Previewing the 2018 Ride to the Million: Arlington Handicap Preview

The Arlington Million is coming up August 11, meaning time for the local prep races has drawn nigh.

Saturday's ten-race card at Arlington Park features nine races on the grass, including five stakes races.  Four of the stakes races are graded: the Arlington Handicap (G3), the Modesty Handicap (G3), the American Derby (G3), and the Stars and Stripes Stakes (G3).  In addition to the four stakes races that have made up the Ride to the Million (née Million Preview Day) card in recent years, a fifth has been added.  The Hatoof Stakes, not run since 2014, makes its return to the calendar.  It's a perfect fit for Ride to the Million day: with the Pucker Up Stakes a fixture on the Million Day card since 2015, it makes sense to bring its prep race back with all the other Million Day prep races.

Picks and Ponderings will preview all five races in full; we will do so in separate, cross-linked posts.  We begin here with the Arlington Handicap.

Though the Grade 3 Arlington Handicap currently serves as the local prep for the Arlington Million, it predates the Million by a few years.  The Handicap was first run in 1929 over the Arlington main track.  It was first run on turf in 1941, though it periodically moved from the turf to the dirt and back over the years.  It has been regularly carded for turf since 1972, and only run on the main twice since then: 1972 and 1975, when it was moved due to turf course conditions.  This year, the race offers a purse of $100,000.


Rahystrada wins the third of his three Arlington Handicaps, in 2013.

Since the inception of the Arlington Million in 1981, no winner of the Arlington Handicap has won Arlington's richest race.  However, four winners of this local prep have gone on to finish second in the Million: Evanescent (1993), Fanmore (1994), Just as Well (2009), and Kasaqui (2016).  Though his best finish in the Million was third, few in the history of the Arlington Handicap stand out the way Rahystrada did.  He won the race three times: in 2010, 2012, and 2013.

Selections have been made for turf only.  Morning lines were not available at original publish time.  Updated Thursday, July 5 with morning lines.

Arlington Park - Saturday, July 7

Race 9: Arlington Handicap (G3), three-year-olds and up, one and three sixteenths miles on the turf, post time 5:55pm CDT

This year's Arlington Handicap drew a full field of twelve -- but, despite the size of the field, it has the sort of heavy favourite who looks like the goods.  Turf has turned SYNCHRONY into a new horse, the sort his connections always hoped they had.  He has never missed the board on the grass, and even his lone third-place finish was no disgrace, as he rallied over the Churchill Downs bog to finish third behind Yoshida and Beach Patrol, top horses in the division.  This field is a class drop against the likes of that, and SYNCHRONY is well proven over the better ground he will get.  Joe Bravo retains the mount, and Bravo is the sort of rider who can travel anywhere and get the best out of a horse. The one question is the distance, since SYNCHRONY has not gone past a mile and an eighth.  But, by Tapit out of a Forest Wildcat mare who actually liked to go long, he shouldn't have a problem.  It seems too cute to oppose SYNCHRONY, and this space will not try.

(Though 2/1 DIVISIDERO is relatively close to 6/5 SYNCHRONY on the morning line, SYNCHRONY stands to be a bit more defined favourite than that -- and, if not, all the better.  This space is taking a stand against DIVISIDERO, as even though he has class, he is best going nine furlongs, not longer.)

COMPASS ZONE makes his first start against stakes company, but has the right form to try.  Last out he just missed behind Slim Shadey (an entrant in the Stars and Stripes) in a mile and an eighth allowance.  His best outings have come at nine furlongs -- and though the son of Hard Spun has not gone longer yet, he has the right pedigree to relish more ground.  COMPASS ZONE has pace, but also a rating gear.  He also has the right connections: trainer Brad Cox and rider Florent Geroux.  Cox is shrewd about when to ship horses, and Florent Geroux is not only a top stakes rider but an experienced Arlington rider.  COMPASS ZONE is young and lightly enough raced to have upside, and doesn't need much improvement to cut it at this level.

For the third slot it was a tight decision between JUST HOWARD and REVVED UP.  Both drew relatively outside, though JUST HOWARD has shown he can handle outside draws and REVVED UP has the sort of running style where it shouldn't hurt him much. Both look spotted at the right level, and both hail from barns that are sharp with shippers: JUST HOWARD comes for Graham Motion, and Shug McGaughey conditions REVVED UP. But?  The experience at the distance gives REVVED UP the slight edge.  Though he was fourth in allowance-optional company last out, that was only at a mile and an eighth.  REVVED UP has done his better work going a mile and a quarter, even a mile and three eighths, and should be able to bring out his best now that he stretches back out to something longer.

Selection:

#3 SYNCHRONY (6/5)

#4 COMPASS ZONE (8/1)

#10 REVVED UP (10/1)

Longshot: #8 TWENTY FOUR SEVEN (30/1) cross-entered in both the Arlington Handicap and the Stars and Stripes Stakes; if he stays in the Arlington Handicap, he can snag a piece at a big price.  Though he showed only middling form on the NYRA circuit with Danny Gargan last year, the son of City Zip has woken up this year under the care of trainer Roger Brueggemann.  He has blown through his first- and second-level allowance conditions at Arlington this meet, showing a good late kick as well as an ability to navigate through horses.  Rider Jermaine Bridgmohan returns from both of those efforts.  Though this is a tougher class than TWENTY FOUR SEVEN has yet faces, he does not have far to improve on speed in order to be competitive.  All in all, he looks a solid contender who stands to be ignored on the tote.

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