2015 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 (GI) 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 (GII) 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.


Secretariat decisively wins the 1973 Arlington Invitational.

The next year, Arlington Park instituted the Secretariat Stakes.  The race has been run at distances as short as a mile and a sixteenth and as long as a mile and a half over its history, but has covered a mile and a quarter for each of its runnings since 1985.  Last year’s winner, Adelaide, used the Secretariat as a springboard toward winning the Cox Plate (GI – AUS).  The race has been a productive source of Arlington Million winners, given the Million’s international nature, as three horses who won the Secretariat Stakes have gone on to win the Arlington Million: Awad (1993, won the 1995 Million), Marlin (1996, won the 1997 Million), and Kicken Kris (2003, won the 2004 Million).

Horse Racing Radio Network will be broadcasting live from Arlington on Million Day from 4:30pm-7:00pm EDT.  This broadcast will include coverage of the Secretariat (GI), the Beverly D (GI), and the Arlington Million (GI) from Arlington, as well as the Adirondack (GII) and the Fourstardave (GII) from Saratoga.  HRRN coverage can be heard on Sirius 93, as well as streaming on the HRRN website.

At publish time, the rail will be set in the Million lane five, sixty-two feet from zero.  Selections are made for turf only.

Race 8: Secretariat Stakes (GI), three-year-olds, one and one fourth miles on the turf, post time 4:17pm CDT

This year’s edition of the Secretariat drew a compact yet competitive field of seven three-year-olds to compete for a $450,000 purse.  WAR DISPATCH and HIGHLAND REEL have already clashed once, in the Prix du Jockey Club (GI – FR) at Chantilly on May 31.  Neither won that day, though HIGHLAND REEL finished second and WAR DISPATCH crossed the wire third.  This pair clashes again here, and both look tough against this field.  WAR DISPATCH has raced once since that race, in the Grand Prix de Maisons-Laffitte (GII – FR).  He cut back to a mile and a quarter for his last outing, the same distance as his race today, and finished second.  Prominent along the front, WAR DISPATCH got past, came back, and was just passed late by Dariyan.  Though WAR DISPATCH’s ability to run over firmer turf remains to be seen, as all three of his turf races have come over French soft going, he does have a pair of wins over an all-weather surface at the same mile and a quarter trip as the Secretariat.  Whether he will take his form out of France remains a question, but his connections have seen success at Arlington before: trainer Jean-Claude Rouget won the 1995 American Derby with Gold and Steel, and rider Ioritz Mendizabal took down the 2008 Arlington Million with Spirit One.  Without a lot of pace in this race other than possibly GRANNY’S KITTEN, it should set up well for WAR DISPATCH to be near the front.  Between the gameness he showed last out and his connections’ previous success at the track, he should be a square-priced candidate to beat HIGHLAND REEL.  The latter comes from the same owners and trainer who brought Adelaide to win the Secretariat last year, trainer Aidan O’Brien and owners Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith, and Susan Magnier.  They know how to ship to Arlington and win.  Tabor has won four Secretariats; O’Brien has annexed three.  He has done some international shipping already, winning races in Ireland and England so far, and finishing second in the Prix du Jockey Club in France.  Though his fifth-place finish in the Irish Derby (GI – IRE) two back suggested he could not stay a mile and a half against top-class runners, he got things back on track going a mile and a half in a Group III at Glorious Goodwood last out.  The dial back to a mile and a quarter should help him along, and he has enough class to be a solid contender here.  WAR DISPATCH should be enough of a better price to be more intriguing as a win bet, but a win by HIGHLAND REEL in their rematch would not come as a surprise, and at least this pair should be covered in multi-race wagers.

Among the American contingent, FORCE THE PASS appeals most.  In six starts he has never finished worse than second, and never run a bad race.  Recently he has proven his class.  After annexing the Penn Mile (GIII), he took a huge leap up in class and contested the Belmont Derby (GI).  The Dynaformer on the underside of his pedigree kicked in well in the Belmont Derby; he covered the mile and a quarter of that race with confidence, and returns to that same trip here.   In terms of pace, he has versatility going for him: he has won from well off the pace, as well as right near it.  He gets Joel Rosario back in the irons from his last three starts.  Though Rosario has not won on Million Day, he did finish second in the 2011 Million with Dubawi Heights, and won the 2012 Arlington Handicap (GIII) with Rahystrada.  They should be a potent combination again.

Selections:

#7 WAR DISPATCH (4/1)

#6 HIGHLAND REEL (5/2)

#2 FORCE THE PASS (2/1)

Longshot:  Though this year’s American Derby (GIII) winner World Approval opted to run in the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes (GII) at Saratoga instead of staying around for the Secretariat, second-place #4 CRITTENDEN (12/1) stayed in the Midwest, and could threaten at a long price.  In five starts over the grass, CRITTENDEN has yet to run badly, with his worst finish being a third-place finish when coming off a two and a half month lay.  While the mile and an eighth may be at the long end of American Derby winner World Approval’s distance range, CRITTENDEN stands to improve with the stretch-out.  His dam, Calla Lily, also produced grass marathon specialist Side Road (Street Cry).  He won going as long as a mile and seven sixteenths, and was graded stakes placed at a mile and a half.  The rider change should not hurt, either.  Though he loses Flavien Prat from the American Derby, he gets a switch to William Buick.  Buick is not local, but he did win a Million in 2010 with Debussy, showing he can ride the course on a big race day.

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