Arlington Park Road to the Million (7/10/14)
Contact: Michael Adolphson
ARLINGTON MILLION XXXIII: BIG BLUE KITTEN BACK IN A BIG WAY
First things first: Steve Coburn and Perry Martin’s Art Sherman-trained reigning Horse of the Year CALIFORNIA CHROME has arrived and cleared quarantine Thursday morning. He is to hit the track Friday morning at Arlington International Racecourse. The son of Lucky Pulpit appears to be in deep in the Million, but he has proven many wrong before – including those who believed he would fail to return to form after a grueling 2014 Triple Crown trail.
The most substantial Arlington Million XXXIII prep this past week that may affect the shape of the 33rd running of the Grade I $1,000,000 Arlington Million was the Grade I $500,000 United Nations Stakes at Monmouth Park. Favorite and reigning champion turf horse MAIN SEQUENCE failed to fire for trainer Graham Motion and owner Flaxman Holdings in his first trip since finishing unplaced in Dubai, but Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey, who won the 2013 Million with Real Solution picked up their second United Nations win in three years with Million nominee and Chad Brown trainee BIG BLUE KITTEN.
Big Blue Kitten, according to reports from the Lexington Herald-Leader, is being aimed toward the Million in lieu of the Grade I $1,000,000 Sword Dancer Invitational in late August – the path he took in 2013. United Nations runner-up and fellow Brown trainee SLUMBER also seems likely to target the Million. Owned by Michael Dubb, Sheep Pond Partners and Bethlehem Stables, the son of 2006 Million runner-up Cacique tallied the biggest win of his career when taking the Grade I $1,000,000 Manhattan two back at Belmont Park at the Million’s 10-furlong distance.
On the European front, there seems to be significant Million interest by German 5-year-old WAKE FOREST, who is owned by retired international soccer star and Wolfsburg Football Club president Klaus Allofs. A winner last out in the Group III Hamburg Trophy at its namesake course, the nine-time starter was third one race prior – his only try at the Group I level – in the Premio Presidente della Repubblica at Capannelle. Both of those efforts were at the Million’s 1 1/4-mile distance, with the latter being a ‘Festival Free Pass’ event ensuring the winner Million entry and waived starting fees. The lightly raced bay horse is trained by Andreas Wohler, who has had three starts in the Million, including a victory and second-place finish with Silvano (2001) and Paolini (2003), respectively.
In England, one of the most prolific 1 1/4-miles races in the world, the Group I Coral-Eclipse Stakes, did little to clear the picture for possible Million interest from the top tier across the pond. Favorite and top-ranked horse in the world Golden Horn handed The Grey Gatsby his hind quarters after the latter challenged the unbeaten classic-winning 3-year-old with a quarter-mile remaining and won by just over three lengths. Back in third, previously Road to the Million-mentioned WESTERN HYMN once again gave a grand showing for trainer John Gosden – who also conditioned the victor – and owners RJH Geffen and Rachel Hood. The son of High Chaparral has consistently proven to be the prototypical second-tier Euro.
Otherwise on the global front, the International Racing Bureau confirmed that there is interest in the Million from the camp of THE CORSICAN. Owned by Mrs. Fitri Hay, who co-owned 2011 Grade I Secretariat winner Treasure Beach, and trained by 2012 Beverly D. winning-trainer (with I’m a Dreamer) David Simcock, the son of the great Galileo exits a fourth-place finish at long odds in the Group I Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Another under consideration is Gary Douglas and Pat Breslin’s David O’Meara-trained CUSTOM CUT, a miler who would be stretching out in trip in the Million. Second last out in a Group III at Epsom going 1 1/16 miles, the 6-year-old son of Notnowcato landed the Group II Bet365 Mile at Sandown Park on April 24. Sandwiched between that effort and his runner-up effort last out was an off-the-board result in the Group I Lockinge Stakes at Newbury behind Night of Thunder. Another to watch is PJL, Byrne and Baker’s global traveler BELGIAN BILL, who has been racing competitively in the handicap divisions of both England and Dubai in recent months for trainer George Baker.
