ARLINGTON HEIGHTS -- The traditional local lead-up to the Arlington International Festival of Racing is Arlington Million Preview Day. Contested on a mid-July afternoon where Arlington dodged most of the pop-up thunderstorms, it featured four Grade Three Stakes linked together by an all-stakes pick four and each serving as an in-house steppingstone to a larger pursed race in one month's time. Florent Geroux would be the riding star of the afternoon, scoring riding victories in three of the stakes, the second through fourth in the sequence.
Arlington Handicap: FINNEGAN'S WAKE Puts Romans back in Arlington Winners' Circle
Only a half dozen would see the starter in the opening leg of the stakes quartet, the Grade Three Arlington Handicap. Two hundred thousand was on the line in the first of four stakes to be contested on Arlington's grass course. The Arlington Handicap serves as the course, distance, and condition prep to next month's Arlington Million.
Wagering in the early stages of this ten furlong turf test saw the money on FINNEGAN'S WAKE, but by the time the latch spring, WAR DANCER would be sent off as the 9-5 favorite in the field. Predictably, AVANZARE would be the early pace in the Arlington Handicap, and his goal would be take the field as far as he could. Despite a slight gate stumble from WAR DANCER, AVANZARE would get to the front and would drop the anchor, reducing the Arlington Handicap pace to a crawl: early fractions of :26.36 and :52.77 for the quarter and half as AVANZARE led the field on a merry chase, a length in front with positions relatively unchanged as they crossed under the wire and progressed down the grassy backstretch. Not until the three-quarter mile mark, timed in a pokey 1:17.64, did someone make a move. MISTER MARTI GRAS started to move three wide on the final turn, with WAR DANCER making a move at the rail. The one-mile time of 1:42.28 still saw AVANZARE holding firm on the front, but now legitimately challenged by WAR DANCER, ADMIRAL KITTEN, and MISTER MARTI GRAS.
Yet it would be FINNEGAN'S WAKE that got the graded victory. Second all the way around and shadowing AVANZARE, who had been setting the early tempo, FINNEGAN'S WAKE got around a weary AVANZARE in deep stretch. While the latter was perhaps a hitting distance wall, FINNEGAN'S WAKE was smartly moving to the front, and focused on holding off the closers who were bringing their rally despite the tepid early pace. FINNEGAN's WAKE, never more than two lengths off the pace throughout, would hold off last year's Secretariat winner, ADMIRAL KITTEN, by a head and take down the Grade Three Arlington Handicap. 9-5 favorite WAR DANCER checked in third, a half length behind the top two as he closed at the rail, and just got past pace setter AVANZARE. AVANZARE would complete the superfecta, about a length spanning the top four. MISTER MARTI GRAS and INFINITE MAGIC completed the field.
FINNEGAN'S WAKE, last seen in the northwest suburbs with a minor finish in last year's Arlington Million, was piloted to victory by jockey Victor Espinoza (perhaps better known for piloting California Chrome in the Triple Crown). A five-year old by Powerscourt out of Silver Ghost mare Boat's Ghost, he stopped the clock for a mile and a quarter in 2:05.42 over ground rated "firm". Dale Romans, winner of the 2012 Million on Little Mike, conditioned the victor that was sent off at between 5-1 and 6-1. He paid $13.20 to win, putting Romans back in the Arlington stakes winners' circle.
Winning rider Victor Espinoza put FINNEGAN'S WAKE "close to the pace" and "wanted to be able to put him in the race." Espinoza, moreover, was "worried about AVANZARE drifting down the lane, but other than that everything went well. It was close but he had [it] right on time at the wire. I just got luck [sic]."
Winning owner Jerry Crawford, nom de course of Donegal Racing, remarked how "FINNEGAN'S WAKE was still eligible for a non-winners of two other than but he had been right there in Grade One and Grade Two races. This is a little homebred and he's been knocking on the door for so long. [Jockey] Victor [Espinoza] couldn't have ridden him better. [Trainer] Dale [Romans] had him ready today. This is tremendous."
