Saturday is the first of this summer's Saturday twilight racing cards at Arlington: first post is at 4:15 instead of the typical 1:25pm for Saturday. So: set your alarm a little later, go visit the farmer's market, or enjoy a nice, long brunch before you come out to the racetrack.
The nine-race card at Arlington on Saturday features a pair of one-turn polytrack miles for Illinois-bred sophomores. The Purple Violet Stakes, for three-year-old fillies, features the eagerly awaited clash between last year's dominant juvenile BABYBLUESBDANCING and this year's upstart HOPE N WISHES.
The Springfield Stakes, for sophomores of any sex, filled for the first time since I Got It All annexed it in 2014. Recount surely scared the field off in 2015 (no problem, as he just bested older the next week in the Addison Cammack); Shogood likely scared them off the next year. But, without an Illinois-bred Arlington-Washington Futurity winner last year, the class is once again wide open.
Morning lines were unavailable at original publish time.
Race 5: Purple Violet Stakes, Illinois-bred, three-year-old fillies, one mile on the polytrack, post time 6:11 pm CDT
Originally run as the Colfax Maid Stakes starting in 1976, this race was renamed for Illinois's state flower in 2000. Always run on the main track -- at Arlington, except for runnings in 1988 and 1995 at Hawthorne -- it has been run at distances as short as six and a half furlongs, but has held firm at its current mile distance since 1997. This year's running drew eight entrants to contend for a $50,000 purse.
Though La Tia went on to become a multiple graded stakes winner, including the 2014 Matriarch (G1), she made her stakes debut in Illinois-bred company: the 2012 Purple Violet Stakes, which she won in a frontrunning romp. Several former Illinois-bred stakes namesakes won this race: Pretty Jenny (2005) lent her name to a sophomore stakes race at Hawthorne in the spring, and All Sold Out (1982) and Bungalow (1990) both were namesakes of Fairmount Park races. From the auction side, the highest-priced Illinois-bred ever sold at public auction won this race. 1995 Colfax Maid winner Sassy Pants won two stakes raced in her career: this one, and the Violet Stakes at Sportsman's Park, also against state-breds. In the breeding shed, she produced Dubai Escapade (Awesome Again), who won the 1996 Ballerina Stakes (G1). Later that year, Sassy Pants sold at Keeneland November for $4,500,000, in foal to Storm Cat.
HOPE N WISHES is not only well-related (a half-sister to G2P Delicate Lady, who races in this Saturday's Arlington 7th), but she has emerged as a serious racehorse of her own right. Despite hailing form the barn of Carlos Silva -- not known for his first-time starters -- she pressed the pace early and danced on debut against three-and-up Illinois-bred maidens at Hawthorne on April 21. She shipped across town, tried polytrack against three-and-up N1X state-breds...and won with plenty of daylight behind her there, too. HOPE N WISHES will have to take another step forward to face these more experienced types, but having done everything the right way and having shown an ability on poly, this spaces figures she will take the next step. Also interesting is that she keeps rider Santo Sanjur in the irons. Sanjur rode two others in their last couple of races -- KONZA KHROME and SHEZAHOTMAMA -- and yet turns up on HOPE N WISHES instead. If his judgment was based on which of those mounts shows the most promise, this space thinks Sanjur chose wisely.
BABYBLUESBDANCING hit her stride through the tail end of her two-year-old year, concluding her fall with a score in the Pat Whitworth Illinois Debutante. In her first start back, she held her own against open N2X company (yes, she skipped a condition!) that included older horses -- a clear statement that she made the requisite step forward between age 2 and age 3. Last out she was well beaten at Churchill on a Kentucky Oaks day undercard race. It was against straight three-year-olds, but that came in the slop against fillies who approached open stakes quality. Furthermore, the speed came back solid even though she finished well behind the winner. Here BABYBLUESBDANCING comes back to Arlington, comes back to state-breds, and gets Julio Felix aboard for the first time since winning the Pat Whitworth. With tactical pace, proven stamina, and a maiden win over the polytrack, BABYBLUESBDANCING should figure strongly here.
SHEZAHOTMAMA wheels back after just a week. Well off the pace in all her sprint starts, she took the early initiative last Saturday in her first route try. No one else sent to the front that day, and SHEZAHOTMAMA came home an easy winner. Yes, the race was a $40K N2L claimer -- but not restricted by place of breeding, and open to fillies and mares aged three and up. On class, that isn't too far away from what SHEZAHOTMAMA needs to contend here. And, on speed, she fits as well. She has pace versatility, two wins in three tries over polytrack, and a switch to the top jockey in the colony (Jose Valdivia, Jr.). If SHEZAHOTMAMA can handle the quick return, she rates with the best of this set.
#1 HOPE N WISHES
Longshot: This year's Purple Violet Stakes is brought to you by the barn of Carlos Silva, who conditions three of the eight entrants. HOPE N WISHES is the one to beat. There's a bit of argument to make for either of the Silva entries to be the longshot. KONZA KHROME has early pace, and is half to a solid extended one-turn horse in Scitech. However since that one has already been racing so much through the winter and spring, she has a bit less room to improve than her stablemate #8 ROMANCIN N DANCIN. ROMANCIN N DANCIN got a long winter's break, returned on May 14, and finished fourth in an N1X against older Illinois-breds. She has tables to turn, of course; the winner of that race was stablemate HOPE N WISHES. But, ROMANCIN N DANCIN broke poorly. Her races last year suggest that, though she will not be very close to the pace, she can be a bit closer than she was in that last start. And, this will be ROMANCIN N DANCIN's first try at a distance past six furlongs. For the "C" entrant from her barn, there's a lot to like.
