Today's Arlington second is a maiden special weight for two-year-old fillies, at five and a half furlongs on the polytrack. It's a smaller field than most recent two-year-old maidens at Arlington, with just seven entered. It also, unlike most of the juvenile races over the last month or more, contains only first-time starters.
Even with a field of seven, two trainers send out uncoupled entries. Eoin Harty entered Stage Direction and Mochi; both fillies are homebreds for Godolphin. Dennis Hughes has Kate's Cat and Pasture Ornament, both for owner-breeder Allen Meadows. Kate's Cat is an anomaly for the Hughes barn: a horse without Illinois sire Brave 'n Away in their pedigree. (Pasture Ornament is not by Illinois's favourite polytrack sire, but is out of a Brave 'n Away mare.)
Also interesting is the auction price for Thunderous Gem, trained by Justin Johns and owned by Krystle Holsapple. They purchased her for $3,500 at Fasig-Tipton February this year. It's generally a mark of confidence to debut a modest purchase in a maiden special weight race -- and these connections sent out a $3,000 Keeneland January buy this year, Winning Envelope, to a romping debut victory in a maiden special weight on the Arlington Million undercard. Whether lightning can strike twice again has yet to be seen, but it's worth noting that these connections have made a shrewd move at this level of the market.
- THUNDEROUS GEM (7/2) - Thunderous Gem is by Gemologist, a third-crop sire by proven synthetic stallion Tiznow. Gemologist himself broke his maiden on debut in a polytrack sprint at Turfway in September of his two-year-old year. His progeny win at an 11% rate first-out, and 27 of his 108 two-year-old starters are winners. His dam produced four winners in seven starters, including one two-year-old winner: Storm (Artie Schiller) graduated in a turf mile on debut. The most prominent of those winners is Thunderestimate (Western Expression), a NY-bred stakes winner at nine furlongs on the grass; in his sole start at two, he missed by a head in a turf route. Storm and Thunderestimate are right in line with most of the better horses in recent generations of the family -- though Thunder Achiever, Thunderous Gem's second dam, did her best sprinting on dirt both when she was two and when she was older.
- CALIENTE CANDY (4/1) - This filly is by Sidney's Candy: a winner sprinting on synthetic second-out at age two, a Grade 1 winner on synthetic, and a useful sire of synthetic-track runners. His progeny win first-out twelve percent of the time. Though Caliente Candy is Kentucky-bred, she hails from a family with deep roots in Illinois -- a family that has shown versatility with respect to distance, but whose members have reliably gotten better with age. This portion of the N. C. Goldust tree is laden with sprinters, and tends to be one of the more "win-early" branches. Nicks won at second asking at age two, sprinting six furlongs on the Arlington polytrack, and went on to be a stakes winner sprinting on both dirt and polytrack. She has produced two starters, both winners, though none won at two. Stevie Mac (Munnings) graduated at second-asking, at age four; she was unplaced in one two-year-old try. She followed that maiden win up with a romping victory in the La Verendrye Stakes at Assiniboia, sprinting six furlongs on dirt. Princess Jules (Fort Prado) won her debut at age three, in a five-and-a-half-furlong dirt sprint.
- LAVINA (8/1) - This filly is by first-crop sire Strong Mandate -- a son of Tiznow who was himself a precocious two-year-old. His only winner to date is Strong Will, who won a four-and-a-half-furlong sprint over the Arlington polytrack. Dam Mizoes Ready (More Than Ready) was not a winner herself, but has three sprint-distance winners of three foals to start. Nolans Dream (Concord Point) won on debut at two, sprinting six furlongs on dirt; Texas Music (Maclean's Music) also won a dirt sprint on debut, but that was at five furlongs, early in his three-year-old year. Big Champion (Munnings) did not debut until age three and took five tries to win, but he has grown into the classiest of his dam's progeny to date. This past June (at age five) he won a turf sprint stakes at Golden Gate.
- STAGE DIRECTION (5/2) - This filly is by Malibu Moon, whose progeny win at a respectable 14% first-time out. Though his progeny tend to skew a bit toward distance, it's not quite as pronounced as some other branches of the A. P. Indy line, as his average winning distance at two is not excessively long for a horse debuting in a sprint: 6.6 furlongs. The female family is all route. Dam Stage Luck (Unbridled's Song) did not debut until she was three, and won at second asking going a route on dirt. She was a listed stakes winner, and Grade 1-placed, at a mile and a sixteenth on dirt. Both her foals to start are winners. Estelle (Distorted Humor) won third-out at two, going a one-turn mile on dirt. Spieth (Bernardini) did no better than third in three starts at two, and got off the mark at fifth asking at age three, romping at nine furlongs over the Saratoga dirt. Looking further up, Stage Direction's second dam is Golden Ballet (Moscow Ballet), a MG1W at two turns on dirt, and the dam of Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) winner Drosselmeyer (Distorted Humor).