The major race to watch this weekend is the course prep for the Million, the Grade III $100,000 Arlington Handicap over Arlington’s world-renowned turf course. Dropped to 1 3/16 miles for this year’s edition, it has attracted a solid field of older turf horses, including many who hope to take advantage of it allowing its top three a free roll into the Million. The key players, Sam-Son Farm’s Graham Motion-trained UP WITH THE BIRDS and Mr. and Mrs. Bertram Firestone’s Christophe Clement-trained MIDDLEBURG hope to parlay a good showing on July 11 into the same on Aug. 15. Midwest Thoroughbreds’ Roger Brueggemann-trained THE PIZZA MAN is cross-entered in both the Arlington Handicap and the Grade III $100,000 Stars and Stripes, but is slated to run in the latter, with the Million being the goal.
BEVERLY D.: EURO CHARLINE READY, LADY ELI EYES ELDERS
With a plethora of fillies and mares of rather equal class gunning after possible spots in one of the most heralded female turf races in the world – the Grade I $700,000 Beverly D. – one could go on for days listing them. Though that is quite possible in future editions of Road to the Million, on this one we will focus on two in particular – the top two, in many opinions – Team Valor International’s defending champion EURO CHARLINE and Sheep Pond Partners’ undefeated superstar and Breeders’ Cup-winning 3-year-old filly LADY ELI.
Starting with the latter, one cannot be more impressed with her performance last week in the Grade I Belmont Oaks. Racing 1 1/4 miles for the first time, the daughter of Divine Park toyed with her rivals to win by just under three lengths and remain a perfect 6-for-6. Yet to be challenged in any race so far, there are talks of her being labeled the best sophomore turf filly in years and easily the best American-based 3-year-old turf filly in recent memory. Her 113 Equibase Speed Figure is the sixth-highest of any North American-trained turf female of any age this season and she did it with disarming deftness.
Trainer Chad Brown has stated that a trip to Chicagoland to take on her elders is not out of the question for the bay filly. Last year it was Euro Charline who opened the doors for other sophomores to beat older mares in Arlington’s marquee race for turf mares. A few had tried before, but none succeeded until the daughter of Myboycharlie showed brilliant acceleration to best a field flush with Grade/Group I winners, including the likes of Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey’s 2015 Beverly D. possible (and Brown trainee) STEPHANIE’S KITTEN, who would go on to finish second in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf.
Marco Botti-trained Euro Charline returned Friday morning for only her second race since the Beverly D. – the Group I Falmouth Stakes over a mile at Newmarket. Racing within reach throughout, she ran on gamely to finish second to Sir Robert Ogden’s AMAZING MARIA, who proved her shocking win in the Group II Duke of Cambridge Stakes was no fluke.
Team Valor principal, CEO and founder Barry Irwin confirmed via telephone that Euro Charline’s performance was both pleasing and also warranted a return to the States to defend her title at Arlington. Irwin also expressed that he looks forward to stretching the temperamental bay filly out beyond a mile, as he believes she is better at distances from 1 1/8 miles to 1 1/4 miles.
SECRETARIAT: FORCE THE PASS INTERCEPTS BELMONT DERBY
Richard Santulli’s $500,000 Penn Mile winner FORCE THE PASS went from one of many top turf sophomores in the land to the premier 3-year-old grass horse when he romped in the Grade I $1,250,000 Belmont Derby on July 4. Courtesy of a rail-skimming ride by Joel Rosario, the Alan Goldberg-trained son of Speightstown opened up on his rivals with an impressive turn-of-foot and in an instant the race was over. Trainer Goldberg confirmed with Arlington officials that the emblazoned chestnut would indeed be under serious consideration for the Grade I $450,000 Secretariat Stakes on Aug. 15. A sweep of the Penn Mile, Belmont Derby and Secretariat would give Force the Pass wins in the three richest open 3-year-old turf stakes of the year.
The Secretariat is also the goal of Gunpowder Farms’ Buff Bradley trainee DIVISIDERO, who failed at low odds to reproduce the same brilliant acceleration he had shown when winning the Grade II $250,000 American Turf at Churchill Downs in May and the $200,000 Pennine Ridge Stakes at Belmont in June. CANNDAL, a French-trained Aga Khan homebred, was a game second after a sharp ride from Belgian sensation Christophe Soumillon. The son of Medicean is labeled as likely to return to the United States to run in the Secretariat. Last year, Coolmore’s Adelaide used a runner-up finish in the Belmont Derby en route to an Arlington triumph.
