The third Saturday in May is two Saturdays after the First Saturday in May, which means that the national racing scene shifts its eye to Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. Pimlico plays host to the Preakness Stakes on Saturday, and the Picks and Ponderings team has analysis of Friday's stakes, headlined by the G2 Black-Eyed Susan, similar handicapping coverage of Saturday's undercard with a focus on the G2 Dixie Stakes and our Point/Counterpoint look at the Preakness.
Closer to home, this year marks the sixty-fourth running of the G3 Hanshin Cup, which goes at a one-turn mile on Arlington's polytrack for a purse of one hundred thousand dollars. Contested last year in the summer, the Hanshin Cup goes back to the first month of the Arlington season with the track's complete stake schedule set to be run. The Hanshin Cup was on Preakness weekend in 2012, but typically was a fixture of the Memorial Day weekend.
Prior to being the Hanshin Cup, the race was formerly known as the Equipoise Mile, paying honor to Equipoise, one of the best handicap horses of the 1930s. Past winners of note include Smile (won during his Champion Sprinter season in 1986) and Black Tie Affair (1991 Horse of the Year, 1990 Hanshin Cup winner, Arlington stakes namesake). Locals have gotten winners' pictures in the Hanshin Cup as well, such as Lord of the Game (2005) and Hogy (2013).
Hogy makes a three-wide move to nail down a mild upset in the 2013 Hanshin Cup. Video courtesy Youtube.
Arlington International -- Race 7 -- G3 Hanshin Cup Stakes-- One Mile (one turn) on polytrack -- post time 3:44 pm CDT
Arlington's Stakes Coordinator Michael Adolphson pointed out how the G3 $100K Hanshin Cup on Saturday May 21st is the nation's only synthetic one-turn mile. As such, this narrow niche means that past form over this unique set-up must be taken seriously. Horse-for-course becomes a premium angle.
This space is taking a horse that has never won over the all-weather. Or even raced over any all-weather surface.
BLARP sports the colors of E. C. Sanderson and is the selection. He got into form over the winter at Fair Grounds in grassy mile category races and even scored a G3 placing chasing around Chocolate Ride and Roman Approval in the Fair Grounds Handicap. When stepped up to the G2 Muniz he ran a blah race chasing around Take The Stand (who goes in Saturday's G2 Dixie). We'll forgive the third last out over a testing "soft" course at Keeneland in a three-other-than allowance as the turf won't be soft and he may be someone who likes it fast and firm (the G3 Fair Grounds Handicap was on a "good" course). Perhaps a dry course will help the Joe Sharp trainee. BLARP gets the edge as someone bred for the synthetic, being by War Front out of a Pulpit mare (War Front progeny have won at all distances on the synthetic, from The Factor to Lines of Battle; the mare is unreaced. However Pulpit progeny do fine through Tapit.) Edgar Perez has the call and in a race with a good bit of front end speed, he gets the targets to rally into. One must forgive his last two, but if he can find his New Orleans form he can be a G3 winner in Arlington Heights. Local RECOUNT won a fifty-grand stakes last year on Arlington Million Day and hasn't done much wrong since turning four. The win column in 2016 shows a donut, but he's a horse who's forced into upper-level allowances because he's exhausted his conditions. He kicked around in these kinds of allowances at Oaklawn, and trainer Jimmy Divito smartly kept him at the short-stretch mile of Oaklawn. Most effective when he could get the lead (sensible due to configuration), he showed versatility getting beaten on the tape last time at Churchill in a grassy allowance. Local Polytrack is fine for him as he's four-for-four over it. The rub on him is that he does his best work near the front end which could be a crowded place with CREWMAN, VALIANT CITY, and WOODLAND WALK all wanting the lead. RECOUNT gets an additional nudge if Arlington's polytrack plays to forward types, but leaving him off a ticket means a long walk to the cash machine. Defending champion MIDNIGHT CELLO got the lead no one wanted in last year's Hanshin Cup. The opening fractions don't project to be the snoozy :24 1/5 and :47 2/5 this time around. That said he may be forced to rate and pull back, which may not be his best game. But he's got a win over Arlington's one turn polytrack mile in this race ten months prior. He also has Jose Valdivia, Jr. in the irons - and nearly anything under him is live. Worth noting that he finished in front of Hesinfront, a next out winner, last time at Gulfstream.
#4 BLARP (6/1)
#5 RECOUNT (9/2)
#10 MIDNIGHT CELLO (7/2)
Longshot: #3 MISTER MARTI GRAS (8/1) is still around and still racing at nine, a refreshing rarity in today's age of shooting star careers and quick retirements. He'll make his fourth appearance in the Hanshin Cup as he's got three silver medals and will look for a gold medal this year. The Block trainee may be better at two turns, but he showed he doesn't need a super-fast pace when MIDNIGHT CELLO put the field to sleep in last year's Hanshin Cup. MISTER MARTI GRAS had to shake off some rust in an allowance at Tampa Bay earlier in the year but got the job done last out at Tampa Bay. An honest type, he could drift up in the odds as bettors see only a win at Tampa and a blah 2015 and a local that's long in the tooth. He will get his targets and if he shows up - which usually happens - he'll be in the mix despite qualifying for AARP benefits.
For an alternative view of the G3 Hanshin Cup, our own Nicolle Neulist has also analyzed this race. Their analysis can be found here.
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