|Arlington Park Barn Notes 07/24/03
In today's notes:
Saturday's Million Preview Day at Arlington Park features the grassy Grade III Arlington Handicap as the final local prep for the Grade I Arlington Million Aug. 16 and also highlights the Grade III Modesty Handicap as a turf tune-up for the Grade I Beverly D. three weeks later.
However, also part of the Million Preview Day program Saturday is the $100,000 Round Table Stakes, an Arlington fixture for 3-year-olds that is observing its 40th renewal this season, and heading this weekend's field of seven in the nine-furlong event is Phillips Racing Partnership's Best Minister.
Trained by Ken McPeek, who arrived on a flight into Chicago's O'Hare International Airport Thursday morning, Best Minister parlayed a 12-length maiden win at Keeneland on April 19 into a three-length score in Pimlico's $100,000 Sir Barton Stakes, run at a mile and a sixteenth on Preakness Day, May 17. In his last start, however the Deputy Minister colt was fifth in Belmont's Grade II Dwyer, beaten more than 10 lengths when again going the 8½-furlong distance. What happened?
"Nothing really," said McPeek. "At Belmont, the mile and a sixteenth distance is one turn, so it's run as more of a sprint, and I really believe Best Minister is the kind of horse that needs two turns. If he runs well Saturday, I might consider the (Grade I) Travers (Aug. 23) as 'possible' for his next start."
Leading rider Rene Douglas gets the mount on Best Minister and will make up most of the 123 pounds assigned.
William Pacella, Ronald T. Schwed & Joe Rizza's Wiggins, who captured the $86,800 Springfield Stakes by five lengths at Arlington on Prairie State Festival Day, June 21, also carries 123 pounds and could provide strong competition for Best Minister.
"He's doing great," said trainer Tony Granitz of Wiggins, who has second leading rider Eddie Razo named to ride. "He's coming into the race super and I like the (rail) post we drew. This will be his first time going two turns and his first time at a mile and an eighth, but we're excited about his chances."
Another interesting contestant in Saturday's Round Table is Darley's Absent Friend, third in the $250,000 Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows in his last start July 5.
"That race in Iowa was not an ideal scenario for us," said Dave Duggan, assistant to trainer Eoin Harty and in charge of the day-to-day operations of Darley's Arlington string. "That is a speed favoring track there and we feel good about being back on our home grounds. We're taking a little bit of a shot Saturday -- Best Minister is obviously the class of the race -- but our horse is doing very good now."
Regular rider Ray Sibille, aboard for all three of Absent Friend's starts since the gray/roan son of Runaway Groom arrived from Dubai, will be up once again. The Darley color bearer gets in the Round Table with 116 pounds.
Orion Stable's Morning Merry, trained by Jim McCoy with Cindy Noll slated for the stirrups, is not to be discounted. The chestnut gelding won the $40,000 Canterbury Derby by three and a quarter lengths on June 28 at the Minnesota oval and will tote 118 pounds.
Completing the Round Table field is Paul Cumberland's Blackinton, trained by Michele Boyce with Zoe Cadman in the saddle at 116 pounds; T. Starr Porter's Battle Tank, conditioned by Dennis Ebert and ridden by Robby Albarado at 116; and Three Diamond Stable's Megoman, trained by Charlie Bettis with Eduardo Perez aboard, also at 116.
An Illinois-based trainer who has been an Arlington fixture for the past 30 years saddled his first winner during the 2003 meeting Wednesday with a homebred colt that was breaking his own maiden in his 30th trip to the post.
Jerry McGrath et al.'s Duncan Idaho, conditioned by his primary owner and foaled in 1999 on Valentine's Day, pressed the pace in the third race, took command at the furlong grounds and drew off the rest of the way for a three-length score under Hall of Fame jockey Earlie Fires, Arlington Park's all-time leading reinsman.
By Honeyland out of a Good Behaving mare named Pleasant Queen, Duncan Idaho toured the one-mile distance in 1:41.27 and returned a $32.40 win mutuel to his backers.
"You know, it was 30 years ago to the day that I saddled my first winner at Arlington and Earlie Fires broke my maiden that day wearing those same silks," said McGrath when accepting congratulations Thursday during training hours. "Not the same set of silks, of course, but those same green and gold colors that I've had all along. I'm going to pull out that win picture and get it framed together right along with yesterday's win photo.
"I bred this horse myself, and he was out of my mare Pleasant Queen that produced the winners of about 30 races," McGrath said. "I retired her when she was about 20 after she lost a foal, and she lived another couple of years before she died. This was the last live foal she produced. I'm winding down my own career now and plan to retire at the end of the year.
"I'm going to play 'Grandpa'," said McGrath immediately, when asked what he planned to do during his retirement, "and I'd also like to help young people get started in this business.
"There's another thing I have planned for retirement," McGrath said later in the morning. "I'm going to travel to Europe and tour opera houses all over the Continent. I want to visit La Scala (Italy's Teatro alla Scala), Covent Garden's (Great Britain's Royal Opera House), Paris (The Paris Opera House in France) and Vienna (The Vienna Opera House in Austria). That has been a lifelong dream of mine that's all in my plans for 2004."
Arlington Park's leading rider and defending jockey champion Rene Douglas and current second leading rider Eddie Razo both rode three winners on Wednesday's program.
Razo began the day with a win on Dennis McWilliams & Mike McGee's Buttercup Express, came back to the winner's circle in the fifth astride Bentley L. Smith's Penne ala Capaese, and concluded his afternoon with a victory aboard Barr H. Inman's Delicatessa in the eighth event.
Douglas won the fourth on Patricia Shenofsky's Spur Creek, the seventh on John Castro's Bet On Joe and the finale on B. Wayne Hughes' Somethingdangerous.
Penne ala Capaese in the fifth, Carl Moore Management LLC's Grifter in the sixth and Bet On Joe in the seventh all wore saddle towel #5, combining for a 5-5-5 Pick 3 worth $25.20 on the 55th day of the 104-day Arlington 2003 meeting.
- END -