|Arlington Park Barn Notes
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In today's notes:
British-bred but American-based Beat Hollow, considered the top turf horse currently in training in the United States, has arrived on the grounds at Arlington Park and will be the wagering choice when he represents Juddmonte Farms Inc. in Saturday's 20th running of the Grade I Arlington Million.
Beat Hollow is trained by Hall of Fame conditioner Bobby Frankel and will be ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey. Two years ago, the Juddmonte-Frankel-Bailey troika visited Chicago's favorite winner's circle when Chester House captured the 2000 Arlington Million.
Chester House dominated by three and a quarter lengths in Arlington Million XVIII. How does Beat Hollow compare to that Juddmonte colorbearer, the trainer was asked?
"Beat Hollow is probably a little better horse," said Frankel, who arrived in Chicago Wednesday night. The Million favorite had arrived on the grounds on an equine flight from Southern California earlier in the day. "He has more tactical speed. In fact, I think Beat Hollow is probably going to be in front in this race."
Beat Hollow earned his status as the morning line favorite in Saturday's Million by winning the Grade I Woodford Reserve at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day, May 4, and underlining that performance with a victory in the Grade I Manhattan Handicap at Belmont Park on Belmont Stakes Day, June 8.
However, in his last trip to the post in the Grade I Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar on July 28, Beat Hollow was defeated by Gary A. Tanaka's Sarafan. What happened?
"He was boxed in on the rail and couldn't get out until the race was almost over," said Frankel. "As for the jockey switch (to Jerry Bailey from Alex Solis) for the Million, that was the owner's decision. The owner wanted Jerry Bailey, and I wasn't going to stick my neck out. I just went along with it."
Interestingly, the ubiquitous Juddmonte also will be represented in the $700,000 Beverly D., sister race to the Arlington Million, and the $400,000 Secretariat, the two other Grade I races that make up Saturday's International Festival of Racing at Arlington Park. Is a sweep of the three races a possibility for Juddmonte and Frankel?
"Tates Creek is a nice filly," Frankel said of the 4-year-old daughter of Rahy who will represent Juddmonte in the Beverly D. and has won her last two in a row. "This will be a very tough race for her. There are a lot of very good fillies and mares in this race, but in my opinion, Tates Creek should probably be undefeated going into the race. She had some problems each time she was beaten that weren't her fault. She's a very honest filly. I just hope she's good enough.
"As for the 3-year-old (Juddmonte's Chiselling, who will go to the post in the $400,000 Secretariat), that last race was a rough one for him."
Frankel was speaking of Belmont's Grade III Lexington Stakes at the Secretariat distance of 10 furlongs, which Chiselling won by nose on July 14.
"He didn't want to load that day," Frankel said, "and they knocked him around a little bit putting him in the gate. It was miracle that he was able to get up to win."
Although he has been a long-time supporter of Arlington's International Festival of Racing, Frankel personally arrived earlier than usual this year for Saturday's three races.
"Well," Frankel said, "there's a lot of money on the table."
Gary A. Tanaka's Sarafan, the 3-1 second choice for Saturday's Grade I Arlington Million, arrived at Arlington Park Wednesday afternoon after taking an air charter from San Diego to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. After a subsequent van ride to Chicago's premier Thoroughbred oval, the 5-year-old gelding was bedded down in the track's stakes barn.
"This horse likes travelling," said Robert Guest, assistant to trainer Neil Drysdale. "In fact, he thrives on it. He doesn't like to be in one place for too long. We went to New Jersey, back to San Diego and now here. He seems to be doing well."
Guest was referring to the son of Lear Fan's journey from his Southern California homebase to Monmouth Park, where he finished third in the Grade I United Nations Handicap, and return trip to Del Mar for a length and a quarter tally over Arlington Million favorite Beat Hollow in the Grade I Eddie Read Handicap.
"We've beaten (Beat Hollow) twice. I don't see why we can't do it again," Guest said. "The other horse is a very good horse and you can't take that away from him. The Million might set up a bit differently with Beat Hollow being on the outside of us. He's not likely to get trapped inside again. Beat Hollow has (Jerry) Bailey aboard this time while (Alex) Solis was up in California."
Sarafan will again be in hand to Corey Nakatani, who rode the bay gelding to victories in the Grade II Explosive Bid Handicap at the Fair Grounds in March and the Eddie Read last month.
"Nakatani is right for our horse," Guest said. "He seems to have a rapport with him. This is a horse about timing. If you can get the timing right, that's the key to him. Let's just hope he runs to his form."
Sarafan's major preparation for the Million was completed prior to leaving California, but Guest did have the 5-year-old out on Arlington's main track this morning.
"I took him to the track this morning first thing," he said. "He was very relaxed and kind of looking around at everything. We'll just gallop him into the race. We don't really have anything special planned. We just want to keep it as close to his regular routine as possible."
As a horse that has won over hurdles as well as the flat, David Heath's Ulundi, one of the European invaders for Arlington Million XX, has been described as a switch hitter in the world of Thoroughbred racing.
That's an apt analogy, especially for a horse with an owner who hit a home run his first time up to the plate as a buyer.
