The Arlington Million is coming up August 10, and time for the local prep races has drawn nigh. Don't adjust your clocks if it feels like the races are coming a little late: in recent years Arlington has hosted its preps five weeks out from the Million, but this year there are only four weeks between Ride to the Million Day and Arlington's flagship race day.
The spacing isn't the only change this year. Please say a fond farewell, and raise a toast to the memory of the Stars and Stripes Stakes (G3). Last year's 87th running of the Stars and Stripeswent to Catcho En Die, who went on to place third in the Arlington Million, and in recent years it has been an even more fruitful Million prep than the Arlington Handicap. But, with no corresponding Million Day race after the American St. Leger was ended, the Stars and Stripes has now faded from the calendar.
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, in its 84th running, the race offers a purse of $100,000.
Hall of Famer Round Table holds off Manassas to win the 1959 Arlington Handicap.
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. We preview the Modesty Handicap (G3) in a separate piece.
Arlington Park - Saturday, July 13
Race 7: Arlington Handicap (G3), three-year-olds and up, one and three sixteenths miles on the turf, post time 4:46pm CDT
This year's edition of the Arlington Handicap offers a purse of $150,000, and drew a field of ten horses, though CAPTIVATING MOON may or may not go, since he is cross-entered in the day's allowance opener. CAPTIVATING MOON, whether he starts or not, is a good place to start the discussion of this race — because he, like so many in this race, likes to come from well off the pace. The race drew a respectable-sized field, but it didn't draw much pace. So, it plays right into BANDUA's hands. BANDUA doesn't always make the top, but in his better races he runs on or near the lead, and none of his foes have early pace to rival his. From the fence Adam Beschizza should be able to send him, save ground, and have plenty left in the lane. BANDUA also has a pinch of Arlington form; he has raced over the course once, and ran third behind Analyze It and Carrick in the Secretariat Stakes (G1) last year. All in all? BANDUA won't be a short price, but with a defined pace advantage and the stamina to get nine and a half furlongs, he is the one to beat.
EL PICARO makes his second North American start for trainer Ignacio Correas. Correas has an excellent sense for which South American horses will do well in the US, and knows how to get them ready...eventually. I only say eventually because he rarely fires big off the layoff; his horses typically need a start or two to round into their best. EL PICARO made his first North American start and his first start at all in seven and a half months, in last month's Wise Dan (G2) at Churchill. EL PICARO stuck around for sixth in a field of 13, beaten only three and a half lengths in a field significantly tougher than the Arlington Handicap drew. It was a positive sign for EL PICARO's continued campaign in the United States. As with so many in this field, pace is the question. But, EL PICARO does not need to drop all the way back to the clouds, he gets the top local rider in Jose Valdivia, and he is already a winner at a mile and a quarter in Chile. He is a horse with upside, more upside than most in this field.
It has been a few years since Florent Geroux rode in Chicago day in and day out, but when he does come to Arlington on a big day, watch out. He has built a reputation for riding well on big days, and when he returns to this track he knows so well, he typically makes an impact. Of course, he has to have the horse, and CULLUM ROAD is plenty of horse for this modest renewal of the Arlington Handicap. Like EL PICARO, he comes out of the Wise Dan, though he dropped too far off the pace and only picked off a few horses late. Still, other recent races suggest CULLUM ROAD does not have to drop quite so far back, and they also suggest that the mile and a sixteenth of the Wise Dan was too short for him. Trainer Mike Maker comes to Ride to the Million Day locked and loaded, and should have CULLUM ROAD right back in his sweet spot.
#1 BANDUA (7/2)
#5 EL PICARO (9/2)
#9 CULLUM ROAD (9/2)
Longshot: #2 BOTSWANA (30/1) took a while to get going, dropping to maiden claiming levels as cheap as $20,000 last year before finding his stride in protected company on the grass. This is a class test; he has been holding his own in first- and second-level allowances on the "A" circuits this spring, but he hasn't tried stakes company. He does need sharp improvement, but with only nine starts underneath him, the four-year-old son of Graydar still has upside. And, from a pace perspective. BOTSWANA may not outjump BANDUA to the lead, but he reliably find a spot near the front. BOTSWANA has the tactical speed so many others in this field lack. And, don't be surprised if sharp, aggressive local rider Mitchell Murrill uses that to full advantage.
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.