In a formal press release today and approved by the Illinois Racing Board, Arlington Park's Stakes Schedule will look a lot like the stakes schedule for 2012. The major days at the northwest suburban oval are set, with purses and dates mostly unchanged. Some minor changes are slated, and it should be noted that this piece does not include the overnight stakes (such as the Mariah's Storm Stakes, a prep for the G3 Arlington Oaks) nor does it include the Illinois Owners' Stakes, which is restricted to those with a majority in-state ownership interest. A future press release from Arlington will reflect the status of those stakes races.
Twenty-five stakes are slated for the five-month stand, which opens on Friday May 3. The meet will have total major stakes purses at $5.5M. The Hatoof Stakes, set to be run on the August 17 Million Day program and serving the local prep for the G3 Pucker Up Stakes, was counted among these stakes this year (and the Owners' Stakes weren't). Total purses were down by $300,000 from year to year. However, the two Owners' Stakes, will make up the discrepancy if they're included in the stakes schedule.
Purses of stakes are roughly the same from year to year. The notable purses changes are an extra $25,000 for the Arlington Classic, a drop of $25,000 for all of the six Illinois-bred stakes in June that compromised Prairie State Festival Day last year, and a $50,000 reduction on the Arlington-Washington Lassie for frosh fillies on the polytrack going a single-turn mile.
The first stakes of last year, the G3 Hanshin Cup at a single-turn polytrack mile is moved to May 25, the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. That creates a triple-header of G3s for Arlington's first major day: the Arlington Matron for older females, the Hanshin Cup, and the Arlington Classic. The last event was upgraded back to G3 status this year, got a $25,000 purse boost, and will serve as the first leg of the Mid-American Triple for three-year-olds on the grass. Prior to Memorial Day, there are no (at this time) open stakes slated for the first three weekends in May.
Thumbs up from this corner to Arlington to move the Hanshin Cup back to the Memorial Day holiday weekend, where it can set up a solid all stakes pick three.
Hawthorne set a precedent during the 2012 Fall Meet with splitting its Illinois-bred Festival, a six-pack of state-bred stakes races, over three weekends. Arlington will follow suit this meet by splitting the Prairie State Festival. According to Arlington Park Senior Manager of Communications Dave Zenner, "Splitting [these] races make sense to create (sic) three weekends of multiple stakes."
June 1 will feature two Illinois-bred races at a single-turn polytrack mile restricted to three year olds: the Purple Violet Stakes for fillies and its open complement, the Springfield Stakes. June 8 has two sprint stakes at six furlongs for older horses on the polytrack on the docket: the Isaac Murphy Handicap for females and its open complement, the Addison Cammack. Cammack was honored with an Illinois-bred stakes last year after his passing and will be honored again this year. The Cammack takes the name of the White Oak. June 15 sees two turf routes: the open Black Tie Affair and its female-restricted complement, the Lincoln Heritage. All six Illinois-bred stakes carry a $100,000 purse, $25,000 less than last year and in line with purses during Hawthorne's spring meet for its Illinois-bred stakes.
While Prairie State Festival Day was a good day to look forward to in June, splitting the stakes in a three-by-two arrangement does address the weakness of June at Arlington. It might turn out to not be the most popular move to make the 3 x 2 split, however.
Two weeks later, on June 29th, Arlington will stage the Grade Three Chicago Handicap at seven furlongs for sprinting older females on the polytrack. That week starts a four week run of stakes. July 6 has the (listed) Arlington Sprint at five and one-half furlongs on the green.
July 13 is another action-packed day, namely, Million Preview Day. A quartet of grassy Grade Three stakes are scheduled, with each race serving as the local prepatory race to Arlington Million Day. Long-winded types will go in the $150,000 Stars and Stripes leads to the American St. Leger. Sophomores will see the starter in the $200,000 American Derby, which progresses to the Secretariat. Older females are slated for the $200,000 Modesty, which feeds to the Beverly D. And the $200,000 Arlington Handicap serves as the final local test before the Arlington Million.
July 20th is the last in this four-week streak, and its feature is the Grade 3 Arlington Oaks, for sophomore fillies. They'll travel a nine-furlong lap around the polytrack.
The only major stakes day set (so far) for August is the biggest one of them all, Arlington Million Day.
Mark your calendars for August 17th, the Arlington International Festival of Racing. On the Million Day program are the traditional Grade One Triple of the million-dollar Arlington Million for older males, the $750,000 Beverly D. for older females, and the $500,000 Secretariat for three-year-olds. The Million and Secretariat will be at the traditional mile and a quarter distance, with the Beverly D. a sixteenth of a mile shorter. Also back for its second iteration is the American St. Leger. This race is set for thirteen and one-half furlongs (a mile and eleventh-sixteenths, or a mile and five and one-half furlongs) and isn't graded this year, as two runnings are needed before grading. The aforementioned Hatoof Stakes, now a $75,000 race, will also be on the blockbuster Million Day program.
Good to see the turnbacks/stretchout cross pollination of the Arlington Handicap, Stars and Stripes, Million, and American St. Leger are still in play. Horses can stretch out from the G3 Arlington Handicap at 1 1/4 miles on Preview Day (the Million's prep race) and try the St. Leger. Or run in the Stars 'n Stripes and then cut back in distance for the Million. At a basic level, it's good to see the American St. Leger brought back for a second year, getting a fair shot to build some traction.
The final four major stakes of the meeting compromise three late-summer Saturdays. The Grade 3 $150,000 Washington Park Handicap for older males on the polytrack is on August 31. Two-year-olds take center stage on September 7 with the Grade 3 $150,000 Arlington-Washington Futurity for two-year-olds and its female-restricted complement, the $100,000 Arlington-Washington Lassie. Both races will once again be a single turn polytrack mile. The Lassie was downgraded this year, losing its graded status and also taking a $50,000 purse cut. The final graded stakes of the meeting is on September 14th and is the Grade 3, $175,000 Pucker Up for three-year-old fillies on the weeds. The meet ends on Sunday, September 29th.
The minor tweaks should make another solid stakes program at Arlington. And look for more "Picks and Ponderings" coverage of the Arlington meet when it opens in Spring.