2014 Arlington Handicap Preview

A Grade 1 race in the 1980s, the Arlington Handicap has fallen to the Grade 3 level. Past winners feature the likes of Round Table (Hall of Famer), Sky Classic (who set the stakes record and won the Older Turf Male Eclipse in 1992). Recent winners like Just As Well and three-time winner RAHYSTRADA have turned victories here into solid minor awards in the Arlington Million.

A newsreel highlighting Round Table's win in the 1959 Arlington Handicap.  Video courtesy Youtube.

Run at 1 1/4 miles on the turf for a pot of $200,000 and situated four weeks out from the Arlington Million, this G3 serves as a local prep race, with the G1 Arlington Million or perhaps the American St. Leger, the Million Day goal. Older horses will take to the Arlington grass course in one of four G3 co-features (all linked by an all stakes pick four) on the July 12 Arlington Million Preview Day program.

Selections are made “turf only”. At publish time, the rail will be set to Lane 5, sixty-two feet from zero.

Arlington International -- Race 7 -- G3 Arlington Handicap-- 1 1/4 miles on turf -- post time 3:55pm CT

For soft or firm or in between, the play here is AVANZARE.  I'm hoping that trainer Tom Proctor instructs rider Gary Stevens to go from the gate and get to the lead.  He's the only one with any desire to be near in the front and in a short field of six, that could be crucial.  Putting Stevens in the saddle is an upgrade over Goncalves, no doubt.  But Goncalves did pilot AVANZARE last time to a victory where he led the field on a merry chase, dictating the pace and clearing the N3X allowance condition at Churchill.  Never worse than second in seven lifetime outs, and he races from the Tom Proctor stable that in a limited sample has a 39% win rate and 50% in the money strike rate.  Tactical enough to pull back should the pace be quicker.  Millionaire MISTER MARDI GRAS hasn't gotten any worse for wear at age seven.  Versatile enough to win graded stakes on synthetic and dirt, he's also classy enough to be the runner up in the G2 Hawthorne Gold Cup last Thanksgiving.  Two back a runner-up in the G3 Hanshin Cup, he won an upper crust allowance last time on the local weeds.  Grade three races have always been a snug fit for him, and he's honest enough to have hit the superfecta in all his 2013 starts and have only bad trips be his 2014 blemishes.  If he shows up he should give a solid acquittal and be useful in your wagers.  Trainer Kenny McPeek has figured out that WAR DANCER is a turf horse after clunkers in the G1 Travers and the G3 Skip Away, and has him on a grass campaign that saw him be second in the G2 Elkhorn and win the G3 Louisville, both at a mile and a half.  He shortens up today two furlongs, but he won at the ten furlong trip last year in the G2 Virginia Derby at now-on-hiatus Colonial Downs.  While he will appreciate give in the ground (the Keeneland race and the Virginia Derby were on "good" footing), the recorded slow work over the local turf might be a cause for concern.

Selections:

#4 AVANZARE (7/2)

#3 MISTER MARDI GRAS (5/1)

#2 WAR DANCER (2/1)

Longshot: Our longshot play is more for firm turf than for soft turf, but #6 INFINITE MAGIC (10/1) came to Arlington last year and pulled a mild upset in the G3 American Derby at 9 1/2 furlongs.  Back in suburban Chicago, he from the outermost box in today's Arlington Handicap.  His best races have been on firmer ground -- see the Del Mar Derby and the American Derby, whereas he fared okay on the yielding ground last time at Belmont and hated the bog at cross-town Hawthorne.  Should the course be firm, he'll come second off the layoff (a 69% in the money propostion) and was close to a slow pace in the American Derby.  Such a slow-to-moderate pace could materialize again.

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