Race 6: Springfield Stakes, Illinois-bred, three-year-olds, one mile on the polytrack, post time 6:40pm CST
After a two-year hiatus, the Springfield Stakes filled this year, with eight Illinois-bred sophomores entered to vie for a $50,000 purse. The Springfield Stakes debuted in 1987, returned in 1989, and then ran each year through 2014 with the exceptions of 1998 and 1999. Over that time, it has always been run at a flat mile, a distance it keeps today.
The most accomplished of its winners made his stakes debut in the 2004 Springfield Stakes. After dismantling a field of Illinois-bred sophomores at generous 13/1 odds, Fort Prado would go on to win 18 of his 59 career starts, including a pair of Grade 3 races, and now stands stud in Indiana. On the other hand, stakes races were old hat by the time Tex's Zing won the Springfield Stakes in 1989. Yet, he kept on winning stakes races here in Illinois -- and, once, as far afield as Bay Meadows -- to close his career with 17 wins in 28 starts. For such a consistent career, he was honoured with a stakes race in his name at Fairmount Park.
You may remember My Option from such hits as the 2013 Arlington Oaks (G3) and the 2014 Chicago Handicap (G3). She ran well on the polytrack, and could run effectively in sprints, extended one-turn races, or two turn affairs. Why this musing about a seven-year-old mare who hasn't raced in two years? Because, in the Springfield Stakes, her half-brother DON'T SPLIT TENS tries polytrack for the first time, and tries one turn for the first time. He also gets a class break, trying Illinois-breds instead of the Usual Suspects from a Keeneland N1X who all turned up in the Arlington Classic (G3) last weekend. (DON'T SPLIT TENS scratched out of there, and entered this softer spot instead.) DON'T SPLIT TENS does his best work stalking the pace, a solid style for the polytrack, and enlists the services of leading jockey Jose Valdivia, Jr. Perhaps more telling is that Valdivia had previously been riding live entrant RIV for his regular trainer Larry Rivelli, and yet hops aboard DON'T SPLIT TENS. Chris Block knows how to place a horse, and DON'T SPLIT TENS may as well have a neon sign above his head that reads well meant.
Despite losing Valdivia's services, RIV deserves a look here. He is a perfect two-for-two on the polytrack, and a perfect two-for-two this year. In four career races, the only time he hasn't won was in the Bashford Manor (G3) last year, where he got thwacked by the likes of Classic Empire and Recruiting Ready. The Springfield Stakes features no one quite that good. The biggest question for RIV is the stretch to a mile, but dam Albata has not only produced some precocious ones, but ones who can carry a bit. Out of three others out of the mare to race, both Immoral Lifestyle (by Lifestyle) and Queen of Heat (by Bring the Heat) have been able to score at two turns. Yes, RIV is by a speed merchant in Iqbaal...but, so were those two, and the dam side was able to carry them home. Between that and the rating gear he showed in his last race at Arlington, RIV looms a threat.
The third slot was a close call between two runners. SMOKE 'N' GLOAT, who boasts polytrack form and is from a solid two-turns-on-turf kind of female family, may take to the distance. But, being marooned on the outside does him no favours. Instead, the slight edge goes to ON THE LAM. This well-named son of Run Away and Hide (thank you, as always, Nancy Vanier!) showed class and speed through the fall and winter at Keeneland, Hawthorne, and Oaklawn that suggests he is good enough to be a factor here. Yes, ON THE LAM's sole one-mile try was less than good. But, he was burned up on the front end that day. Since that race, he has shown that he can be effective rallying from off the pace. He has a solid miler pedigree, and hit the board in both starts over the Arlington poly last year. ON THE LAM also gets a return to Edgar Perez in the irons -- Perez booted him to a maiden win last summer at Arlington, and to a second-place finish in a fall allowance at Hawthorne behind next-out stakes winner Devileye. In short? If the pace gets at all feisty, ON THE LAM will threaten late.
#1 DON'T SPLIT TENS
#3 ON THE LAM
Longshot: #2 CAT'S RUNAWAY started the Hawthorne meet as a late-running 40/1 shock winner, a perfect recipe to be a flash in the pan. But, in four starts since, he has proven he's for real. In four starts against winners, he has held his own every single time. He finally cleared his N1X at Fairmount last out -- and, in the process, proved he can be effective a little closer to the pace. Yes, CAT'S RUNAWAY has some tables to turn on SMOKE 'N' GLOAT, who beat him on the square two starts back. But, SMOKE 'N' GLOAT won't have the cozy inside post and comfortable lead he had that day in Collinsville. Furthermore, CAT'S RUNAWAY stretches past six furlongs for the first time -- and being by Run Away and Hide out of a Sir Cat mare who was a solid miler, CAT'S RUNAWAY has every chance to take to a mile. In these state-bred stakes at Arlington, the Fairmount sleepers can be ignored. But, brush CAT'S RUNAWAY off only at your peril.
You can take "Picks & Ponderings" with you anytime, anywhere. You can get Twitter updates @picksponderings for on-scene reports from Arlington International Racecourse. And you can get "Picks and Ponderings" in your e-mail by typing your email address in the box and clicking "Create Subscription." It's a FREE service, and you'll never get any unwanted spam.