This year marks the 87th running of the Stars and Stripes Stakes. From 2012 through last year it was the local prep for the American St. Leger on Million Day, and produced one winner of the American St. Leger during that time: Illinois-bred superstar The Pizza Man. Though as of this year, it no longer has a corresponding race like the rest of the Ride to the Million Day races do.
Still, it retains it Grade 3 status, and offers a purse of $100,000. The race was run on dirt from 1929 through 1949, and some all-time greats won it during those days. Equipoise (1932), once the namesake of the race now known as the Hanshin Cup (G3), won the fourth running of the Stars and Stripes. Calumet Farm took the race three years in a row with sons of Bull Lea, all of whom are now enshrined in the Hall of Fame: Armed (1947), Citation (1948), and Coaltown (1949). Some of its best winners during the turf era include American Hall of Fame inductees Round Table (1959), Fort Marcy (1968), and Canadian Hall of Fame inductee Overskate (1979).
More recently, it produced one American St. Leger winner during its time as a prep race: Illinois-bred The Pizza Man. The Pizza Man parlayed his victory in the local prep into an American St. Leger victory in 2014. The next year, he became the sixth horse to win the race more than once -- and then proceeded to become the first Illinois-bred winner of the Arlington Million (G1), and the first one to follow up a Stars and Stripes victory with a win in Arlington's richest race.
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 8: Stars and Stripes Stakes (G3), three-year-olds and up, one and one half miles on the turf, post time 5:23pm CDT
Though this race drew a field of twelve, the race did not draw a huge amount of speed. HARLAN STRONG, second from just off the pace when racing in the Louisville Handicap (G3) last out, does even better when he sets the fractions -- and he looks to have the best of it on the front end here. Though he has been freshened since the Louisville Handicap on May 19, he has proven he can run well when fresh. The good ground should suit him well, and he has a victory and a second-place finish at a mile and a half in his last two starts. Both of those came with Brian Hernandez riding, and Hernandez takes the call on HARLAN STRONG once again for this race. Hernandez and trainer Ken McPeek have been strong as a pair lately, and they look ready to fire once again with HARLAN STRONG.
CANESSAR, off the strength of his second-place finish in the two-mile Belmont Gold Cup (G2), looms the class of this field. He cuts back to a mile and a half here -- a distance at which the son of Kendargent is well-proven, as he won the Laurel Turf Cup and was third in the Sycamore (G3) at the distance last year. Finally, the connections bode well. Trainer Arnaud Delacour excels with shippers. And, CANESSAR's three better outings in America all came with Feargal Lynch in the irons, and Lynch hops the plane to ride the Stars and Stripes. The biggest question for CANESSAR is pace, since he tends to come from well off it. But, CANESSAR does not need a torrid pace in front of him to win, and he is a fast and classy enough stayer to have a strong chance, albeit at a likely short price.
For the last spot it was a tight choice between SLIM SHADEY and NESSY. NESSY can improve on the cut back from two miles back to a mile and a half, though he needed a class drop to the west coast turf division two starts back in the San Juan Capistrano (G3) to break a spate of underneath finishes in stakes. With that, SLIM SHADEY appeals just a bit more. SLIM SHADEY hails from the barn of Mike Maker -- winner of the last two editions of the Stars and Stripes, and three of the last five. Maker sends both SLIM SHADEY and SOGLIO into this year's edition, but SLIM SHADEY has the added appeal of being first off the claim into the Maker barn. Maker won the Stars and Stripes two years ago with Greengrassofyoming -- who came here first off the claim for the same owner as SLIM SHADEY, Michael Hui. And, SLIM SHADEY boasts strong recent form. The ten-year-old Val Royal gelding has won two straight on the grass at Belmont against salty allowance-optional company. Last time out he ran down Compass Zone, a legitimate contender in the Arlington Handicap. SLIM SHADEY is fast enough, and though he is winless in five starts going a mile and a half, he hasn't tried the distance in a long time. Mike Maker has enough of a way with stayers to suggest that if he thinks SLIM SHADEY can get the distance at this point in his career, he probably can.
#7 HARLAN STRONG (12/1)
#9 CANESSAR (4/1)
#3 SLIM SHADEY (8/1)
Longshot: #12 CARTOON (30/1), now six, has only raced ten times in his career. It has been a challenge getting him to the races and keeping him there, but it's encouraging that he returns for another start after making his seasonal bow in the Louisville Handicap (G3) last month. CARTOON was fifth, and has tables to turn on HARLAN STRONG and BRONSON from that outing, but it was CARTOON's first race since an allowance win at Keeneland last October. He should be fitter for this attempt at a mile and a half. The return to Arlington is a positive, as both his outings over the course were good. CARTOON gets rider Mitchell Murrill back; Murrill guided him home to that Keeneland allowance win last year. He also has some tactical speed, a positive as this race does not have a lot of pace. In short? Sometimes trainer Pavel Vashchenko's placings on big days can seem a bit ambitious, but trying CARTOON here looks just right -- at just the right price for bettors to take a shot.
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.