2016 Arlington Matron & Arlington Classic Preview

overthetrackThe Arlington stakes season got underway last week with the Hanshin Cup (GIII).  Picks and Ponderings keeps its focus close to home this week, focusing on the pair of Grade III races at the local oval this Saturday: the Arlington Matron and the Arlington Classic.  Neither race was run last year, but with Arlington’s stakes schedule back to a similar scale as two years ago, they return to the calendar this year.

The Arlington Matron is a bit of a rara avis on the national graded stakes calendar: a nine-furlong polytrack test for distaffers.  The Arlington Classic, a turf route for three-year-olds, is the first step on the way to the Secretariat Stakes later in the summer.  Both races drew large fields: 11 for the Matron, and 12 for the Classic.

Morning lines were not available at original publish time.  All races discussed below are scheduled for Saturday May 28th. At publish time the turf rail for the Arlington Classic is set to Lane 2, twenty-three feet from zero. Arlington Classic selections are for turf only. Updated Saturday, May 28th to account for the scratch of CANDY MY BOY in the Arlington Classic Authors of each preview are denoted by initials at the end: PM for Paul Mazur, and NN for Nicolle Neulist.

Updated May 26th with morning lines.

Arlington International – Race 6 – G3 Arlington Matron – One and one-eighth miles on polytrack – post time 3:50 pm CT

This year marks the seventy-ninth time the Arlington Matron will be raced. They’ll go one and one-eighth miles, a full lap around the Arlington polytrack oval. Shifted to the springtime in 2008 after many years in the fall, the race has been a G3 since 1990. The race wasn’t contested last year as Arlington ran only a skeletal stakes program. Past winners of note include Pucker Up (1957), who has a G3 stakes in her namesake later in the Arlington meet), two-time winner Sixty Sails (1974-75) who has a stakes in her honor across town at Hawthorne, and hall-of-famers like Real Delight (1953) and Tosmah (1964). Locals like Solo Survivor (2007) and La Tia (2014) have also gotten winners’ pictures in the Arlington Matron.

The Grade Three, $100,000 Arlington Matron drew eleven runners to take a full nine furlong circuit around the polytrack.  The Grade Three Arlington Matron didn’t draw much in the way of one-way speed, however.  But it drew enough speed that maybe Lothenbach Stables’s NO FAULT OF MINE can carve out a trip and notch her first stakes win.  A winner on debut back in her two-year-old season going seven furlongs, she showed last time in an upper-level allowance at Keeneland that she doesn’t need crazy fractions to rally into.  She goes off second off a spring vacation, having started her year with an allowance win at Tampa and a stakes placing there. Her only try at nine furlongs was a blah effort in last fall’s G2 Falls City, but everything else has been solid.  She’d be helped if someone challenged TIZ LATELY on the front end.  Carlos Marquez, Jr. has the mount on this Chris Block trainee.  Perhaps the speed of the speed in this race comes from TIZ LATELY.  She hit the board last time at cross-town Hawthorne in a stakes-level allowance sprint and goes third off the layoff.  Two back she was the controlling speed in the Esplanade Stakes in New Orleans and last winter at Hawthorne showed an affinity to get the lead when no one wanted it.  Maybe no one wants the top in a race without a committed front runner.  While that arrangement hurts NO FAULT OF MINE – she’s the classiest of this field and thus the edge over potential speed-of-the-speed TIZ LATELY.  Everyone yelled “fluke” when BROOKLYNSWAY won the G3 Doubledogdare two back at 25-1, and it certainly looked that way when she ran evenly in the G1 La Troienne on Oaks Day.  But BROOKLYNSWAY has done fine work on the synthetic in Canada in the past.  She’s been behind one, and won G3 over Ahh Chocolate – recent winner of the G3 DuPont Distaff on Black-Eyed Susan Day.  Perhaps the Churchill dirt wasn’t her thing and a return to the all-weather helps.  The switch to E. T. Baird helps as he’s a fine gate rider, and her gate antics may have done her in her non-winning starts.



#2 TIZ LATELY (30/1)


Longshot: “In God We Trust” is printed on the backside of (US) money and license plates in Indiana.  But we at Picks & Ponderings are a non-denominational horse-racing folk. And at the track, rider Jose Valdivia is white hot to start this Arlington meet, and he climbs aboard #4 BITTY KITTY (10/1), a Brendan Walsh/Patricia Moseley owner/trainer production.  BITTY KITTY had a yucky 2015, with only a second in an autumnal allowance among her best starts.  BITTY KITTY is coming back off the wintertime layoff in the G3 Arlington Matron.  She does have a second in the past on synthetic, trainer Walsh is 33% going turf-to-synthetic, and attracts Valdivia to ride – the same Valdivia that’s been hot to start the meet and whose mounts have been money-like.  Perhaps with such off form from 2015, the angle is In Valdivia We Trust. And with Vicky Oliver’s pair and NO FAULT OF MINE to take the money on the tote, In Valdivia We Trust could be the path to seeing money with In God We Trust. –PM

For an alternative view of the G3 Arlington Matron, our own Nicolle Neulist has also analyzed this race. Their analysis can be found here.

