Atop Arlington's paddock is a statue to the first Arlington Million. Yet a performance thirteen years before could be worthy of being bronzed.
In August 1968 Dr. Fager stopped by Arlington Park to see the starter in the Washington Park Handicap, at the time contested at a one-turn mile. He was in the midst of a stellar four-year-old campaign that would make him a millionaire (a big deal for the late sixties) and a Hall of Famer. During that year he won going short (Vosburgh, then at 7/8 mile), long (Suburban, then at 1 1/4 miles), and on grass (United Nations), All this was as an encore to a sterling sophomore campaign (wins in the then-on-dirt Arlington Classic, Hawthorne Gold Cup, Gotham, and Withers for starters).
Carrying 134 pounds in the 1968 Washington Park, he won by open lengths and set the record for one mile on dirt, a record that's only been matched once since.
1968 Washington Park Handicap victory by Dr. Fager. Video courtesy Youtube.
At the end of the year, Dr. Fager would earn champion honors in four categories: sprinter, handicap horse, a share of male turf honors, and Horse of the Year. And a world record for a mile on dirt.
Honorable Mention: The nine furlong record for Arlington Park on the main track was set by another Hall of Fame horse, Spectacular Bid. His time of 1:46 1/5 set in the 1980 Washington Park remains a main-track record to this day.
Arlington Park - - Race 9 - - G3 Washington Park Handicap - - 1 1/8 miles on polytack - - post time 5:04 pm CTAt original publish time, morning line odds were not available. This information was added on Thurs. Aug. 29.
The feature for the last day of August reflects a return to picking and pondering following the Million Day festivities. The G3 Washington Park is set at a nine furlong lap around Arlington Park's polytrack for a pot of $150,000. Three-year-olds and up will see the starter, with a half dozen lined up.
It's tricky to pull apart the three contenders given in the space below: WILLCOX INN, MISTER MARDI GRAS, and AGENT DI NOZZO. They'll be your three favorites and using this trio should adequately cover any multi-race wager.
All three above, including COLOR ME BLUE and HATTASH, all like to close. The only one left is GALLANT EAGLE, who by default becomes the pacesetter. Does he get brave like two back? Does he stalk from midpack like three back? Whatever the case, it means the pace is slow on the front end.
That key, the old "pace makes the race" adage, helps us. Going back to his turf starts in New Orleans, WILLCOX INN was able to be close to the pace on a wet course three back in the G2 Muniz and four back in the G3 Fair Grounds Handicap. He was wide in both events, but he was closer to the pace. That ability to be close is the key, and even though he's winless in a year, he's been hanging around with quality foes like Optimizer, Wise Dan, and Skyring and cashing minor checks. Sooner or later, he'll get a graded stakes win. And though he appears untested on polytrack, he did break his maiden over it in 2010 (beating Animal Kingdom). MISTER MARDI GRAS certainly fits here, a solid G3-level campaigner. One turn wasn't has game two back in the Hanshin Cup where he lost by a short margin to a solid turf sprinter named Hogy that recently won a Saratoga stakes. Two turns was better for him, and he showed it winning a $125K off-turf stake at Canterbury. Reunited with Perez on a stable that's been cold all meet and is bound, sooner or later, to perk up. Both WILLCOX INN and MISTER MARDI GRAS are the locals in this event, whereas AGENT DI NOZZO ships in from Kentucky. Won a listed $125K stakes at Indiana Downs last time on the dirt. Two and three back, he was ahead of G3 Cornhusker money finisher Taptowne in upper-crust allowances at Churchill. Worth noting that S. Bridgmohan, who rode him at Churchill, makes the trip to suburban Chicago. Goes first time polytrack today. Hard to fault a horse that's won seven times and hit the board four more times in fourteen lifetime tries.
#5 WILLCOX INN (6/5)
#3 MISTER MARDI GRAS (9/5)
#6 AGENT DI NOZZO (7/2)
Longshot: The dunderhead above says "sooner or later" on his top two picks. Since when did early 70s pop songs become handicapping angles? Enough rants, let's talk pace. #4 GALLANT EAGLE (20/1) , as mentioned above, projects as lone speed by default. He got brave two back on the polytrack in a one-turn mile and nearly won last time out. He's four of five lifetime, with another second on the local synthetic. The downside is that he's done his work in $10K starter/$20K claiming races. As a result of him being looked at as "cheap" speed, the odds on this one should be enormous. But he could hang on long enough to blow up some tickets.
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