ARLINGTON HEIGHTS — This year’s running of the Hanshin Cup had no shortage of horses with recent stakes-level form over the Arlington main. The top two finishers from last year’s Hanshin Cup returned for this year’s running. The 1-3 finishers in the 2014 Arlington-Washington Futurity came back for this polytrack test.
Yet, when all was said and done, the two longest shots in the field got their day in the sun. TRACE CREEK, an Arkansas-bred stakes winner who had never tried polytrack before, posted a rail-skimming score at 44/1 odds, the longest shot out of nine to run. 21/1 shot FRANCOIS, an Arlington main-track specialist who won an off-turf allowance-optional on opening weekend, rallied for second.
The race had no shortage of pace on paper; that unfolded on the track as well. Illinois-bred VALIANT CITY broke like a shot, and took the field through a 23.25 opening quarter. However, RECOUNT and ONE GO ALL GO were keen to go on, and VALIANT CITY ceded the lead to that pair as the field passed the three-quarter pole. RECOUNT, with ONE GO ALL GO pressing him along, got the half in a swift 46.09. As the field proceeded into the turn, ONE GO ALL GO began to fade. RECOUNT had the lead, but challengers were bearing down. VALIANT CITY was coming back on him. CREWMAN was mounting a run from his stalking spot. FRANCOIS tipped outside from midpack, and TRACE CREEK and MISTER MARTI GRAS began to make up ground from further back.
Turning for home, RECOUNT still had the lead, but VALIANT CITY was staying on just to his outside. Up the rail, TRACE CREEK continued his run; on the outside, it was FRANCOIS who kept on well. RECOUNT dug in, but the fast fractions were getting to him. He was also far enough off the rail for TRACE CREEK to come easily through if he was good enough. TRACE CREEK took that opening, and rolled to the lead. FRANCOIS finished well, and was making up ground. But, TRACE CREEK had enough run to hold safe a length in front of FRANCOIS, stopping the clock in 1:36.25 for the mile on polytrack. VALIANT CITY, despite being so close to torrid early fractions, dug in valiantly for third just 3/4 length behind FRANCOIS. RECOUNT settled for fourth. MISTER MARTI GRAS, second in the last three editions of the Hanshin Cup, rallied only well enough for fifth this year. MIDNIGHT CELLO, CREWMAN, BLARP, and ONE GO ALL GO completed the order of finish. DIMENSION and WOODLAND WALK were trainer scratches.
TRACE CREEK is a six-year-old intact son of Harperstown out of the Elusive Quality mare Cookie Bight Cove. He was bred in Arkansas by owner Shortleaf Stable, Inc. (John E. Anthony), and races in their silks as a homebred. Shortleaf bred and campaigned his dam, as well. The Hanshin Cup was TRACE CREEK’s first graded stakes win, though he did have some stakes-level form in his past. He won the Arkansas Breeders’ Stakes on the Oaklawn Park dirt in 2015, and was also second behind Illinois-bred Coalport in the John B. Connally Turf Cup (GIII) that same year. Today’s Hanshin Cup was TRACE CREEK’s first career try on polytrack, and proved that his versatility extended to that surface, as well. The victory takes TRACE CREEK to seven wins in 22 career starts, and the $57,600 winner’s share brings his lifetime earnings to $326,256.
Though TRACE CREEK has been racing since 2012, trainer William Van Meter has only had him since this year. Owner John Anthony had taken him out to the farm to see him before sending him back to the track for his six-year-old season, asking if he looked good enough to return to the races. Van Meter had kept his options open with TRACE CREEK, entering him in both the Hanshin Cup as well as a turf mile allowance on the undercard (the 3rd, which R. Great Adventure won). He stated to Picks and Ponderings that after handicapping the races, he thought the Hanshin Cup had drawn a bit easier than the allowance. Van Meter was very pleased with the result, and stated that it answered the question as to whether TRACE CREEK could run on polytrack. However, he does not have a next spot in mind for his horse; “I’ve been in the business long enough to take it one race at a time.”
Julio Felix, who captured the last of his day’s three wins with TRACE CREEK, got the trip that he wanted on his horse. “I was in position when I turned for home,” Felix remarked. “In case they wanted to shut the door on me, I was already there. I wasn’t worried about the beginning part of the race — I was worried about my position at the quarter pole.” Felix also suggested that he may not have had to use all the horse he had. “I rode him all the way around. I was surprised that he still had something left. And then he got to the lead, and he started looking around again. There’s a little more there than what he showed today, maybe he wants to go a little longer.”
“He thrilled me,” exclaimed Cheryl Winebaugh, trainer of second-place FRANCOIS immediately after her charge’s first career graded stakes placing, “I’m lost for words.” FRANCOIS had shown good form on the Arlington polytrack through his career, winning the Straight Line Stakes at Arlington in 2012, and having garnered seven of his eleven lifetime wins over the polytrack. That figured into her decision to run her seven-year-old Smarty Jones gelding in the Hanshin Cup. “He loves the racetrack, and he’s been running good, running hard — like his old self.” Winebaugh stated that she plans to give FRANCOIS a break after this race.
MIDNIGHT CELLO, last year’s Hanshin Cup winner, finished a well-beaten sixth as the 8/5 favourite. Rider Jose Valdivia, Jr had no excuse for his mount’s performance. “He just wasn’t there,” stated Valdivia. “He never picked up the bit.”
TRACE CREEK rewarded his backers with a hearty $90.40 win mutuel. The $1 exacta over FRANCOIS (1-6), featuring the longest shot on the board over the second-longest, paid $810.30. The trifecta with VALIANT CITY in the third slot (1-6-11) returned $5,786.50 for a $0.50 base bet. A superfecta with RECOUNT fourth (1-6-11-5) came back with $2,459.31 for each dime wagered on the combination.
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