Arlington Park Road to the Million (7/23/14)
Contact: Michael Adolphson
ARLINGTON MILLION XXXIII: GABRIEL CHARLES WINS BIG; YORK STAKES LOOMS
The 33rd running of the Arlington Million continues to take shape as the American and foreign runners become either more or less committed to the $1,000,000 Chicagoland classic. Now just over three weeks away, most of the preps in the United States are finished – including last week’s Grade I Eddie Read Stakes at Del Mar.
Over 1 1/8 miles – a furlong shorter than the Million – the Eddie Read featured a breakout performance by GABRIEL CHARLES, an improving 5-year-old son of Street Boss from the barn of Jeff Mullins. Racing toward the rear of the field under Mike Smith, the bay horse swept past his rivals and won by 3 3/4 lengths while easily holding rallying Grade I-winning rival FINNEGANS WAKE at bay back in third.
Gabriel Charles, owned by Sam Britt and Michael House, was winning for the first time in 2015 after finishing second in an allowance event on Apr. 16 to kick off his campaign – his first start since Nov. 2013 – and then a game third in the Grade III $100,000 American Stakes behind Brazilian Triple Crown winner Bal a Bali a month later. Given two months off, he exploded away from his rivals and instantly stamped himself as a horse to watch in the American grass division. As a 3-year-old, he impressively captured the Grade II Del Mar Derby and finished second in the Grade II Twilight Derby before his extended vacation.
Both Gabriel Charles and Donegal Racing and Rockingham Ranch’s Finnegans Wake are under consideration for the Million. The latter, as previously mentioned in past Road to the Millions is no stranger to Arlington International Racecourse, having raced thrice at the International Festival of Racing and also taking last year’s Grade III Arlington Handicap. The son of Million champ Powerscourt lost for the third consecutive time but once again seemed to have an excuse, as this race appeared to be at a trip short of his best.
In other developments, it seems that of the dynamic Chad Brown-trained duo of Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey’s BIG BLUE KITTEN and Michael Dubb, Sheep Pond Partners and Bethlehem Stables’ SLUMBER – who have swapped spots of the exacta in their last two starts: the Grade I Manhattan and Grade I United Nations – will likely part ways in their next starts. Big Blue Kitten is now more likely to run in the Grade I Sword Dancer Invitational at Saratoga in late August – a race he won in 2013 – while Slumber is reportedly being pointed toward the Million.
Overseas, Mrs. Fitriani Hay’s well-bred and improving THE CORSICAN is likely to make the trip for 2012 Beverly D.-winning English conditioner David Simcock. Fourth last out in the Group I Prince of Wales’s at odds of 14-1, he is not of the caliber or reputation as 2014 Million runner-up Magician, but with his swift improvement of late and his connections’ solid records shipping stateside, it would be no surprise to see the 4-year-old four-time winner run a blinder on Aug. 15 in Grade I company. In the meantime, the son of Galileo also has an engagement in this weekend’s prestigious Group I King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot, giving him the same last two preps for the Million as Magician (also by Galileo) had last year. Four-time handicap winner BELGIAN BILL, multiple Group-placed ELLEVAL and Group III winner WAKE FOREST continue to show interest from overseas, according to the International Racing Bureau, but none of those three have shown the class that The Corsican displayed last out.
The key race to watch this weekend is the Group II York Stakes at its namesake racecourse on Saturday in England. A key prep for horses looking to ship to the Million in recent years, it is held over a left-handed, rather flat course and often fast ground. The two likely favorites in the race – Gary Douglas and Pat Breslin’s CUSTOM CUT and Jean Francois Gribomont’s PRINCE GIBRALTAR – are possible to make the trip to Arlington with a good showing.
Custom Cut comes from the yard of David O’Meara – who has been having a stellar 2015 season – and exits a runner-up finish in the Group III Diomed Stakes at left-handed Epsom Downs on June 5. Earlier this year, the son of Notnowcato annexed the Group III Bet365 Mile at Sandown Park to kick off his season on Apr. 24. The York’s extended 10-furlong distance will test this 6-year-old miler and tell his connections if a trip to Chicago is worthwhile.
Jean-Claude Rouget-trained Prince Gibraltar is a highly intriguing type. Always well-regarded, the 4-year-old son of Rock of Gibraltar was a Group I winner over 10 furlongs at two and was favored in last year’s Group I Prix du Jockey Club and Group I Grand Prix de Paris – races in which he finished third and second – as a sophomore. He has yet to win since May 2014, but did run a deceptively good seventh of 20 – beaten less than five lengths – in the Group I Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe three races back and exits a sharp second in the Group II Grand Prix de Chantilly going 1 1/2 miles. From the other side of the stamina spectrum as his aforementioned race rival, he will be cutting back in distance to try to earn a ticket to the Million for a conditioner who is also considering running American Joseph Allen’s War Dispatch at the Festival in the Grade I Secretariat Stakes.
