ARLINGTON HEIGHTS — Saturday was as muggy as Friday, but in a welcome deviation from the day before, the rain stayed away. The card featured a pair of Grade III races. The Arlington Matron, the earlier of the two races, featured the older distaff set. The Arlington Classic, the traditional early prep for the American Derby on Million Preview Day, was limited to three-year-old company. Though two earlier races on the card were taken off the turf, the dry afternoon meant that the Arlington Classic could be run on grass as originally intended.
Arlington Matron: FLIPCUP Digs In, Denies NO FAULT OF MINE
FLIPCUP, a whimsically named daughter of Milwaukee Brew, made her first trip to Chicago. However, she was no stranger to a synthetic surface. She had started her career at Woodbine, winning her first two starts there, and seen success in her periodic returns to their polytrack surface. That included FLIPCUP’s only graded stakes win going into today: a victory over heavily favoured Academic in the Maple Leaf Stakes (GIII – CAN) last October. She had started once since then, a fifth-place finish against New York-breds over the Aqueduct dirt. She had been on the shelf since then, though had a long worktab at Payson Park and Churchill Downs leading into her return..
Perhaps bettors shied away from FLIPCUP first off the lay, because two other horses took the majority of the attention going into the Arlington Matron. NO FAULT OF MINE had not yet broken through in stakes company, but came in off an allowance win at Keeneland. The Chris Block trainee had also boasted a perfect 2-for-2 line over the Arlington polytrack going into today’s race. The early second choice, NO FAULT OF MINE went off favourited at 9/5. Ontario-bred BROOKLYNSWAY was making her first trip to Chicago, but she had solid polytrack form at Woodbine. She also had a recent win at Keeneland: a 25/1 shocker in the Grade III Doubledogdare Stakes. The slight early-money choice, BROOKLYNSWAY settled as the second choice at 2/1.
It was local longshot TIZ LATELY who took the early initiative, with INNOVATIVE IDEA and SHE’S NOT HERE who kept her going through an opening quarter of 25.05, and an opening half of 49.29. SHE’S NOT HERE was pressing harder by the half-mile point, and she and TIZ LATELY continued to vie for the front even after a three-quarter mile mark of 1:13.39.
But, FLIPCUP was coming. She had been tracking along the rail, in the next flight, just a couple lengths behind the early leaders. She tipped off the rail about halfway through the far turn, made it to the outside of SHE’S NOT HERE and TIZ LATELY, and went on with it. SHE’S NOT HERE tried to stay on, but FLIPCUP took over by the time the field turned for home. NO FAULT OF MINE, midpack early, was also mustering an outside run of her own. She descended on the leading pack, and took aim on FLIPCUP. By the time the field hit the furlong pole, that pair had separated itself. FLIPCUP drifted out; NO FAULT OF MINE kept on. FLIPCUP kept her neck in front all the way to the wire. BROOKLYNSWAY, last early after a slow start, made an inside move, cut through stretch traffic, and rallied for a clear third, three and a half lengths behind NO FAULT OF MINE. CITY OF TRIX, another near the back early, made a belated stretch rally to complete the superfecta. BITTY KITTY, SHE’S NOT HERE, TIZ LATELY, ZUBI ZUBI ZU, and INNOVATIVE IDEA completed the order of finish. PERSONAL DIARY and LADY FOG HORN were both trainer’s scratches.
There was a jockey’s claim of foul; Carlos Marquez, Jr., on NO FAULT OF MINE, alleged stretch run interference against Chris Emigh on FLIPCUP. However, the stewards disallowed the objection.
FLIPCUP is a five-year-old daughter of Milwaukee Brew out of the Touch Gold mare Dream Affair. She was bred in New York by Team Penney Racing, and is owned by her breeders, Wachtel Stable, and Brous Stable. The victory in the Arlington Matron was her second Grade III victory, after her win in Woodbine’s Maple Leaf Stakes last year. It was the mare’s fifth stakes win overall, and the $57,600 winner’s share brought her career earnings to $533,266. Trained by Bill Mott, FLIPCUP was piloted to victory by local rider Chris Emigh. Both have won this race before. Mott also won the Arlington Matron in 1985 with Heatherten, and in 1997 with and Omi; Emigh prevailed in 2002 with Lakenheath.
Mark Schreiber, assistant to Bill Mott, indicated that the Arlington Matron had been the deliberate goal for FLIPCUP this spring. “She had been working steadily, and doing everything right, like you’d want her to. Obviously, from her history, she likes the polytrack; that was why Bill wanted to point her for this.” The layoff was not a worry to FLIPCUP’s team: “she was snowing she was ready.” No future plans have been determined for FLIPCUP yet, though Schreiber did not rule out a return to Arlington for the Modesty (GIII).
Rider Chris Emigh was pleased with the trip he worked out for FLIPCUP. “I was a little worried, a lot of cheap speed. I didn’t want to get behind anyone. But, on the far turn, you see the horse on the outside quit — so I got to the outside, in the wide open third spot. From then on, I was i nthe perfect spot.” In response to the objection, Emigh reflected, “Any time you have an objection, you’re a little worried. I did drift him out pretty far — we never bumped, though. Either way, it was just a close finish. I’m glad it went my way.” Emigh had never ridden FLIPCUP before the Arlington Matron, but drew on his recent local form. “I think the advantage is, I’ve been riding really good on this polytrack right now. I’m a local guy, and I’m in the zone right now.”