The two dollar 5-1 exacta of FINNEGAN'S WAKE and ADMIRAL KITTEN returned $50.40. The fifty-cent 5-1-2 trifecta of FINNEGAN'S WAKE, ADMIRAL KITTEN, and WAR DANCER yielded $23.45. Dime 5-1-2-4 superfectas with AVANZARE in the fourth position rewarded backers to the the tune of $11.30. -- PM
Stars and Stripes Stakes: THE PIZZA MAN Goes Wire-To-Wire in the Stars and Stripes
A field of nine older horses contended the Stars and Stripes Stakes (GIII), a $150,000 race at 1 ½ miles on the Arlington turf. The Stars and Stripes is the local prep for the American St. Leger on Arlington Million Day, run at the marathon distance of 1 11/16 miles over the grass.
Ten had been entered in the race, but MISTER MARTI GRAS scratched from this race to run in the Arlington Handicap (GIII) instead. The lion’s share of the early money came in on THE PIZZA MAN, who opened at 3/2. 3/1 morning line favourite SUNTRACER opened at a slightly longer 7/2. Both horses took large shares of the late money. By post time, SUNTRACER was the public’s 8/5 choice, with THE PIZZA MAN just behind at 9/5.
The race had very little early speed on paper; no horse in it typically ran on the front end. THE PIZZA MAN and SETON HALL briefly contested for the front, with THE PIZZA MAN asserting control as the field entered the far turn for the first time. He set easy fractions: the quarter in 26.76, the half in 53.69. Approaching that half-mile mark, O’PRADO OLE overtook SETON HALL to stalk in second. As the field crossed the wire for the first time, THE PIZZA MAN briefly hopped inward, and then went back on the rail. He stayed on the front end, ticking off three-quarters in 1:21.18, and the mile in 1:46.73. Around that mile marker, O’PRADO OLE got within a head of THE PIZZA MAN, and OLYMPIC THUNDER began to mount a challenge on the outside.
As the field turned for home, THE PIZZA MAN sprinted away, opening up two and a half lengths between him and O’PRADO OLE. His closest pursuer came again, but THE PIZZA MAN held on to grab the biggest slice of the pie. He hit the wire ½ length in front of O’PRADO OLE. SUNTRACER, chasing about five lengths off the pace for much of the race, was bottled up near the back of the pack as the field turned for home. In the final furlong, he angled outside behind MORO TAP, and fired profoundly. However, it was too late, and he crossed the wire third beaten ¾ length. MORO TAP far back early, raced in mid-pack by the final half mile. He got within four lengths come the wire, winning a three-way photo for fourth. DREAMS CUT SHORT, OLYMPIC THUNDER, SETON HALL, DAD ARE WE HERE, and BUBBA’S BIG SHOW completed the order of finish.
Channing Hill, the jockey on second-place O’PRADO OLE, lodged an objection against Florent Geroux on THE PIZZA MAN for interference, both when the field passed the wire for the first time, and again nearing the wire in the stretch. Stewards disallowed both claims.
THE PIZZA MAN is a five-year-old gelding by English Channel out of the Lear Fan mare I Can Fan Fan, trained by Roger Brueggemann and owned by Midwest Thoroughbreds. He has eleven wins in sixteen starts, including six stakes wins. The 2014 Stars and Stripes was his first graded stakes win, though he has also won four Illinois-bred stakes as well as last year’s Robert F. Carey Memorial Handicap in open company. It was his second attempt at a mile and a half; last year, he finished third in the Stars and Stripes.
Florent Geroux, who rode THE PIZZA MAN, had a strategy that worked. “When you look at the race on paper, there wasn’t much speed in the race,” he stated. “I had the best horse in the race, so I took the lead and went with it. The plan was to get to wherever he was comfortable and he was comfortable on the lead. That’s where I wanted to be and it worked out good.”
Julien Leparoux, jockey on beaten favourite SUNTRACER, noted the unfavourable pace. “When they go 53 (seconds on the opening half mile), you’re a victim of the race. I got a good trip. I saved ground and was covered up, but had to wait, wait, wait to get in the clear. Once I did, he finished very strong, just too late.”
