We hope you've caught your breath after a whirlwind Triple Crown season, because the stakes calendar at Arlington continues this week.
Saturday afternoon three-year-olds from the Land of Lincoln take the spotlight. The card features a pair of main-track miles, the Purple Violet Stakes for fillies and the Springfield Stakes unrestricted by sex. Both races offer a $50,000 base purse, plus an extra $25,000 for anyone by an Illinois sire. (That includes a pair of Purple Violet runners, Ghaaleb daughter Twin Deuce and Well Positioned filly Royal's Position.)
Pass the Gravy, unraced since sweeping the pair of juvenile stakes at Hawthorne last fall, makes his sophomore bow in the Springfield Stakes. He will one again face Sir Anthony, who finished a neck behind him in the Jim Edgar Illinois Futurity, as well as several promising new faces.
Later in the afternoon the fillies head out for the Purple Violet Stakes. Jean Elizabeth, winner of the Pretty Jenny Stakes at Hawthorne this spring, puts her undefeated record on the line and stretches out past six furlongs for the first time. The field not only includes familiar local foes, but also a pair of fillies who make their first appearances in the state: Fair Grounds maiden winner Hayworth and three-time Tampa Bay Downs winner Bramble Queen.
Morning lines were unavailable at original publish time. Updated June 15 to add morning lines.
Race 4: Springfield Stakes, Illinois-registered, three-year-olds, one mile on the polytrack, post time 3:00pm CST
The Springfield Stakes debuted in 1987, returned in 1989, and then ran each year through 2014 with the exceptions of 1998 and 1999. It failed to fill in 2015 (thanks, Recount!) or 2016 (thanks, Shogood!), but returned to the calendar last summer. 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.
Two horses tower over the field here: multiple stakes winner PASS THE GRAVY and debut maiden winner WILE E PEYOTE. PASS THE GRAVY ought to be the one making the pace -- DEMAND RANSOM also has some sharp early pace at times, but he has proven no match for PASS THE GRAVY on several occasions, and given trainer Larry Rivelli's "enter two, keep one" pattern DEMAND RANSOM looks a prime candidate for a race-day scratch. PASS THE GRAVY is even better bred for the distance than so many of trainer Larry Rivelli's Illinois-breds tend to be. He is by Afleet Alex, and proved his mettle at a mile and a sixteenth in the Jim Edgar last year. The one-turn mile should be within his grasp.
But, with PASS THE GRAVY a short price first off the lay, this space will lean to a horse with a race under him this year, and all the upside in the world: WILE E PEYOTE. The son of City Zip broke his maiden at first asking on May 19, rallying in time to win by three quarters of a length. That proved he can handle the polytrack; it also showed compatibility with jockey Jose Lopez. As for distance City Zip babies can be any kind, but the underside of WILE E PEYOTE's pedigree suggests more distance will help. After all, his dam is Peyote Patty, a multiple stakes winner at two turns on the grass. A reasonable step forward from that debut suggests that WILE E PEYOTE will be able to track in range of PASS THE GRAVY and be fast and fit enough to finish best.
It's tough seeing anyone other than WILE E PEYOTE or PASS THE GRAVY winning unless they both misfire. For underneath? Though the one-turn mile may suit SIR ANTHONY, it seems the polytrack does not. CHIEF OAKIE DOKIE appeals a bit more. The son of Giant Oak tries polytrack for the first time, but there's some suggestion he'll take to it: full sister Midnight Oak hit the board in an allowance last year in her only try over the surface, and dam Lookn Even Finer had some form over the footing, too. CHIEF OAKIE DOKIE beat older horses in a maiden special weight at Hawthorne in the spring and then finished just three lengths of next-out stakes-placed Memory Bank in an allowance May 27. Now he shifts back among his age group, and looms the primary threat to the top pair.
#2 WILE E PEYOTE (4/1)
#3 PASS THE GRAVY (2/1)
#1 CHIEF OAKIE DOKIE (7/2)
Longshots: It's a field of just six, but the Longshot Writer must emerge to point out an angle on #5 DR. BOMBAY (9/2). Assuming trainer Chris Block keeps him in, and he wasn't just some insurance that the race would fill for stablemate WILE E PEYOTE? Block does not run horses on short rest often, and when he does, they tend to be ready to fire. DR. BOMBAY raced just last Friday, finishing eleventh behind stablemate Ioya Again in a state-bred maiden special weight. He had a few excuses that day, as he didn't start well and he had a wide trip. P revious races at Gulfstream and Hawthorne suggest DR. BOMBAY is capable of far better. His pedigree also whispers that he can improve at the cut back to one turn; dam Tamarind Hall won the seven-furlong Bed o' Roses (G3) in 2011. All this suggests that DR. BOMBAY just might find a way into the frame.