Carlos Marquez, rider of second-place NO FAULT OF MINE, explained his objection, “The horse was drifting in front of me and kept coming out, and I got beat a big head. I think if [FLIPCUP] had run a straight course my horse would have won, but they kept drifting under a left handed whip and I ended up in the eight-path.” Still, he remarked, “I thought I had more horse but she hung a little bit. She tried hard and I can’t take anything away from her. That’s horse racing.”
FLIPCUP stopped the clock in 1:51.32 for a mile and an eighth over polytrack, and returned $12.20 to win. The exacta with NO FAULT OF MINE underneath (1-6) returned $22.80 for a $1 wager. A $0.50 trifecta with BROOKLYNSWAY third (1-6-3) paid $28.80. The superfecta, with CITY OF TRIX in the final slot (1-6-3-8) came back with $64.82 for each dime on the combination.
Arlington Classic: SURGICAL STRIKE Lands Just In Time to Take the Arlington Classic
SURGICAL STRIKE had been competitive in stakes company at ages two and three, but he was beginning to make a name for himself as a closer who came in for his strike just a little too late. He made it there in time to win the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes at Turfway in March, but other than that, he had a long resume of close calls: third in the American Turf (GII), third in the Spiral (GIII), third in the WEBN (behind Illinois-bred Shogood), a belated fourth in the Dania Beach (GIII), fifth in the Bourbon Stakes (GIII) last fall.
SURGICAL STRIKE wore blinkers for the first time today, and the public figured that would help him get all the way there, even with the scratch of speedy CANDY MY BOY. Though the early money was more keen on TEQUILA JOE, and had him at even money, it was SURGICAL STRIKE who went off the 8/5 choice. TEQUILA JOE, a Keeneland allowance winner for streaking hot trainer Michael Stidham and current riding leader Jose Valdivia, Jr., went off the 2/1 second choice despite being marooned in the outside gate.
TWO STEP TIME sent from the inside post, and despite a brief early tussle for the lead, he was left to carve out the early fractions. TWO STEP TIME had an uncontested lead: ONE MEAN MAN sat about two lengths back, and then behind him tracked another flight consisting of SURGICAL STRIKE on the rail, and SWAGGER JAGGER to his outside. TWO STEP TIME set soft early fractions befitting that lead: the quarter in 25.64, the half in 51.31, and three-quarters in 1:17.21. Through the far turn, ONE MEAN MAN made his move, and edged in front of longtime leader TWO STEP TIME.
SWAGGER JAGGER made his move, easing outside of ONE MEAN MAN and TWO STEP TIME. He briefly got his head in front, but was not home free. SURGICAL STRIKE made his way off the rail, found clear going past the three-sixteenth pole, and descended on SWAGGER JAGGER and ONE MEAN MAN into the final furlong. SWAGGER JAGGER lost ground late in between, but ONE MEAN MAN made SURGICAL STRIKE work all the way to the wire. SURGICAL STRIKE found enough, and won by a head. ONE MEAN MAN, a full brother to 2015 Pucker Up Stakes winner Mizz Money, crossed the wire three quarters of a length clear of SWAGGER JAGGER. Pacesetter TWO STEP TIME held on for fourth, another one and three quarters lengths back. TEQUILA JOE, ITSNOTEZBEINGBREEZY, FELT IN POCKET, YO CARM, CALL THE COLONEL, UNCLE JERRY, and COCKED AND LOADED completed the order of finish. CANDY MY BOY was a trainer’s scratch.
SURGICAL STRIKE is a three-year-old son of Red Giant out of the Smart Strike mare Preemptive Attack. Bred by Edward A. Seltzer and Beverly S. Anderson, he competes in their silks as a homebred. The race was SURGICAL STRIKE’s first graded stakes victory, and his second career stakes win. The $56,400 winner’s share raised his career earnings to $290,813. He is trained by Ben Colebrook, and was ridden in the Arlington Classic by James Graham. The victory was Colebrook’s first in the Arlington Classic, though Graham had prevailed in the race once before, with Istanford in 2014.
Jockey James Graham “I think a little bit more pace would have helped us even better. When he quickens, he quickens well and he quickens hard. I had to make a little more of a move on him than I wanted to.” Even though the blinkers had SURGICAL STRIKE closer up, and he found enough to win, Graham remarked, “I think he’d be better a little further back. It took him three or four jumps to get into stride, but when he did, he showed.”
Trainer Ben Colebrook agreed with Graham’s assessment of SURGICAL STRIKE’s performance so close to the pace. “It’s kind of where James had to be. The pace being that slow, it was going to be hard to make up a lot of ground on those horses. Being a little closer, he might not have kicked as good as he normally does, but I think he still kicked home and had plenty of horse.” Colebrook remarked that today’s mile and a sixteenth distance was short for SURGICAL STRIKE, and noted that “stamina is probably his biggest asset.” Though no next race has been determined, Colebrook identified the Belmont Derby (GI), the American Derby (GIII), and the Secretariat Stakes (GI) as possible goals. In addition to distance, Colebrook also thinks SURGICAL STRIKE will improve with time. “I think he’s going to get better as an older horse. He’s only a May foal — everything he’s done so far has just been icing on the cake.”
SURGICAL STRIKE stopped the clock in 1:47.51 for a mile and a sixteenth over yielding turf, and paid his backers $5.40 to win. The $1 exacta with ONE MEAN MAN in second (4-10) returned $23.10. A trifecta with SWAGGER JAGGER third came back with $75.10 for each $0.50 base bet. The dime superfecta with TWO STEP TIME in the fourth slot (4-10-11-1) paid $69.91.
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