THE PIZZA MAN won in a final time of 2:33.67 over turf rated firm. He paid his backers $5.60. The exacta with O’PRADO OLE in second returned $58.60 for a $2 bet. The $0.50 trifecta over SUNTRACER returned $42.20, and the dime superfecta with MORO TAP in the lowest slot paid $29.11. -- NN
American Derby: DIVINE OATH Rides the Rail to American Derby Victory
Ten three-year-old turf runners answered the call to the post in the American Derby (GIII), a $200,000 race at a mile and three sixteenths over the turf. This race serves as the main local prep for the Secretariat Stakes (GI), a 1 1/4 mile turf race for three-year-olds. It also served as almost every competitor’s first taste of a distance past nine furlongs; only OUR CHANNEL, who had won the Derby Trial at Epsom at 1 1/4 miles, had ever raced that far before.
SCHOOLOFHARDROCKS, the 3/1 favourite on the morning line, opened up as the even-money favourite. DIVINE OATH opened up next, at 7/2. SCHOOLOFHARDROCKS remained the favourite, though he had drifted up to 6/5 by post time; DIVINE OATH remained the clear second betting favourite, and went off at 7/2. The two early speed horses in the field, GHOSTLY WONDER and OUR CHANNEL, ran to their previously preferred style. It was GHOSTLY WONDER who set the early pace along the rail: the quarter in 23.60, the half in 48.54, and three quarters in 1:13.46. OUR CHANNEL settled in about a length behind the long-shot leader, with SCHOOLOFHARDROCKS and HESINFRONT another two lengths back, and the rest farther away. Coming through the far turn, OUR CHANNEL moved outside of GHOSTLY WONDER, and was clear a length in shallow stretch.
OUR CHANNEL never got quite clear enough. DIVINE OATH, midpack and saving ground along the rail for much of the race, closed up ground approaching the stretch. He briefly left the inside to split between the fading GHOSTLY WONDER and the hanging SCHOOLOFHARDROCKS. Once past, he cut back to the rail, and charged inside OUR CHANNEL in the final sixteenth. DIVINE OATH got there, prevailing by half a length. HIGHBALL, near the rear for much of the race, angled outside turning for home. He hit another gear inside the final furlong, and made it within 1 ¼ lengths of DIVINE OATH at the wire. SCHOOLOFHARDROCKS hung on for fourth. AFORTABLE, BIG TOM PRADO, GIACALLURE, HESINFRONT, and GHOSTLY WONDER completed the order of finish; CHIEF BARKER pulled up on the backstretch and did not finish.
DIVINE OATH, a three-year-old Broken Vow colt out of the Forestry mare Rejoicing, is trained by Todd Pletcher and owned by Let's Go Stable. It was his fifth career race, and his first at Arlington. The colt had only previously won at maiden and allowance levels at Gulfstream in the winter. He was already graded stakes placed, having finished second behind Mr. Speaker in the Lexington Stakes (GIII) at Keeneland in May.
Jockey Florent Geroux, who won his second stakes of the day in the American Derby, was pleased with how the race unfolded for DIVINE OATH. “There was plenty of pace in the race, it worked out good, and we were able to go through. The horse kicked away from me a little bit, but I caught him at the end.”
HIGHBALL, the third place finisher, acquitted himself well for this being just his third career race, and his stakes debut. Jockey Alan Garcia observed, "He broke slow. I thought he was going nowhere, then I had him pick it up at the quarter pole; he ran a huge race. I think he's going to keep getting better, he's still so green."
Victor Espinoza, who rode beaten favourite SCHOOLOFHARDROCKS, had no excuses for the fourth-place finish. “I was sitting right behind, then moved out,” he noted. “It was a good trip, but not enough horse.”