"When I was 4 or 5 years old, my mother used to take me to grandmother's house and I'd watch horse races on her television screen," said Heath. "Horse racing is a sport that either grabs you or it doesn't, but I was fascinated by the whole thing.
"In fact," said Heath, 41, "you probably can ask me about any race in England in the early 70s and I can tell you about it. I always told myself that if I ever made enough money, I was going to buy a racehorse."
That dedication to a dream eventually became a reality for the city trader in the derivatives market in London. He purchased Ulundi for $10,000 from a Newmarket sale.
"I've had a lot of success, but I'm not in the huge league of some of these other owners. Ulundi was the first one I bought and he's done a lot of financing for the others," said Heath, who currently has a total of five, most of which are owned in syndication.
"I wouldn't ever want a real large operation," said Heath. "Anything more than 20 would be more than I could keep track of. Perhaps 10 would be an ideal number. But right now, we just can't believe we're here at Arlington with a horse in the Arlington Million. This is a big moment for us and we're really enjoying it.
"And if Ulundi (named for the capital city of the Zulu tribe) is fortunate enough to earn some money on Saturday, I'd like probably buy another couple of horses," Heath said. "In fact, probably most of it would go back into more horses."
What if Ulundi were to finish first in the Arlington Million, and earn the $600,000 winner's share of the purse? Would that all go back into more horses?
"I guess I'd have to ask my wife about that," Heath said.
Trainer Christophe Clement's troika of Festival combatants arrived on the Arlington Park grounds early Wednesday evening from New York and all were doing well on Thursday morning.
"Everybody shipped well," confirmed Nicholas Bachalard, assistant to Clement. "I trained them all this morning. We jogged Forbidden Apple and galloped the two fillies. We'll probably gallop everybody tomorrow."
Arthur I. Appleton's Forbidden Apple is scheduled to run in Saturday's Grade I Arlington Million while the two females, Edouard de Rothschild's England's Legend and Joseph Allen's Volga, head postward in the Grade I $700,000 Beverly D. Stakes on the same afternoon.
England's Legend, the race's defending champion, is two for two over the Arlington Park turf course. The 5-year-old mare made her seasonal bow with a victory in the Grade III Modesty Handicap here on July 27 but returned to New York in the interim. Her stablemate last raced on July 4 when second in the Grade II New York Handicap at Belmont Park.
"England's Legend may be coming back a little quick -- three weeks, but the other filly has been pointed to this race for quite awhile now," Bachalard noted of the pair, who will race uncoupled for wagering purposes on Saturday.
In last year's Beverly D., England's Legend took to the yielding turf and led from gate to wire in the mile and three-sixteenths turf race.
"Whether we'll be on the lead Saturday remains to be seen," Bachalard said. "It's a short field but a stout field. It's very competitive and there are a lot of good fillies in the race."
While England's Legend is a speedster, Volga could benefit if her stablemate finds herself in an unexpected speed duel.
"We certainly didn't bring one to set it up for the other," the French-born Bachalard said. "We believe both fillies have a good chance in there."
Turning his attention to Forbidden Apple, the 4-1 third choice for Arlington Million XX, Bachalard noted the Chicago ties of owner Appleton, who now resides in Florida. "Mr. Appleton is originally from here and I'm sure it's big thrill to see his horse run at Arlington."
As far as how the son of Pleasant Colony fits against his opposition, Bachalard said, "Obviously, Beat Hollow and Sarafan are the two horses to beat but our horse has won at a mile and a quarter before. He's a pretty versatile horse. He can do just about whatever you want to do with him."
Trainer Laura de Seroux has never saddled a horse at Arlington Park, but she is hopeful that her first race at the Arlington Heights oval will be a winning one when she sends out Astra in Saturday's Grade I $700,000 Beverly D.
"Astra had a perfect trip shipping here," said de Seroux. "There was some turbulence during the landing but she handled it fine. She's a consummate professional who enjoys the experience of leaving the training center back home and seeing something new. She's already got her game face on here. Her eyes are bright; she hasn't turned a hair and she's biting down the walls."
Astra galloped over the turf course this morning and will school in the Arlington Park paddock during the fifth race. On Friday, Astra will again have a morning grass gallop and school during the fifth race. "We always school twice," said de Seroux.
Although Astra was in the barn of trainer Simon Bray during her disappointing last-place finish in last year's renewal of the Beverly D., de Seroux utterly dismisses that effort due to the existence of an impending foot abscess. "When an abscess is brewing like that, there's no way a horse can compete successfully," said de Seroux. "Astra simply did not run at any stage of last year's race. It's not like she was prominent for a mile and then got tired or got bogged down over the heavy ground. That's how a classy horse will perform when the conditions are unsuitable. In Astra's case, she just never ran a step, and it was because of that abscess. But it healed great, and there have been no subsequent recurrences."
Astra is a tractable horse who can be placed wherever the rider pleases during the early stages of a race and de Seroux is unconcerned by the prospect of England's Legend jumping out to a sizable early lead.
"Astra loves a target," she said. "She can be close to that target if necessary, but in the Beverly Hills, she sat a distant second behind Snowflake who got loose on a long lead, but Astra still ran her down. It doesn't really matter how close she is early because she has high tracking speed and then caps it off with an amazing turn of foot at the end."
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