2014 American St. Leger Preview

This year marks the third running of the American St. Leger Stakes, a turf marathon.  Along with the the Arlington Million (GI), the Beverly D (GI), and the Secretariat Stakes (GI) it is part of the International Festival of Racing.  The race is inspired by the St. Leger Stakes, an English Classic that runs approximately 1 13/16 miles on the grass.

Arlington's version is 1 11/16 miles: as long as they can lay out a three-turn turf race without starting the field on the clubhouse turn.  The race is a listed stakes open to horses three years of age and older, and offers a $400,000 purse.  Eleven horses drew into the field, though the field will scratch down to ten.  Hardest Core pre-entered into both the American St. Leger and the Arlington Million, and has opted to run in the Million.  The field includes the top two finishers from last year's edition: the Australian invader and defending champion Dandino, as well as Illinois-bred fixture Suntracer.

At publish time the rail will be at sixty-two feet (lane five position) from zero.

American St. Leger (Listed), three-year-olds and up, 1 11/16 miles on the turf, post time 3:45pm CDT

For a race run on these shores, there are a lot of horses here both domestic and international who have marathon experience.  Of the ten horses racing, Admiral Kitten and Infinite Magic are the only ones in the field who have not raced at least twelve furlongs at least once in their career.  Defending champion Dandino is in the field, and despite claims that he is preparing well, he has been less than on this year.  He has missed the board in all three starts since, albeit against tougher fields.  He has been far up the track in his last two.  He does prefer firmer going, but there is no guarantee he will get that with the turf yielding today (Thursday) and rain in the forecast for Saturday.  He looks very beatable this time around, and the prime suspect to do so is Eye of the Storm.  The race does not feature a lot on the front end; the only likely speed horses look to be this one as well as Big KickBig Kick has tried turf marathons in his last two starts, and wired the San Juan Capistrano (GII) at Santa Anita his last time out, but the ability of this California-based horse to race on turf not quite firm is a question.  Eye of the Storm, on the other hand, has done his best work on grass rated good and softer.  He has won races as long as two miles, proving his stamina.  He goes on Lasix for the first time here, a move with which trainer Aidan O'Brian wins 20% of the time.  The four-year-old Galileo colt will be racing here on nine days' rest, though that hardly seems a problem: he has won on nine days' rest before, and then won again eleven days after that outing.  The biggest question surrounding Eye of the Storm is the ship; he has never raced outside Great Britain or Ireland before, and he will be in the quarantine barn until Friday morning.  Havana Beat is a British marathoner shipping out here for the first time.  He is a cut below group level in Great Britain, but his current form and speed make the four-year-old Teofilo gelding competitive amidst the field in this race.  The distance will be no problem for him: he won last out at 2 1/16 miles, and has racked up close finishes at distances ranging from a mile and a quarter to a mile and five eighths.  This distance may be on the short end of what he wants, but his stalking style should serve him well.  This is his first trip out of Great Britain, but he has looked healthy and alert enough in morning works this week to suggest he handled the ship well.  The 15/1 morning line seems a bit higher than he will likely go off at, but even 8/1 or 10/1 would be a great value given what he brings.

For a third selection, it is a close call between two state-bred contenders: The Pizza Man and Suntracer.  The Pizza Man has done much of his best work between eight and a half and nine furlongs.  However, his two stretches to marathon distances have been respectable: last year he finished just 1 3/4 lengths behind Dark Cove in the Stars and Stripes (GIII) at twelve furlongs, and this year he won that same race wire-to-wire.  He will not likely get the early speed again this time with Eye of the Storm and Big Kick in the field, but that will suit him fine.  He wins frequently from a stalking place, and really only inherited the early lead in the Stars and Stripes by default.  The Pizza Man's biggest asset is his consistency: sixteen times he has headed postward, and eleven times he has gotten his picture taken.  Suntracer has a turf marathon resume as long as this race, having specialized in them for several years now.  He closed furiously to finish third beaten only 3/4 length in the Stars and Stripes Stakes (GII), a strong achievement given the lack of early pace in that contest.  Finally, he gets a key jockey upgrade: turf ace Javier Castellano has the call.  However, the fact remains that Suntracer has not won a race in over two years.  Since The Pizza Man always comes hungry for a win, he gets the slight nod.

Selections:

#9 EYE OF THE STORM (6/1)

#7 HAVANA BEAT (15/1)

#10 THE PIZZA MAN (9/2)

Longshot:  #5 MOMENT IN TIME (20/1) had a tough time through the spring and summer, but the five-year-old Tiger Hill mare appears to be rounding back into form.  Two starts back she finished fourth beaten just 1 1/2 lengths, despite a troubled trip, in a 1 3/4 mile stakes race against males.  Last out she missed by just a neck at a mile and a half.  Moment In Time has done her share of globetrotting: she is English, but she shipped to Canada last October and finished third beaten only two lengths by Beverly D contender Tannery in the E. P. Taylor (GI - CAN).  She then went to Meydan for three races, including a fourth-place finish behind Certerach in the Dubai Gold Cup.  The Gold Cup is a two-mile race against open company.  She would have to run one of her best races to compete with the best of this field, but at anything near her morning line it is worthwhile to bet she is in a strong part of her form cycle.

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