This weekend, the Grade III $100,000 American Derby will offer its top-three finishers a free roll into the Secretariat. The 1 1/8-miles event attracted seven improving runners, including Live Oak Plantation’s homebred WORLD APROVAL, who was fourth and third in the aforementioned Pennine Ridge and American Turf, respectively. A one-paced son of Northern Afleet, the Mark Casse trainee has been established as the 2-1 favorite over Godolphin Racing’s Eoin Harty-trained minor stakes winner CRITTENDEN, Skychai Racing et al.’s Mike Maker-trained multiple stakes winner FIRESPIKE and Lothenbach Stables’ Chris Block-trained multiple stakes-placed NUN THE LESS. All four horses’ connections have stated a goal of moving onto the Secretariat with a good showing.
Arguably the most intriguing horse from across the pond to show interest in the Secretariat (that would add some serious intrigue to the event) is GOLDSTREAM. A perfect 5-for-5, he easily won the Group II Derby Italiano over 1 3/8 miles at Capannelle by three lengths while under the tutelage of Stefano Botti. Subsequently sold to Arlington favorites and two-time International Festival of Racing winners Australian Thoroughbred Bloodstock with an eye on the Group I Cox Plate, Australia’s richest weight-for-age race, the son of Martino Alonso was turned over to trainer Andreas Wohler and is under serious consideration for a trip to Chicagoland.
AMERICAN ST. LEGER: DUNLOP COULD ADD SIGNIFICANT CLASS
The Grade III $350,000 American St. Leger has quickly become the enigma of the International Festival of Racing. As unfamiliar domestic fans and horsemen wrap their heads around the dynamics of a true stayer’s race – despite 1 11/16 miles technically being on the shorter side of that category – their European counterparts seem to be reveling in the event, winning two of the first three and finishing 2-3-4-5 with four entrants in 2014.
One European conditioner who could make significant waves in the 2015 edition if he chooses is Ed Dunlop. An accomplished international trainer who has held the bridles of global superstars Ouija Board and Snow Fairy, he thrust himself back into the spotlight at the Royal Ascot meeting when sending out La Grange Parternship’s longshot Group I Gold Cup victor TRIP TO PARIS. Mostly a handicap-level charge who was improving with each preceding race, the son of Champs Elysees ran like an odds-on choice when charging up the rail under Graham Lee and winning the 2 1/2-mile contest by 1 1/4 lengths.
While a trip to Australia for the two-mile Group I Melbourne Cup is one of the goals of Trip to Paris’ connections, one to Arlington for the American St. Leger may be used as a steppingstone. The same goes for his stablemate RED CADEAUX, who is owned by Hon. R. J. Arculli. A 9-year-old earner of $7.7 million, the three-time runner-up in the Melbourne Cup exits a poor showing in the Group II Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot – a race in which he was simply overmatched by more seasoned 12-furlong horses.
The main race to watch this week is the course prep for the American St. Leger – the Grade III $100,000 Stars and Stripes at Arlington. Won last year by Midwest Thoroughbreds’ next-out American St. Leger winner THE PIZZA MAN, the race is headlined by said son of English Channel. This year, even though he is running once again in the Stars and Stripes, The Pizza Man – who won the Opening Verse Stakes to kick off his season last out – is more likely to run back in the Grade I $1,000,000 Arlington Million.
The Pizza Man’s biggest competition looks to possibly come from Michele and Cliff Love’s Neil Howard-trained XTRA LUCK and Team Valor International’s Neil Drysdale-trained mare THREE HEARTS. While Xtra Luck exits a career-best performance when winning the Grade III Louisville Handicap at Churchill Downs going the same 1 1/2 miles distance, Three Hearts will look to get back on track after a bad start left her with too much to do in nine-furlong Grade I company against her own sex in California. The latter may also benefit from a significant break in weight, carrying only 112 pounds. A big longshot – but not altogether unexpected – effort by Team Block’s Chris Block-trained AFORTABLE, Alex and Joanne Lieblong’s Steve Hobby-trained FOR GREATER GLORY or Three Diamonds Farm’s Mike Maker-trained ROMAN APPROVAL could thrust them directly in the American St. Leger picture.