For the Saturday - the 24th of May - that starts the Memorial Day holiday weekend, there are three stakes with Grade 3 status and $150,000 purses on the card, serving as the kick-off to the Arlington stakes season.
The first of them is the Arlington Matron, a Grade 3 for older females. They'll go one and one-eighth miles, a full lap around the Arlington polytrack oval. Past winners of note include Pucker Up (who has a stakes in her namesake later in the Arlington meet), two-time winner Sixty Sails (who has a stakes in her honor across town at Hawthorne), and hall-of-famers like Bewitch, Real Delight, and Tosmah.
The second of the three races is the G3 Hanshin Cup, carded for a one-turn polytrack mile. Prior to being the Hanshin Cup, the race was formerly known as the Equipoise Mile, paying honor to Equipoise, one of the best handicap horses of the 1930s. Past winners of note include Smile (won during his Champion Sprinter season in 1986) and Black Tie Affair (1991 Horse of the Year, 1990 Hanshin Cup winner).
The third of the three is the Arlington Classic, a G3 stakes for three-year-olds on the turf at one and one-sixteenth miles. It's the first leg of the Mid America Triple, a sophomore turf stakes series. You can read more about the Arlington Classic and the Mid America Triple here.
(Morning line odds were not available at original publish time, but were added late on Thursday May 22nd.)
Arlington International -- Race 7 -- G3 Arlington Matron -- 1 1/8 miles on polytrack -- post time 4:00 pm CT
LA TIA may look like controlling speed second off the layoff, but the race last year against state-bred turfers across town on 35th and her first start off the layoff against G3 placed Every Way shows a lack of passing gear. We'll try FRIVOLOUS second off the winter vacation in a mild upset, as she won a first-level allowance at Keeneland last time out pressing a moderate pace. She's got familiarity with the local oval, getting nosed out by My Option (who goes the G3 Hendrie in Canada on Saturday) in last year's G3 Arlington Oaks at today's nine furlong polytrack lap. James Graham climbs aboard, and he's quickly leaped to the top of the class among riders. LA TIA may get a free lunch on the front end, but FRIVOLOUS should make her work for it and pass her in the lane. Still, if FRIVOLOUS is too far out of it or the fractions get slow then LA TIA gets her free ride on the front end. When given said free ride she can be dangerous, as seen in last year's Lincoln Heritage over the weeds. She advanced up the latter to the G3 Modesty, where she hit the board. Then she ambitiously tried the G1 Beverly D. and G2 Canadian and while a graded stakes winner over the oval and distance (the 2012 Arlington Oaks at nine furlongs on the local synthetic), perhaps as she's gotten older a graded stakes is a bit of a bridge too far. MOMENT IN DIXIE showed a wake-up in form when getting the runner-up spot in the G3 Doubledogdare down at Keeneland. That was her first start over it, and no disgrace losing to an Elliott/Casse horse as that jockey/trainer production seemed to fire all through the boutique meet. Second off the layoff like our top pick, who isn't afraid to ship out of town (see: Two Months Rent in the 2012 Hawthorne Derby) if the situation merits.
#2 FRIVOLOUS (9/2)
#3 LA TIA (5/2)
#7 MOMENT IN DIXIE (3/1)
Longshot: You have to dig into the career form to find it, but there are glimmers of hope on #6 HEART OF DESTINY (30/1), who appears to have a condo in N2X land that she's rented out for another summer. She was facing the boys last time in a two-other-than allowance at Churchill on the grass, and now goes back in against her own gender. However, she's made two starts on the polytrack, and both were credible: a second in the Alcibaides and a fourth in the Ashland, both G1s. However, the Ashland was way back in 2012 so it's buried below a whole slew of average-tastic efforts on the turf. She does though appear to be a one-run closer, but LA TIA should provide an adequate pace target and Homeister is capable of booting home price horses.
