Once again, the Illinois-breds take center stage in a series of six stakes that were packaged together in the past as the Prairie State Festival. Most of the races have been spread out over the month of June at Arlington International.
Unlike in past weeks, we get two stakes races featured this week. The two state-bred stakes featured this week are both for three-year-olds and older, bred on Illinois, on the turf going a mile and a sixteenth. For the fillies and mares, it's the Lincoln Heritage Handicap. For the open company, it's the Black Tie Affair Handicap. Each carries a pot of $100,000.
At original publish time, the rail is to be set to Lane 2. Selections are made "turf only". Also at original publish time, morning line odds were not available. (Updated on June 19 with morning lines.)
Updated, June 21: As a treat, full card selections from our own Nicolle Neulist have been added.
Arlington International -- Race 6 -- Black Tie Affair Handicap -- 1 1/16 miles on turf -- post time 3:30 pm CT
This race honors Black Tie Affair, the 1991 Horse of the Year. He was based out of Chicago for the late trainer Ernie Poulos. He capped his 1991 season winning the Breeders' Cup Classic (video below).
Quite fitting that THE PIZZA MAN starts his 2014 campaign in an Illinois-bred turf race. Now a five-year-old, he'll be searching for an Arlington stakes win win for the third straight year (2012 Tex's Zing, 2013 Illinois Owners). Second in this race last year to eventual open stakes winner Coalport, he showed last winter in New Orleans that he can emerge from a layoff and still bring his closing kick to these mile category races. Such a closing kick is going to be there, as BIG LOOIE (though cross entered to an upper-level allowance that directly precedes this race), TAZZ, and DOMAIN'S RAP all like to be near the front. There's adequate pace, at a minimum, for his closing rally, steady works leading in, and a horse who has five wins and eight tries over the Arlington weeds. He'll be low odds, but he's the choice. DAD ARE WE HERE made a good closing run last time over at Indiana Downs in an N2X/$40K AOC. Sure, you could have put a claim on him. Sure, he was dropping in class after winning an N3X/$62,500 AOC at Fair Grounds. But he was third two back in stakes company across town on the dirt in the Milwaukee Avenue behind BIG LOOIE and after a summer/fall freshening last year, he's beeen clipping along with a steady string of credible showings. As a dead closer he (like THE PIZZA MAN) benefits if all the front end speed gets busy. Lateral rider switch in this spot from former Arlington titleholder Francisco Torres (now riding at Indiana Downs) to Florent Geroux (who has been white-hot in the early stages of the meet). TAZZ projects as the speed of the speed from the outside box in this stakes. Don't think what happens in the Robert F. Carey Memorial last October at Hawthorne happens here, as across town he got to control the pace on the front end before getting nailed late by a closer (the top pick). More likely, with DOMAIN'S RAP and BIG LOOIE here, he's going to get pressured and not be able to last as long. However, the form on looks better if you line out the Churchill race last fall that may have been one race too much in the campaign, and cycle back to good efforts on this course throughout his career.
#3 THE PIZZA MAN (7/5)
#6 DAD ARE WE HERE (6/1)
#7 TAZZ (4/1)
Longshot: This is only the third start on turf lifetime for #4 SWEET LUCA (9/2), so perhaps the upside might be wearing a little thin on this runner that nailed incumbent Illinois Horse of the Year Work All Week (still can't endorse that one, but....) in the Addison Cammack last summer. However, at nearly 16-1 odds last fall on the grass, he was third in the Illinois Owners behind THE PIZZA MAN. Second off the layoff for this Chris Block-trained runner, with Block having been quiet at this meet (four wins, forty-five starts). However, he's got a closing kick that gets flattered with pace from two runners to his inside. First call rider Eddie Perez is aboard and he's having a steady meet of his own.
Arlington International -- Race 9 -- Lincoln Heritage Handicap -- 1 1/16 miles on turf -- post time 5:00 pm CT
KEPI is the selection as one, or both, of the inside-drawn LA TIA/KATIE THE LADY pair are going to be on the lead and are going to be a pace target that will set up this dead closer drawn directly to LA TIA's right. KEPI beat KATIE THE LADY last time, along with open stakes winner I O Ireland, in a June 5 allowance on the local weeds while closing off a slow pace set by KATIE THE LADY. Now with a pace more perhaps contested, but certainly closer to honest, this should flatter KEPI (a restricted stakes winner over this course) even more. KEPI goes second off the layoff in this stakes, and retains James Graham to ride, an asset given he's one of the circuit's best finishers on the green. In this space last time we tried to beat LA TIA, and that didn't work out so well as she was footloose and fancy-free on the front end that afternoon, winning the G3 Arlington Matron. Now LA TIA drops from graded company to this state-bred stakes, retains E. T. Baird to ride, and won this race last year on the front end. However, unlike in that last-out effort, there is a one-way speed, KATIE THE LADY, who could out gun her to the front. And when KATIE THE LADY beat LA TIA to the front last October, the weakness in LA TIA's game was exposed and LA TIA was third last fall. She needs the lead to succeed, and she's no slam dunk to get to the engine, even with E. T. Baird aboard. Yes, LA TIA got a graded stakes win, and the second place finisher was fourth in last week's G2 Fleur de Lis on the Stephen Foster Handicap undercard, but everything went her way last time: she got the lead, she held it, and dictated the terms. It won't be as easy this go around. Deciphering mile and a sixteenth races at Arlington is never easy: do they start on top of the turn like Gulfstream (which unfairly discriminates outside runners) or do they use the "stop sign" short finishes (which unfairly discriminate off-the-pace types)? BOLD KITTEN's mile and a sixteenth race used the short run to the turn (Gulfstream) configuration, and she won that Illinois-bred N2X race last time. She had not won in nearly a year, since getting a rail trip in the 2013 Purple Violet on a day when rail paths were favorable. BOLD KITTEN ran credibly three back at Gulfstream on a fast playing turf course to be third and her win last time at 1-2 was in the Illinois-bred condition. Those races sandwich a Keeneland allowance that could be forgiven given that track's stature. Perhaps she's in good form, and trainer Mike Maker - in his first year with a steady string at Arlington and a deputy to watch over, is hitting at a twenty-two percent win rate.
#3 KEPI (5/2)
#2 LA TIA (9/5)
#7 BOLD KITTEN (8/1)
Longshot: Was #5 THECUSHMAKER (30/1) a Tampa starling or a horse that turned the corner after being offered for $16,000? With the public ready to focus on LA TIA and the class drop, a square or better price should be present on this runner and that question gets requisite juice. For THECUSHMAKER, she got good enough at Tampa Bay over the winter after climbing the claiming ladder to try the G3 Hillsborough there, but perhaps that was a bridge too far. More realistic was winning an N2X/$32K AOC two back at Tampa as well. Her first start back north appeared not so positive, but she was wide all the way around chasing around slow-pace loving ALETTE in an N2X/$40K AOC, with the trainer not on the move up to a higher claim level or the third-level allowance. Perhaps trainer was aiming for this race and not the allowance, and the screws weren't tightened on the last of May. But discarding the G3 and the race last out, and it looks like she's in form and ready for action.
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