BEVERLY D.: EURO STAR AMAZING MARIA POSSIBLE
The only filly who could possibly commandeer favoritism from Team Valor International’s defending champion EURO CHARLINE has now thrown her bonnet into the Grade I Beverly D. ring. Sir Robert Ogden’s homebred 4-year-old grey flash of a filly AMAZING MARIA has been nothing short of excellent in her last two starts and now looks to Arlington and its rich $700,000 purse as a possible option.
Trained by David O’Meara, the daughter of Mastercraftsman shocked many when taking the Group II Duke of Cambridge over multiple Group I winner Rizeena at Royal Ascot in June – a race over a testing mile considered by many to be as tough as any Group I for fillies and mares in Europe. Next out, she decisively bested none other than Euro Charline, dual French classic winner (and Beverly D. nominee) AVENIR CERTAIN and classic-placed favorite Lucida when taking the Group I Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket by a length. The win was her second in a row under James Doyle, who seems to have this peaking filly’s number.
While it is more likely that Jean-Claude Rouget-trained (who has multiple possible runners for the International Festival of Racing) Avenir Certain will race next at Deauville in lieu of Arlington, she cannot yet be counted out of the Beverly D., as she has done her best running at distances beyond the mile of the Falmouth, is nominated and can handle fast ground.
Others from Europe still under consideration for the Beverly D. are German Group I-placed LACY, multiple Group II winner CLADOCERA, four-time Group I-placed SECRET GESTURE, Group III winner (over the boys last out) CARLA BIANCA and Listed winner MUTATIS MUTANDIS.
The final prep in the United States for the Beverly D. is the Grade I Diana Stakes at Saratoga this weekend. Last year the Spa feature produced multiple runners for the Beverly D., but this year it is one week closer on the calendar and may be less likely to repeat that scenario. Headlined by Grade I winners Tepin, Hard Not to Like and STEPHANIE’S KITTEN, it seems still that the most likely to wheel back in three weeks to Arlington would be Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey’s Breeders’ Cup-winning three-time Grade I victress Stephanie’s Kitten. Second last year in the Beverly D., she excels at turf distances between 1 1/8 miles and 1 1/4 miles and her top performance arguably makes her the best older turf mare in the country.
SECRETARIAT: AGA KHAN HAS TWO LIVE SHOTS
While the probable American contingent for the Grade I Secretariat at Arlington International Racecourse have long been known, its European counterpart continues to develop into what could be a complex and competitive team of trans-Atlantic invaders. Chief among those raiders is a duo from the expansive and powerful His Highness the Aga Khan stable. The mostly French- and Irish-based operation has proven it can get the job done before when shipping Alain de Royer-Dupré-trained BAYRIR to Arlington to win the International Festival of Racing feature in 2012 and must be respected if it chooses to bring one or both of its charges.
Consistent Grade I-placed CANNDAL has long been expected to run in the $450,000 event, especially after his rail-skimming runner-up finish in the Grade I Belmont Derby Invitational last out at Belmont Park in his U. S. debut. Shipped back to France to the yard of trainer Mikel Delzangles to prepare for a possible second American assault, the son of Medicean – the same sire as Bayrir – appears to be on the improve. In six career starts, he has yet to finish worse than fourth and has displayed a liking for both the Secretariat’s 1 1/4-miles distance and the fast ground he is likely to receive on this side of the pond.
This past weekend, the Group II Prix Eugene Adam took place at Maisons-Laffitte in France – a Festival Free Roll event allowing its winner automatic entry into the Secretariat. Contested over the same 10-furlong trip, it featured a fine showing by two Secretariat possibles – Joseph Allen’s Jean-Claude Rouget-trained runner-up (and 13-8 post-time favorite) WAR DISPATCH and The Aga Khan’s DARIYAN, from the same yard as Bayrir, who won impressively by 1 1/2 lengths under Christophe Soumillon.
Dariyan, like his aforementioned stablemate, has continued to improve in his five lifetime trips to the post. Second on debut in April at Longchamp going 10 furlongs, he won next out at Saint-Cloud at the same trip and then again over that same course going 1 1/2 miles. His fourth start and Group debut resulted in a fourth-place finish as the favorite in Group III company at Chantilly – one race before returning to form and taking the Eugene Adam.