Race 7: Purple Violet Stakes, Illinois-registered, three-year-old fillies, one mile on the polytrack, post time 4:36 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.
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 stakesduring 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.
JEAN ELIZABETH comes into this race a perfect four-for-four. She likes polytrack, has blistering early speed, and has led at every call of every race she has run so far. But, questions loom as she stretches out to a mile. She often breaks badly -- and she has the speed and class to overcome those breaks, wrest the lead, and keep it for six furlongs, but can JEAN ELIZABETH do so at a mile? Her pedigree suggests a mile is a stretch: all of dam Rooney Doodle's babies have shined going short (Unscathed, What's Up Dude, Nevrmesswithrichie, and Hollarforadollar), and sire Adios Charlie also tends to produce sprinters. All of this suggests that, barring a wicked speed bias on Saturday, JEAN ELIZABETH looks beatable -- and we've found several candidates who should be able to beat her.
ROYAL'S POSITION has tables to turn on Jean Elizabeth, as she finished a lengt and a quarter behind her in the Pretty Jenny. But, she comes into this race with strong upside. She followed that up with a good third against older fillies and mares on May 11 at Arlington, and that outing proved she could handle the polytrack well. Though she has never tried an extended one-turn trip, more ground ought to suit her: ROYAL'S POSITION missed by only a nose in her only race longer than six furlongs, the Pat Whitworth Illinois Debutante last fall at Hawthorne. With the versatility to track close to the pace or rally rom well off, rider Chris Emigh has options. All the way around, ROYAL'S POSITION looks primed to show her best.
HAYWORTH makes her first try against state-breds after four outings in New Orleans and Kentucky. The daughter of Arch broke her maiden with authority on the Louisiana Derby undercard in her only try at a flat mile. Though that was two turns on turf, it's still a positive indication that she can go "short", as her other races have all been at eight and a half or nine furlongs. And, HAYWORTH's dam is a positive both for the trip and the footing: Glamorista was a winner on Hollywood Park's all-weather surface, and G2-placed at seven furlongs over that course. The biggest question about HAYWORTH is the pace -- she does better with a strong pace in front of her and the fractions here look moderate at best -- but on class and course she appears well spotted.
BRAMBLE QUEEN is another who, like HAYWORTH, comes to Illinois for the first time after showing form on other, typically tougher circuits. She found a niche in the sophomore filly starter-optional ranks at Tampa Bay, with three wins, a second, and a third in five tries through the meet. She has tried tougher company as well, and didn't embarrass herself in listed and even graded company in New York and New Jersey. Though BRAMBLE QUEEN's biggest flop came in her only all-weather try, a well-beaten fifth in the restricted South Ocean Stakes last November at Woodbine, disliking Tapeta is no guarantee that she'll dislike polytrack. She should be fit second off the lay, she has proven she can travel a bit, and she is versatile enough to run a good race from either close to the pace or far from it. If BRAMBLE QUEEN can take to the footing, she's a cozy fit for the Purple Violet.
#2 ROYAL'S POSITION (6/1)
#7 HAYWORTH (5/2)
#8 BRAMBLE QUEEN (7/2)
Longshot: #5 MOMMA JOANN (30/1) tried the Arlington polytrack for the first time in a state-bred maiden special weight on May 12. She did what you'd expect a Cowboy Cal baby to do: take a big step forward on the switch to synthetic. She set a contested pace and just barely failed to hold, but her connections have enough confidence to move her on to this stakes race. And, MOMMA JOANN has a longshot chance here for more reasons than just the surface. Her May 12 race was her first since November, and a mile and a sixteenth is always a lot to ask after that long away. Now she should be fitter second off the lay. Even though she was forward throughout in the race last month, it hardly concerns that she won't be able to go with JEAN ELIZABETH early -- looking back at her first two starts, MOMMA JOANN has an ability to stay interested from off the pace. At the likely price, MOMMA JOANN has a litany of reasons to play spoiler.
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.