Arlington International -- Race 9 -- G3 Hanshin Cup -- One mile (one turn) on polytack -- post time 5:00 pm CT
A large field with quite a few possiblities. We'll tab NIKKI'S SANDCASTLE as the top pick on consistency. Going around a mile on the turf/synthetic in G3s and listed stakes is his game, as he won listed stakes at Arlington and Gulfstream and last year's G2 Fayette. On a figure basis he's consistent, but he may have found the nine and a half furlongs of the G3 Skip Away too far and found the competition of the G1 early in the year at Gulfstream too tough. Shows a bullet work at Churchill on the dirt and exits a third in the G3 Ben Ali on Keeneland's synthetic. He's also been on the synthetic before at Arlington, with two seconds. HOGY wheels back in two weeks after defeating two-time Arlington Sprint winner Saint Leon at six panels on the polytrack earlier in the Arlington meet. He proved he's still in the form that saw him gobble up stakes last year when he was nailed by a next-out state-bred stakes winner on the line across town at Hawthorne and turned in a troubled but credible effort in the G3 Shakertown at Keeneland. Maybe the short turnaround works against him, but he won this race last year and his off the pace style will be flattered with MONGOLIAN SATURDAY on the engine from the outermost box. FORDUBAI wintered in New Orleans and won a minor feeder stakes, then cashed some checks in the G3 Mineshaft and the G2 New Orleans Handicap. He was in the same zip code as Grand Contender, who later won the G3 Texas Mile and obviously not in the same zip code as Palace Malice, a favorite for the upcoming Met Mile on Belmont Stakes Day. Still, cutting back to a one-turn mile puts him back in his distance comfort zone and he won a pair of races at three over today's configuration: a one-turn mile on Arlington polytrack, including the 2012 Straight Line. Like the rider switch to Sheldon Russell in this spot.
#5 NIKKI'S SANDCASTLE (6/1)
#4 HOGY (3/1)
#11 FORDUBAI (15/1)
Longshot: The last time #3 PATAKY KID (30/1) saw the winners' circle was at Arlington last year going seven furlongs in the Coach Jimi Lee for sophomores on Arlington Million Preview Day. In fact, the only time he has gotten win pictures taken has been on the Arlington polytrack. However, he's won thrice over it: a maiden race at two, the G3 Arlington-Washington Futurity at today's one mile distance, and the aforementioned race last year. Perhaps he's evolved into a polytrack horse, as his G1 at two isn't that bad in retrospect (he faces the winner of that race, JOHA, in this spot). And maybe two turns isn't his game off the race at Del Mar. Seeing that he's won so infrequently will keep his price aloft.
Arlington International -- Race 10 -- G3 Arlington Classic -- 1 1/16 miles on turf -- post time 5:30 pm CT
(This portion of the piece below on the Arlington Classic is jointly submitted for Thorofan's "Handicapper's Corner.)
A half-brother of G3 winner Leading Astray, AFORTABLE won a first-level allowance at Keeneland to run his turf record to two wins in two starts. Such allowance win came at nine furlongs, and he will make his second start of the year off a winter layoff. A one-run closer, he gets one of the best with closers aboard and a pace setup from both ISTANFORD and SOLITARY RANGER. Perhaps TIGER BOURBON shows speed too off the lay, and that gives our choice another target to chase down. ISTANFORD will certainly draw attention as the only filly in the field, and this a race that rarely attracts females. Still, she’s nibbled in races like the G3 Florida Oaks and the Edgewood and returns to the course where she flashed some nice grass form at two. She’s trained by Mike Stidham, who has won this race twice and is as competent as any on the grounds with a sophomore turfer. RY’S THE MAN is brought to you by the ownership that will send out Mister Mardi Gras in the G3 Hanshin Cup earlier in the day. He goes back to two turns after cashing a second-place check last out in a Keeneland turf sprint. Two back he won a first-level allowance over the grass at Fair Grounds. He appeared to struggle earlier in his career with gate and breaking problems but he appears to have worked that out through experience. The performance he earned last time on the Keeneland course is good enough to take this event, and worth noting he got the chance to work out over the Arlington turf course, doing so on May 11th.
#8 AFORTABLE (5/1)
#7 ISTANFORD (6/1)
#4 RY’S THE MAN (8/1)
Longshot: Newcomer Sheldon Russell has acquitted himself as an able jockey at Arlington this meet, and he climbs aboard Larry Rivelli’s #2 CHIEF BARKER (8/1). Crippled by a crappy break last time out in the G2 American Turf, that was his first start in the states after starting his career in Europe. Maybe the second start helps him out. Worth noting he beat at two Chriselliam, a BC Juvenile Fillies Turf winner. Think people will look at “why is a European with Larry Rivelli” as a red flag, even though Rivelli in the early stages of the meet has been white hot.
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