- KATE'S CAT (12/1) - Kate's Cat is the first starter for sire Guest Star, a Storm Cat son out of MG1W dirt router Starrer. Starrer had some precocity, as she hit the board in the Landaluce Stakes at two, though she was better with a bit of age. Guest Star himself did his better work in turf miles and down the hillside at Santa Anita. He was not particularly precocious, not graduating until his seventh start at age four. Kate's Cat is the first foal out of Catherine Eugenia (Sweep Away) -- if that name sounds familiar, it's because they're now stablemates in the Dennis Hughes barn. Catherine Eugenia returned to the races after having Kate's Cat, and has won six more times since returning to the track, most recently on July 28 of this year. Catherine Eugenia is a sprinter, though was hardly precocious; she did hit the board a few times in dirt sprints at age two, but didn't get off the mark until spring of her three-year-old year, in her eighth lifetime start. She has done most of her racing on dirt, but has some money finishes at Arlington, and a win in a polytrack sprint at Turfway last year. Catherine Eugenia is the only registered foal out of Sammie My Girl (Elusive Quality), who did not start at two, and broke her maiden in a dirt sprint sixth-out at four.
- PASTURE ORNAMENT (12/1) - This filly is by Country Be Gold, a long-winded son of Summer Squall whose progeny win at a useful 11% rate first-time out. Pasture Ornament is the second runner out of Stardust Raj (Brave 'n Away). She was a precocious two-year-old, breaking her maiden at second asking in a dirt sprint at Fairmount Park, and hitting the board in the six-furlong All Sold Out Stakes there as well. Later in her career she proved adept in one-turn miles over the polytrack at Arlington; it's no surprise she took well to the poly, given who her sire is. The first Stardust Raj foal, Vindicated Honor (West Ranger), remains a maiden after eight starts though she hit the board in her juvenile dirt sprint debut at Hawthorne last year.
- MOCHI (3/1) - She is by Street Boss -- a sire who is better-known for his three-year-olds, but who has been a solid source of precocity. His progeny win at a strong 17% first-time out, and who has 129 juvenile winners of 328 to start. His juvenile average winning distances are respectable for a horse starting out in sprints: 5.97 furlongs in the northern hemisphere, and 5.63 furlongs in the southern hemisphere. She is the first starter out of Small World (A. P. Indy), a winner in one of her five career starts. She never ran at two; her victory came in her fourth start at age three, an eleven-furlong maiden special weight over the Saratoga grass. Second dam Well Related (Quiet American) was aptly named: she is a full sister to Cara Rafaela. Cara Rafaela didn't win on debut, but graduated fourth-out at two in a seven furlong dirt sprint, and won a pair of juvenile graded stakes going a mile and a sixteenth on dirt. She went on to produce a stallion who liked long distances as well, and whose progeny tend to inherit that preference: 2006 Preakness (G1) winner Bernardini (A. P. Indy). Though, occasionally sprint prowess can flash in the family; Cara Rafaela's half-brother Abaginone (Devil's Bag) won first-out at two in a dirt sprint, and was a multiple G3-winning dirt sprinter.
The one-two entry from the Eoin Harty barn will likely take the lion's share of the money, which makes sense. The worktabs are relatively long on both -- though, Mochi has a bit of a gap early, whereas Stage Direction started a bit later but has gone consistently ever since starting. #4 Stage Direction (5/2) is preferred between that entry both because of the worktab and because of E. T. Baird being in the irons. Baird excels with maidens, and excels with getting horses out of the gate.
Though Stage Direction looks the most likely winner, it's no given that we'll see the Godolphin blue in the Arlington winners' circle again. (We did see it yesterday after Carnival Colors romped by eleven and a half lengths in the sixth race yesterday.) There are some interesting foes, and foes worth betting if you're looking for an alternative to the chalks.
#3 Lavina (8/1) hails from a barn that never gets bet -- which is a bit silly, since Ida Spagnola's only other horse Chlobee is not only better than her odds suggest, but a flat-out good Illinois-bred turf filly. Her workouts have been regular since the end of June, and they have been sharp. She may not get the lead, since it would be a surprise not to see Baird send Stage Direction, but she should be forward. It's also a plus that her first-crop sire already has a polytrack winner, and her dam has produced some precocious foals.
#1 Thunderous Gem (7/2) also appeals. The rail draw with a first-time starter is always a question. But, the barn popped a few days ago with another under-the-radar horse, and excellent maiden jockey Edgar Perez takes the leg up. She has a regular worktab stretching back to early June, and should be ready to go.
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