ARLINGTON HEIGHTS -- On a hot, humid day at Arlington, older fillies and mares took the stage in the 26th running of the Chicago Handicap at seven furlongs over the polytrack. The field featured three familiar faces from last year's running: winner Cozze Up Lady, second-place Queen's Award, and Flower Spell, who finished fifth last year as a three-year-old. Several other winners of local stakes race were in the field as well. My Option, the Illinois-bred winner of last year's Arlington Oaks (GIII), returned to Arlington for the first time since last September in this race. Fire Tricks, who won the Isaac Murphy Handicap at Arlington two weeks ago upon Frabster's disqualification, made her first graded stakes try in the race. Originally a field of ten, it was reduced to nine after the late scratch of morning line favourite Apropos, who was injured in the paddock before the race.
Disco Barbie, the 4/1 second favourite on the morning line, took the lion's share of the early money; she opened at 1/1 on the strength of her two consecutive allowance wins over the Presque Isle Downs Tapeta leading into the Chicago Handicap. The early money co-second choices were My Option and Cozze Up Lady, both sitting at 6/1 with 23 minutes to post. As post time neared, Disco Barbie's odds drifted away from even money, but not far. She went off at 8/5, remaining the clear betting favourite. Defending champion Cozze Up Lady went off the slight second betting favourite at 4/1, with Eden Prairie close behind at 9/2 and My Option at 5/1.
Just as she did last year, Flower Spell came straight out to the lead and attempted to lead the field on a merry chase from gate to wire. Eden Prairie briefly looked like she was going to challenge early, but settled back several lengths off as the field proceeded down the backstretch to chase along with Chortle and Cozze Up Lady. Flower Spell ticked off fractions that were more reasonable than the ones she set on the front end last year, going the first quarter in 23.40 seconds and the half in 46.52. My Option, over half a dozen lengths back early, started advancing up the rail through the far turn. She split through Eden Prairie and Chortle as the field turned for home. Approaching the eighth pole, My Option found her next gear, and blasted past Flower Spell on the outside. By the time she hit the wire, she had opened up 6 1/2 lengths between her and her competition. Flower Spell continued gamely to the wire, and was able to hold off the rest of the field: a tribute to her current form, as she runs best at six furlongs or less.
Favourite Disco Barbie, midpack on the outside early, ran four wide around the turn and closed well enough for third, 7 3/4 lengths behind the winner. Long shot Allanah, who was still over a dozen lengths back as the field turned for home, made a strong yet belated run down the middle of the track. It was enough to get her neck in front of a fading Eden Prairie for fourth, 8 3/4 lengths back. Eden Prairie, Fire Tricks, Cozze Up Lady, Queen's Award, and Chortle completed the order of finish.
My Option, a four-year-old Belong to Me filly out of the Cohiba mare Out of Options, tallied her second career graded stakes win in the Chicago Handicap. Last July she won the Arlington Oaks (GIII) by a neck over Frivolous; this was also her last trip to the winner's circle. This race was her fifth career win and her fourth stakes win. In addition to her graded stakes wins, she has also won two Illinois-bred stakes over the Hawthorne dirt: the Pat Whitworth Illinois Debutante in 2012, and the Pretty Jenny Stakes in 2013. She is a homebred for owner Timothy Keeley, and is trained by prominent Illinois trainer Chris Block.
Last time out, My Option finished sixth beaten 2 1/4 lengths in the Hendrie Stakes (GIII) at Woodbine. Her trainer saw that as a valuable step toward this race. "She's the kind of filly who needs to lay back an make one run," Block noted. "She was a little too involved in the pace early on and that cost her. She still dug in hard and got a lot out of the race. That was our stepping stone to today." While watching the race today, Block liked what he saw. "At the three-eighths pole, I was confident. I know her and I know Eddie's [Eddie Perez, My Option's jockey] posture when he's got a lot of horse. He found a nice spot and the rest was history."
Perez agreed that he had plenty of horse under him today. "She tries hard every time she runs and she tries hard for me. I was taking my time and when I asked my filly, she took off. I had a lot of horse and I was just waiting. By the quarter-pole I knew I was a winner."
Rosemary Homeister Jr., rider of second-place Flower Spell, had nothing but praise for her horse and for Ingrid Mason, who achieved her first graded stakes placing as a trainer in this race. Homeister shed some light on their race strategy. "She ran beautiful. Ingrid Mason has trained her to perfection. Seven-eighths is just a hair too far for her, but we were trying to steal it. She gave it every effort that she had. I can't say enough about how well Ingrid got her ready."
Antonio Gallardo, who rode beaten favourite Disco Barbie, also rode her in her allowance wins at Presque Isle. He attributed the third-place finish partially to the difference in track condition. "Today I think the track was a little bit loose for her," Gallardo noted. "At Presque Isle Downs, the track is a little bit tight. She didn't feel comfortable with the loose track. She was also a little bit nervous today and was sweating. She tried to make her run -- she's a nice filly."
My Option paid her backers $13.20 to win. An exacta with Flower Spell in the second slot paid $104.00 for each $2 bet. The trifecta, with Disco Barbie placed below, paid $109.90 for a $0.50 base bet. The $0.10 superfecta, with those three atop Allanah, paid $255.55 for each dime on the combination.
All photos courtesy of Four Footed Fotos.
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