2014 Washington Park Handicap Preview

After a week away from Arlington, but with another return engagement planned at Saratoga, Picks & Ponderings returns to the northwest suburbs on the last Saturday of August for a look at their feature, the G3 Washington Park Handicap. Like next week’s G3 Arlington-Washington Futurity and the Arlington-Washington Lassie, this race pays homage to Washington Park, namesake to two former racing ovals.  The first Washington Park was on the city’s south side at 61st and Cottage Grove (near the end of the Green Line’s east branch), the second Washington Park was in south suburban Homewood.

Past winners of the Washington Park include Hall of Famers like Armed and Swaps and Arlington Park stakes namesakes like Pucker Up and Black Tie Affair, for starters.

The most notable of Washington Park Handicaps is its 1968 running. That year,  Dr. Fager stopped by Arlington Park to see the starter in the Washington Park Handicap, at the time contested at a one-turn mile. He was in the midst of a stellar four-year-old campaign that would make him a millionaire (a big deal for the late sixties) and a Hall of Famer. During that year he won going short (Vosburgh, then at 7/8 mile), long (Suburban, then at 1 1/4 miles), and on grass (United Nations), All this was as an encore to a sterling sophomore campaign (wins in the then-on-dirt Arlington Classic, Hawthorne Gold Cup, Gotham, and Withers for starters).  Carrying 134 pounds in the 1968 Washington Park, he won by open lengths and set the record for one mile on dirt, a record that’s only been matched once since.

1968 Washington Park Handicap victory by Dr. Fager. Video courtesy Youtube.

Honorable Mention: The nine furlong record for Arlington Park on the main track was set by another Hall of Fame horse, Spectacular Bid. His time of 1:46 1/5 set in his victory in the 1980 Washington Park remains a main-track record to this day.

Morning line odds were not available at original publish time. Updated on August 28 to include morning line odds.

Arlington International — Race 8 — G3 Washington Park Handicap — 1 1/8 miles on polytrack — post time 4:26pm CT

One lap around the polytrack oval for a pot of one hundred fifty thousand.  Only six see the starter in this year’s Washington Park, and it’s a hodgepodge field.  When MISTER MARTI GRAS was last seen, he was stuck in a paceless G3 Arlington Handicap on Million Preview Day as AVANZARE tried to take the field all the way around, slowing the pace to an absolute crawl (:52 3/5 for the first half).  They are not likely to go that slow this time around, as razor-sharp GIMMEADRINK will likely go to the front and try to take the field as far as he can, and not setting the super-slow fractions.  FORDUBAI also likes to be in the first flight. That honest pace, with AVANZARE near it, will give MISTER MARTI GRAS something to attack and reel in.  Winner of this event in 2011, he showed he’s still in quality form by winning an upper-crust allowance two back over the weeds and getting runner-up honors in the G3 Hanshin Cup on Memorial Day weekend.  G3 races are his game, and trainer Chris Block snuck in a turf work for him during Million week.  AVANZARE proved that ten furlongs is too far when he wilted in the stretch last time out in the Arlington Handicap.  After skipping the Million Festival week hoopla, the Tom Proctor trainee returns here in this event.  The pace should closer to what he was seeing at Churchill, and AVANZARE was able to stalk and sit in those turf races.  First time polytrack in the Washington Park, and while Proctor is doing fine at Arlington as usual (11 wins, 40 starts), going turf to all weather is only an 8% proposition on the year.  Still, the Arlington Handicap was his only time out of the money in his eight start career, and he was only beaten three-quarters of a length that July afternoon.  ONLY IN AMERICA likely projects to be just off the moderate pace in the Washington Park.  That works fine for this full brother of Well Armed, who has ten money finishes in eleven career outs.  Still, he’s only two-for eleven lifetime, and been stuck all meet in N2X-land, losing to the likes of GIMMEADRINK and Sound Effect.  He hasn’t gotten to the winners’ circle since clearing the first-level allowance at Tampa in the winter.  Yet, he did fine two back at today’s nine furlong distance being close to a sensible pace, and he hung around for a piece.  That seems to fit him in this spot.

Selections:

#3 MISTER MARTI GRAS (8/5)

#4 AVANZARE (5/2)

#5 ONLY IN AMERICA (5/1)

Longshot: Speed in a short field can sometimes be a powerful thing, as seen with Gallant Eagle giving Willcox Inn a scare in last year’s Washington Park.  There isn’t lone speed this go around, however.  But the speed of the speed is the longshot play again.  #2 GIMMEADRINK (7/2) is in razor-sharp form, having climbed his way from four grand claimers at Suffolk to a Grade Three.  Claimed for $6,250, he’s been a delightful return on investment for Dale Bennett.  He’s won six of seven since, and made nearly $43,000 since shipping north – nearly a sevenfold return just at the Arlington meet.  GIMMEADRINK had advantageous inside posts going a mile a sixteenth two and three back, and was speed last time in a speed-friendly configuration.  However, even though the water gets deeper here he’s never been in better form.   Channing Hill takes a return assignment for trainer Dale Bennett, as these two worked together last month on GIMMEADRINK’s win in an N2X AOC (over HATTAASH and ONLY IN AMERICA).

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