Arlington International Festival of Racing Notes – Second Edition (8/14/14)
Contact: Michael Adolphson
In today's notes:
SMOKING SUN READY TO TURN ON THE HEAT
No contender for the 32nd Grade I Arlington Million XXXII has been more impressive in the mornings than the Niarchos Family's Smoking Sun. The son of American sire Smart Strike and descendent of phenomenal French champion filly Northern Trick has flourished since arriving at Arlington International Racecourse. Exiting a hard-luck second in the Group I Singapore Airlines International Cup on May 18, where he finished a strong second, the Pascal Bary trainee has exhibited nothing short of absolute fitness.
"Smoking Sun has had a very good preparation since he came back to form in Singapore," reported Alan Cooper, racing manager for the Niarchos Family. "He came back in good shape and had a nice break. Pascal has brought him back to be spot-on for Saturday's race. The horse has traveled very well. At the moment, we are very happy with his preparation and chances. We have a long dirt track here in France built in the shape of Santa Anita that was put in by the Wildenstein family. He had a spin on that the other day to get familiar with the tight turns."
Cooper has great esteem for the opposition his charge will face, but does not lack any confidence in the Group I-placed earner of $761,508. "Going to every race you have to respect the opposition," he continued. "We'll see what happens when the gates open. It's a good field and our horse is prepared well."
One factor that may be to the dark bay 5-year-old's advantage is the fact that he has been aimed toward the Million for some time. "After he ran in the Singapore Cup, we thought that the Million was the next race for him," Cooper explained. "It's been a long-time plan to come to Arlington. The distance is ideal for him and he ships well."
Though he has yet to extend his stride this week, it is easy to see in past races that the five-time winner's greatest attribute is his superb acceleration. Three races back, in the Group II Prix d'Harcourt at Longchamp on April 6, Smoking Sun inhaled his opposition to win the 1 1/4-miles event in style. That day the course was labeled firm, unlike his next race – a subpar fourth on soft ground against champions Treve and Cirrus des Aigles in the Group I Prix Ganay on April 27 (three weeks prior to his Singapore run).
"The horse has a very nice turn-of-foot," Cooper substantiated. "Hopefully he's well placed and will be able to come from behind to finish in the closing stages. I think he has progressed and Pascal is very happy with him."
Employed by the Niarchos Family since February 1984, Cooper has had the privilege of being involved with the running of many exceptional horses at Arlington. "We've always had a very warm welcome at Arlington from Mr. D and his team," he reflected. "We finished third twice in the Million – in 1992 with Exit To Nowhere and 1986 with Pennine Walk – have had a couple recent runners in the Beverly D. and Domedriver won the Breeders' Cup Mile when we had three runners that day. The ambassadors have been tremendous and it seems that everything will always go smoothly. It's so nice to have that when you're coming from long distances."
SIDE GLANCE USED TO OVERACHIEVING
Pearl Bloodstock's Side Glance had made a career of outrunning his odds. The son of Passing Glance heads into his second straight Grade I Arlington Million as a bona fide longshot – despite finishing a solid third in 2013, beaten only two lengths.
"Side Glance has had a good prep for the Million this year," said Leanne Masterton, head lass to trainer Andrew Balding. "He had a 10-day holiday (after finishing third in the Grade I United Nations July 6) and is looking as good as I've ever seen him. He was very unlucky down the stretch last year – being stopped twice. He feels great, he's fit and I'd like to think he has a great chance in a smaller field this year."
Unlike last year, when the 7-year-old gelding had to negotiate a field of 13 while breaking from the middle of the pack, in 2014 the nearly black charge will break from the outside of a seven-horse field. "I don't know much about the American horses, but looking at the form it's going to be competitive," Masterton continued. "The other two European horses are very good. We were beaten by Smoking Sun in Singapore, but there was no pace in the race and having been dropped out last, he had to circle the whole field off the bend – losing a lot of ground. Magician won the Breeders' Cup last year and has run some gallant races at top level this year and has to be respected."
Still, after season upon season racing against the world's best, Masterton and the rest of the Balding yard are confident in their durable gelding. "Having been all over the world with Side Glance I'd like to think I know him pretty well. When fresh he can be very aggressive in his work, but most of the time he is a total legend. He's grown up enormously in the last 18 months."
SPARKLING BEAM BRINGS STRONG CONNECTIONS
It is difficult to imagine that a charge owned by a multiple classic-winning owner and trained by a two-time Breeders' Cup-winning conditioner can sneak into a Grade I race under the proverbial radar, but such is happening with George Strawbridge's Jonathan Pease-trained filly Sparkling Beam in the Beverly D. this Saturday.
Still, it may be somewhat understandable considering the field for the summertime filly and mare turf classic is replete with six Grade I or Group I victors, including a Breeders' Cup winner and Irish classic hero. The competition does not seem to faze the constitution of Pease, though. In 1994, Pease brought Strawbridge's – who runs under the Augustin Stable banner – Tikkanen to America as a sophomore to win the Grade I Turf Classic Invitational over his older rivals. A few weeks later – still getting little respect – Tikkanen looped the entire field in the Grade I Breeders' Cup Turf with panache.
"(Sparkling Beam) is fine and all is going well," Pease reported. "Hopefully she'll run well. (Her competitors) are all about the same, really. There's nothing that stands out as a really strong Group I filly, to me. She will still need luck and things to go her way."
Exiting an excellent second in the Listed Prix de la Pepiniere, the daughter of 10-furlong specialist Nayef has finished in the exacta in 10 of her 15 career starts – including an excellent win in last year's Group III Prix Chloe.
"She's just on the border of a Group I filly in Europe," Pease continued. "I thought this spot was an easier slot than the alternative Group I races here and that's probably the same thinking of the other two Europeans in the race. The owner is American and he was delighted when I mentioned the race to him."
Legendary French journeyman Thierry Jarnet makes the trip to ride Sparkling Beam. The four-time champion jockey in his native country and three-time Group I Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner will guide the charge from her 10-post. "I just want her to get around the first turn alright," Pease said of a trip strategy. "If she has no incidents, then from that point it just depends on how the race turns out. She can be close to the front if (the pacesetters) go slowly or come from farther back if they go quickly. She's an easy ride. She'll probably be just behind (stalkers Somali Lemonade and I'm Already Sexy). The jockey is very experienced.
"It's nice to come race in America," Pease concluded. "I am very sorry I can't come because it's busy here with the sales and Deauville."
DEFENDING CHAMP REAL SOLUTION 'DOING GREAT'
Defending Grade I Arlington Million champion Real Solution has settled in well since arriving Tuesday for this year's edition. The Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey-owned homebred son of Kitten's Joy has looked impressive for two consecutive mornings as he puts the finishing touches on his preparation for Saturday's event.
"He's training really well and doing great," said Osvaldo Hernandez, assistant trainer to Chad Brown. "He seems the same as last year and is feeling really good. When (Brown) gets here, we'll decide how he finishes his (preparation)."
An earner of nearly $1.4 million and five of 13 career starts, Real Solution has won only one of five since his adjudged victory in 2013. His best performance, though, came last out when taking the Grade I Manhattan Stakes at Belmont Park on June 7 by a widening 1 1/4 lengths – the same race in which he finished third before last year's Million. After the Million, he is expected to be aimed at the Grade I Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont before a career finale in the Grade I Breeders' Cup Turf.
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