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2017 Hanshin Cup Preview

Arlington Park's racing season got underway last weekend with Derby hats, close finishes, and places for rider Jose Valdivia and trainer Larry Rivelli at the top of the standings.  The one thing last weekend lacked was stakes racing...but that changes this Saturday with the Grade 3 Hanshin Cup.

This race was originally christened in 1941 for Equipoise, a Hall of Fame racehorse whose stakes wins included a pair of top-notch local triumphs: the 1933 Arlington Handicap and the 1933 Hawthorne Gold Cup.  This year will be its 23rd year as an exchange race with the Japan Racing Association, and took its current name in 2000.  As part of the exchange, Hanshin Racecourse hosts the Group 3 Arlington Cup, a 1600 metre turf race for three-year-olds.  This year's edition of the Arlington Cup was run on February 25, and heavy favourite Persian Knight closed for a three-length victory.

This year, TRACE CREEK will go for his second win in the Hanshin.  Should he succeed, he will be in good company.  Hall of Fame inductee and former Arlington Park stakes namesake Swoon's Son won this race twice, in 1957 and 1958.  Other two-time winners of the race include Equifox (1941, 1945), Best Seller (1942, 1943), and Bright Valour (2000, 2001).  One current Arlington stakes namesake counted the Equipoise Mile among his victories: Black Tie Affair (1990).  Later that same year, the grey son of Miswaki would go across town and win the Hawthorne Gold Cup (G2).  The next year, Black Tie Affair would win the Washington Park Handicap (G2) at Arlington, and next out would win the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) at Churchill.  Those were two of seven graded stakes he would win that year, a resume that would earn him both Horse of the Year and Champion Older Horse honours.

Morning lines were not available at original publish time.

Arlington Park: Saturday, May 13

Race 8: Hanshin Cup (G3), three-year-olds and up, one mile on the polytrack, post time 5:09pm CST

This year's Hanshin Cup drew an exquisitely matched field of eleven horses: no horse is a complete toss, and this space would not be shocked if any horse in the field wins.  It's that good.

Of course, some horses would be less surprising than others, and that is where we come in.  VALIANT CITY ran a valiant third in the Hanshin Cup last year.  He did dirty work on the pace, and stayed on to complete the trifecta behind a pair of dead closers, TRACE CREEK and Francois.  Since then, he has stayed in excellent form, turning in strong efforts in top-shelf allowance company at Arlington, Churchill, Hawthorne, and Fair Grounds.  He returns here for his second tilt at the Hanshin, and will have a less fiercely contested pace on the front end.  Long one of the gutsiest horses on the circuit, VALIANT CITY comes into the Hanshin with one major question: how he will do in his new barn.  Scott Becker kept putting him in for a $40,000 tag through the winter at Fair Grounds; March 17, trainer Joshua Sepulveda and owner Thomas D. Tiller finally bit.  This will be VALIANT CITY's first start for these connections, who typically race out in New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana.  But, VALIANT CITY has been working bullets toward his return to the Chicago area, and he gets old friend Chris Emigh back in the irons.  Perhaps the new connections just means we get the same old reliable horse at a better price than he would be for the Becker and Stiritz connections.

RATED R SUPERSTAR comes here for a Ken McPeek barn that is doing well -- the same barn that just shipped It's Your Nickel here for a solid third in the Illinois Derby.  RATED R SUPERSTAR is already a graded stakes winner going an extended one-turn distance, as he won the Carry Back Stakes (G3) last year at Gulfstream.  This start has him second off the lay; last out, he was third (and ahead of CREWMAN) in a top-shelf mile allowance at Keeneland.  Second off the lay should help this son of Kodiak Kowboy, as should the dial back to one turn.  The biggest question for RATED R SUPERSTAR is the synthetic, as his one start over a synthetic was underwhelming.  But, he was a horse who improved through his three-year-old year, and boasts speeds at the top of the heap.  His pace versatility also helps -- though he often rallies from well off the pace, he has strong efforts from closer up as well, which should help given how friendly the Arlington main can be for speed.

WYETH is, to steal a phrase being bandied about by all the Preakness pundits, your new shooter.  But, he looks like the one making his stakes debut at the right time.  This four-year-old son of Candy Ride makes his second start of the year, and comes in off an allowance victory at Keeneland last out.  That was a sprint, but he won twice at a mile last year, so he has the stamina.  A step forward from what he showed at Keeneland should get WYETH right in with these.  He has versatility of pace, able to stalk or rally from further back.  And, WYETH gets the services of Arlington's top rider, Jose Valdivia, Jr.  The biggest question with Wyeth, of course, is how he will handle synthetic.  However, he has shown strong turf form, and handled the mud at Keeneland -- suggesting some versatility in footing.

Selections:

#4 VALIANT CITY

#10 RATED R SUPERSTAR

#8 WYETH

Longshot:  This was a tough call between two locals.  CREWMAN can hold his own at an extended one-turn trip, and won the Forego Stakes at Turfway three starts back.  However, his barn has been rather cold since; that Forego win represents the only victory of the year so far for trainer Dee Poulos.  He makes sense, but the longshot writer is ever-so-slightly more inclined to side with #2 SCITECH, from the hot barn of Carlos Silva.  Last summer, SCITECH was just figuring out the horse racing thing, and doing so against low-level claimers.  Since then, he has ascended the ranks, proving his mettle in allowance company, and even in a state-bred stakes last out behind a serious racehorse in Recount.  This is another step up in class from there, but his best races put him close.  The question is, is SCITECH as good a racehorse right now on all-weather as he is on dirt?  You'll get the price to find out -- and keep in mind that before he was throttling low-level claimers on the poly last year, he was faltering on dirt. SCITECH is a far better racehorse in general than he was a year ago.  And, SCITECH has extended sprint form, from six and a half furlongs out to a mile.  Consider also his tactical versatility -- something perhaps best shown in a middle distance race such as this -- and there's a lot to like from this plucky, improving Illinois-bred.

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