Arlington International – Race 7 – G3 Arlington Classic – One and one-sixteenth miles on Turf – post time 4:21 pm CT

The Arlington Classic was not run last year, but returns to the calendar this year.  The race has been run in some form since 1929, though it has only been run on grass since 1994, and at its current distance since 2002.  It began at the American Classic distance – a mile and a quarter on the dirt — but has been run at distances as short as a mile.  It has been limited to three-year-olds through its entire history except for 1977, when it was run as the Arlington Classic Invitational Handicap, and was open to the handicap division.  A pair of Triple Crown winners count the Arlington Classic among their victories — Gallant Fox (1930), as well as his son Omaha (1935).  Alydar (1978), second behind Affirmed in all three Triple Crown races, found the winners’ circle here as well.  In its turf era, Hawk Attack (1995) and Honor Glide (1997) went on to win the Secretariat Stakes (GI) later in the meet.  Illinois-bred Giant Oak, a multiple Grade I winner on dirt, also won the Arlington Classic on grass in 2009.

Willcox Inn, one of trainer Michael Stidham’s three Arlington Classic winners so far, holds safe from Illinois-bred Suntracer to win the 2011 edition.

This space thought CANDY MY BOY could wire the field, but he scratched to run in an allowance at Churchill on Sunday instead.  That leaves even less likely pace in this race, with the loss of the class of the speed.  SURGICAL STRIKE is the clear class of the field, and we’ll get to him later.  But, with “no pace” shifting to “no, seriously, REALLY no pace”, this leaves us with two likely candidates for the front end: UNCLE JERRY and YO CARM.  The latter is the more credible one, as he can send to the front and lead them around, but also take back just a bit should UNCLE JERRY or (and?) ONE MEAN MAN (who is, unlike his full sister Mizz Money, truly better sprinting) decide to try and grab this bull by the horns.  YO CARM can wire, or sit a length or two back if he wants.  He also has a maiden win over a yielding Arlington course last year — exactly what he gets today in the Arlington Classic.  He will need to take a step up to win this, but going second off the lay with several good works after an ambitious dirt try in the Lexington, he has every right to improve.  Furthermore — the fact that he is one of a relatively few horses nominated to the Springfield Stakes next week, yet Chris Block elects to run him here, speaks volumes.  Let’s swing for the fences.

Should the pace get hot, SURGICAL STRIKE will benefit.  Perhaps he is best on synthetic, but he carries in solid turf form as well, including a third-place finish behind Camelot Kitten in the American Turf (GII) last out.  He gets a rider change to James Graham here; it has been a while since Graham rode regularly at Arlington, but when he did, he shined in turf routes.  SURGICAL STRIKE is a closer who reliably fires — he does not always get there, making him hard to place on top particularly with the likely pace scenario, but he dependably makes it into contention late.  He also goes first-time blinkers-on, which could put him a bit closer to the pace than he has been in his other more recent races.  Count that as another positive for SURGICAL STRIKE.

Finally, TEQUILA JOE demands respect.  He tries stakes company for the first time here, but appears to be in the right form to do it.  Off since October, he posted a very comfortable victory in a 1 3/16 mile N1X at Keeneland on April 29.  A step forward second off the layoff puts him right in with these.  He is another who would be helped should there be a bit more pace in front of them, but he ran down a comfortable leader in Scissors and Tape in that Keeneland allowance win, something he may have to do again today.  TEQUILA JOE’s connections are also the hottest people on the grounds.  Three weeks into the racing meet, trainer Michael Stidham is winning at a 32% clip on the meet.  Stidham also has a proven history in the Arlington Classic: he won the race with Workin For Hops (2010), Willcox Inn (2011), and Istanford (2014).  Rider Jose Valdivia, Jr. has been riding lights-out, with a 37% win rate three weeks into the meet.  They are a live combination, and they have a shot at another win with TEQUILA JOE.


#9 YO CARM (30/1)


#12 TEQUILA JOE (9/2)

Longshot:  #11 SWAGGER JAGGER (10/1)  did not show a lot on the synthetic in three starts this year, but here he finally returns to his best surface: turf.  With the return to his best surface, expect the better version of SWAGGER JAGGER to come out to play here.  He has two wins and a third in nine lifetime starts, and all of those came in his three turf starts.  SWAGGER JAGGER’s speeds on turf fit this field comfortably, and without a ton of pace, his ability to sit relatively close to the pace and rally into relatively slow going could serve him very well in the Arlington Classic.  Finally, SWAGGER JAGGER’s connections are no strangers to shipping an under-the-radar horse to Arlington and taking home the hardware: trainer Mike Maker and part-owner Warner Thoroughbreds are the same folks who brought you Arlington Handicap (GIII) winner Quiet Force last summer.   — NN

For an alternative view of the G3 Arlington Classic, our own Paul Mazur  has also analyzed this race. Their analysis can be found here.

Photo by Nicolle Neulist.  Arlington Matron video courtesy of TVG.  Arlington Classic video via YouTube.


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