DIVINE OATH won in a final time of 1:56.50 over turf rated firm. He paid his backers $9.20. The $2.00 exacta with OUR CHANNEL below paid $67.60. A $0.50 trifecta with HIGHBALL in third returned $117.35. The dime superfecta with SCHOOLOFHARDROCKS on the lowest rung came back with $81.86 for each dime on the combination. -- NN
Modesty Handicap: A Winning Homecoming for I'M ALREADY SEXY
A full field of fourteen would contest the fourth and final of the graded grass stakes on the Million Preview program, the $200,000 Grade Three Modesty Handicap. The Modesty serves as the feeder to the G1 Beverly D. Stakes in a month at Arlington, with today's race, like the August counterpart, at a mile and three-sixteenths on the weeds.
Early wagering action would be centered in this event on I'M ALREADY SEXY, an early favorite at around 4-1, along with TABREED. WHITE ROSE, despite her outside-most draw, also was among those receiving early action. Also eligible WAVE OF THE WAND was a pre-race scratch.
When the gate sprang open, longshot I O IRELAND would be the one getting to the front first, with I'M ALREADY SEXY in close attendance from her spot on the outside. I O IRELAND set a mild pace of :24.40, :50.22, and 1:15.52 for the opening quarter, half, and three-quarters. I'M ALREADY SEXY and MAID ON A MISSION were in close attendance to the fractions, with closers like TABREED, GULSARY, and STREET of GOLD biding their time. Despite the cavalry charge, I O IRELAND would hold firm until the final stages, overtaken by the stalking I'M ALREADY SEXY, the 9-2 second choice in the wagering.
For I'M ALREADY SEXY, it was her first win since taking down the G3 Pucker Up last September over this course. And it was her first win against elders. It also made the four-year-old Ready's Image filly out of the Trempolino mare Klohko a perfect four-for-four over the northwest suburban grass. She had to, and did, fight off the closers in the final stages in scoring the Modesty victory. She would be victorious by a head over GULSARY, herself a nose to the better of STREET OF GOLD. GULSARY and STREET OF GOLD would close wide in the latter stages, the former coming three wide (and seen in the photo to I'M ALREADY SEXY's right in the yellow cap), the latter moving six-wide in a more sustained fashion. STREET OF GOLD would be a neck in front of EVERY WAY, who completed the superfecta. Longshot EMBARR, pacesetter I O IRELAND, and Illinois-bred KEPI completed the top half of the final finishing order. TABREED, MAID ON A MISSION, ALETTE, FRIVOLOUS, and DANCE AGAIN followed in succession. 4-1 favorite WHITE ROSE was victimized by her draw and reported home thirteenth. ANA LUISA was last.
I'M ALREADY SEXY was piloted to victory by Florent Geroux, getting his third consecutive stakes victory on the program. She returned $10.80 to win. Wayne Catalano trains her for Hit the Board Stables, a partnership headed by Fasig-Tipton's Anna Seitz. Final time for the mile and three-sixteenths over a "firm" turf course was 1:57.56.
Winning rider Florent Geroux was glad he "got the opportunity to ride this filly back. I’ve had a lot of success with that filly here. She’s four-for-four on this turf course. She loves it and I hope she can keep on going and get a Grade I win."
Winning trainer Wayne Catalano noted how "I thought I'M ALREADY SEXY had the controlling speed and would be wherever she wanted to be. The 13-hole didn’t bother me; I thought she’d have enough speed to get over. She didn’t break exactly perfect, but it was good enough.” Catalano went first-time-Lasix on I'M ALREADY SEXY in the G3 Modesty after she had "a little trickle [of blood] the last time we breezed her. She'd never had anything before. I thought it was the perfect time to try Lasix."
The two dollar 13-4 exacta of I'M ALREADY SEXY and GULSARY yielded $108.60. The fifty-cent 13-4-2 trifecta of I'M ALREADY SEXY, GULSARY, and STREET OF GOLD returned $313.45. Dime superfectas with EVERY WAY in the fourth slot gave $380.16 to winning ticket holders. The all sod all stakes pick-four, spanning races seven through ten -- the Arlington Handicap, Stars and Stripes, American Derby, and Arlington Handicap, returned $387.40. -- PM
Stakes recap authors are denoted above by initials, PM for Paul Mazur and NN for Nicolle Neulist. All photos courtesy of Four Footed Fotos.
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