At first guess, one could assume that Canndal is the more likely of the two, especially with his penchant for firm turf and Dariyan’s two victories being over soft and good going. Still, with de Royer-Dupré’s established success, it is difficult to presume that he will not take another shot at the race. In either case, if both Aga Khan sophomores enter, regular pilot (for both) Soumillon will have to choose between the two.
The aforementioned War Dispatch is still considered very possible for the Secretariat, according to the knowledgeable associates at the International Racing Bureau. Bred to relish fast ground, the Group I French Derby-placed son of Allen’s top sire War Front out of an Unbridled’s Song mare has yet to have an opportunity to compete over firmer going after an eight-race career that includes six all-weather races and two over good-to-soft ground.
As mentioned in previous Road to the Millions, undefeated international melting pot of a colt GOLDSTREAM is being aimed toward the Secretariat in hopes of emulating Coolmore’s 2014 victor Adelaide and parlaying a Chicago victory into a Group I Cox Plate win Down Under. Owned by Australians, trained by German Andreas Wohler and campaigned in Italy, the Group II Italian Derby-winning son of Martino Alonso could bring the most intriguing story line into the International Festival of Racing.
The possibles list on the American side, at this point, is headed by Belmont Derby winner FORCE THE PASS, multiple stakes winner DIVISIDERO and Grade III American Derby one-two WORLD APPROVAL and CRITTENDEN.
AMERICAN ST. LEGER: SHEIKHZAYEDROAD ENTERS THE FRAY
While the American contingent of possibles looks well-established at this point for the fourth running of the Grade III American St. Leger – headed by Grade III Stars and Stripes two-three-four ROMAN APPROVAL, CALVADOS and XTRA LUCK, as well as Grade III San Juan Capistrano winner CRUCERO – its European analog looks nothing short of formidable.
Already strengthened by the (aforementioned in the Road to the Million) interest of conditioner Ed Dunlop in sending one of his big three stayers – RED CADEAUX, TRIP TO PARIS and RED GALILEO – the waters became even deeper when SHEIKHZAYEDROAD recently threw his hat into the ring. Trained by David Simcock, Mohammed Jaber’s son of Dubawi has already proven he can win on this continent when he annexed the Grade I Northern Dancer Stakes last September at Woodbine over 1 1/2 miles – three-sixteenths shorter than the American St. Leger’s daunting 1 11/16-miles trip.
Since that victory, though, the 6-year-old is winless while facing some of the top 12-furlong horses in training – including Dolniya, Flintshire, Main Sequence and Snow Sky. Last out, he was an uncharacteristic last of eight in Group II company at Newmarket, but must be respected if the Simcock yard decides he is fit enough to send stateside. A win by Sheikhzayedroad would also provide a bit of restitution for Team Simcock after their mare Moment in Time ran on gamely, albeit in vain, after a wide and questionably timed trip in last year’s American St. Leger behind THE PIZZA MAN.
Speaking of the Midwest Thoroughbreds’ brilliant son of English Channel, the plan is currently to cross-enter in both the Grade I Arlington Million and American St. Leger – with first preference to the Million, according to Midwest principal Rich Papiese. A popular winner of last year’s American St. Leger, the big bay would likely immediately jump into the role of favorite if he switches course and his connections decide to defend his title.
English trainer Andrew Balding, who has a rather strong record when shipping to Arlington in the last few years – including a pair of thirds in the Million with Side Glance and a third last year in the American St. Leger with HAVANA BEAT – could not only have the latter again in Chicago, but also may raise us his improving trainee SCOTLAND. Owned by Mrs. Fitriani Hay, who is also looking to run Simcock-trained The Corsican in the Million, Scotland was just 3 1/2 lengths shy of Trip to Paris when sixth last out in the Group I Gold Cup at Royal Ascot. Mick and Janice Mariscotti’s Havana Beat, who raced gamely to finish behind The Pizza Man and 2013 champ Dandino in 2014, may be less likely to make the trip than Scotland – especially after running poorly in his last two starts.
As mentioned in the Arlington Barn Notes last week, Team Valor International is considering the American St. Leger for its six-time winner PANAMA HAT, who exits a good-looking win in the Listed Lenebane Stakes at Roscommon in Ireland. Trained by Andy Oliver, the British-bred son of Medicean has strong class lines, having faced and raced respectably against the likes of internationally respected stayers Forgotten Rules and Kingfisher, who finished second and third in the Gold Cup behind Trip to Paris.