Million Week 2019: Secretariat Stakes Preview

Secretariat's Triple Crown run in 1973 ensures that he will remain top of mind as a dirt horse. Even the Arlington Invitational, his first race back after his historic Belmont Stakes, was a dirt race. However, the final two starts of Secretariat's career happened over grass. His turf debut came in the Man o' War Stakes (G1) at Belmont. The surface change did nothing to dull his dominance. He got to the front, and scored a five-length wire-to-wire victory. His final career start came in the 1973 Canadian International (G2) at Woodbine, also over the grass. He came from off the pace this time around, but the result remained the same: Secretariat won by daylight.

The next year, Arlington Park instituted the Secretariat Stakes.  Before this year, the race had been run at distances as short as a mile and a sixteenth and as long as a mile and a half, and covered a mile and a quarter for each of its runnings from 1985 through 2017.  However, with the institution of the Turf Triple in New York this year, Arlington responded with the savvy move of cutting the Secretariat back to its shortest distance yet: a flat mile.

In its first year as America's destination race for three-year-old middle-distance turf runners, the Secretariat drew a competitive field of nine to contest it, including two shipping from overseas: VAN BEETHOVEN and NEVER NO MORE, both from the yard of four-time Secretariat Stakes winner Aidan O'Brien.


Adelaide, despite a desire to say hello to the outside rail, wins the 2014 Secretariat Stakes.  Trained by Aidan O'Brien -- who sends a pair to the Secretariat this year -- Adelaide would go on to win the Cox Plate (G1) at Moonee Valley later in the year.  He is still the last horse not named Winx to win the Cox Plate.

Horse Racing Radio Network will cover the Arlington Million, the Beverly D, the Secretariat, as well as the Fourstardave (G1) and Saratoga Special (G2) from Saratoga, in an audio broadcast that runs from 3:30pm-6:30pm CDT.  This will stream on its website and on Sirius/XM 156.

This is just one of five stakes races on Arlington Million Day; once all stakes previews are posted, we will have a separate page with links to all of our previews and analysis for Saturday at Arlington.

Selections are made for turf only.  Post time was not available at original publish time.

Saturday, August 10 - Arlington Park

Race 10: Secretariat Stakes (G1), three-year-olds, one and one quarter miles on the turf, post time 4:53pm CDT

Aidan O'Brien has had no shortage of success in the Secretariat Stakes, having won it four times.  The horses with which he has won it have had a certain profile: they've had good European form at the Group level.  Neither of his horses that he sends this year have both of those things going for them...though one is quite intriguing anyway, and one this space is willing to overlook completely.

NEVER NO MORE is surprisingly fresh for a Ballydoyle shipper: he has just five starts behind him, none in Group company, none since April, and none at longer than seven furlongs.  Still, his two starts this spring were solid, a win in a seven-furlong handicap at Naas in March, then a win over Madhmoon in the 2000 Guineas Trial at Leopardstown.  NEVER NO MORE has not raced since, which is a bit disappointing since he was going so well early in the year, but the win at Naas showed he could come off a layoff ready to fire fresh.  The mile is a new challenge, and the mile is on the long side for a No Nay Never baby, but he stayed on well enough in his two mile tries earlier this year and has enough stamina in the dam's side of his pedigree to suggest that this try at the mile is worth it.  And, Ryan Moore returns to the irons.  All of this adds up to a lot to like about NEVER NO MORE.

The other Aidan O'Brien, VAN BEETHOVEN, looks one to stand against.  There's a certain extent to which one has to respect a horse O'Brien puts on the plane for the Secretariat.  However?  His typical successful Secretariat shipper comes in strong form, and yet he has never looked a contender in his three turf tries this year.  To be fair, those were top-to-bottom tougher fields than he'll face in this, proper European three-year-old Group 1 races.  But, without even a sniff at a win since his victory in the Railway Stakes (G2) last June at the Curragh, one can ask whether VAN BEETHOVEN has trained on at three.

This is a turf stakes, after all, so you'd probably think Chad Brown had some strong entrants.  You'd be correct, as he sends out both VALID POINT and FOG OF WAR.  FOG OF WAR won the Summer (G1) at Woodbine last year, though this is his first return to graded company since, in his third start as a three-year-old.  VALID POINT makes only his third career start, his first in stakes company.  What's most interesting in this?  The riding assignment.  Javier Castellano has ridden FOG OF WAR in all four of his races, and VALID POINT in both of his.  Despite being a G1 winner on FOG OF WAR already, he shows up holding the reins of VALID POINT.  That's a strong statement for a horse with so much to prove.  Beyond that, though?  VALID POINT has done things the right way: he has good tactical speed, he overcame some trouble in his debut, and he won with confidence in his first try against winners.  This is a steep step forward, but he looks like the kind of horse ready to take the challenge.

Using American Derby form in the Secretariat is a hit-or-miss proposition: mostly a "miss", since the last time an American Derby horse hit the board in the Secretariat was in 2013, when Admiral Kitten and Stormy Len, the 2-3 finishers in the American Derby, went 1-2 in the Secretariat.  This year's Secretariat field, however, is open enough to make the American Derby horses worth consideration.  The top three in that race finished a neck apart: FARAWAY KITTEN won over CRAFTY DADDY and THE LAST ZIP, who dead heated for second.  Interestingly enough, Adam Beschizza is off FARAWAY KITTEN and gets the call on THE LAST ZIP.  That looks a smart move, mainly because of the distance question.  The American Derby was at a mile and a sixteenth; this is a cutback to a mile.  CRAFTY DADDY is likely better suited by a longer trip than this, and even though FARAWAY KITTEN did win the Mystic Lake Mile at Canterbury two back, he is also likely at his best over the slightly longer distances.  THE LAST ZIP, though?  He looks the best suited out of anyone from the American Derby brigade to cut back successfully to a mile.  And, in a race with no one dedicated to going to the lead?  THE LAST ZIP looks the speed of the speed, though he has grit, and also a stalking gear if necessary.

Selections:

#3 NEVER NO MORE (6/1)
#7 VALID POINT (5/1)
#4 THE LAST ZIP (6/1)

Longshot:   #5 RY'S THE GUY (15/1) takes a sharp step up in class, but several reasons to justify that kind of confidence.  It took him five starts to get off the mark, but he finally did over the Churchill slop in June.  But, the light was on, and his turf breeding kicked in when he won an N1X against older in his first try against winners, closing day at Churchill.  Now he steps into stakes company,  a classier bunch at the top end than the horses he faced last time.  But, RY'S THE GUY has tactical speed in a race where a few of his foes sometimes send, but no one has to go.  It doesn't appear to be a race where you'll want to be extremely far from the front, and RY'S THE GUY won't be.  Rider Chris Landeros ships out; he has known no jockey but Landeros, so it's good that he sticks around.  For trainer Ian Wilkes, who doesn't have a track record of lightly putting horses in Grade 1 company, to enter RY'S THE GUY in the Secretariat?  It's a strong vote of confidence.  The total picture gives him strong longshot appeal.

***

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.

Leave a comment