor Bayrir, to ship across the Atlantic with this quality Beverly D.-nominated filly.
On the American front, the Grade II All Along Stakes featured a few quality turf mares going nine furlongs over the Colonial Downs turf. Though none of the mares are Beverly D.-nominated, James Scatuorchio’s Channel Lady fits the profile of a Todd Pletcher charge on the improve – similar to Take the Points who won the 2009 Secretariat Stakes for Pletcher right after a decent showing at Colonial Downs in the Virginia Derby.
AMERICAN ST. LEGER: TOP TRIP AND DANDINO IMPRESS IN DEFEAT
The two big performances this week worth mentioning for the American St. Leger were losing ones. The aforementioned Dandino, who ran what could be considered a winning race when losing in the Hardwicke at Ascot after having to alter course, is under serious consideration for a trip to Arlington.
Owned by Australian Thoroughbred Bloodstock and trained by Marco Botti – the same owner/trainer team to win last year’s St. Leger with Jakkalberry – the horse’s ultimate goal is the two mile Group I Melbourne Cup in November. Last year, Jakkalberry outran local star Ioya Bigtime in the St. Leger before shipping to Australia and ultimately running a huge third in the Melbourne Cup, losing by just over two lengths.
Perhaps even more impressive was the performance of St. Leger-nominated Top Trip in Royal Ascot’s centerpiece Ascot Gold Cup, a Group I over a grueling 20 furlongs. Sent off at 15-1, the long-winded son of Dubai Destination closed from the back of the pack and fought all the way to the line to lose by a length and a half behind 6-1 co-favorites Estimate and Simenon. Owned by Joerg Vasicek and trained by Francois Doumen, the smallish but tough 4-year-old colt was previously second in the Group II Yorkshire Cup at York. If his connections decide to cross the Atlantic for the St. Leger, they could take top billing from local bettors after this performance.