2016 Black Tie Affair Handicap and Mike Spellman Memorial Handicap Preview

Throughout the week, Picks & Ponderings has been on the green and pondering races from across the pond at Royal Ascot.   And Picks & Ponderings previews the action from Royal Ascot, with Nicolle Neulist diving into the Friday and Saturday action.  Back stateside, the marquee big event is the Stephen Foster Handicap Day at Churchill Downs.  Paul Mazur breaks down that stakes-laden program as well.

But while Picks & Ponderings has been jet setting around,  the P&P duo won’t shy away from local grass action, either.  Two stakes,the Spellman Memorial and the Black Tie Affair, are the co-features on the program at Arlington International.  Both stakes go a mile and a sixteenth over the lawn and are restricted to Illinois-breds, and carry a purse of $50,000-added.  While both are for the three-and-up types, the Spellman is restricted to females.

All races discussed below are scheduled for Saturday June 18th.  Selections are made for “turf only”.

Updated June 18 to reflect scratches.

Arlington International — Race 6 — Mike Spellman Memorial Handicap — One and one-sixteenth miles on Turf — post time 3:45 pm CT

Known as the Lincoln Heritage Handicap prior to 2015, this race serves as the female complement of the Black Tie Affair.  In its prior life as the Lincoln Heritage it counts eventual G1 Matriarch winner La Tia (2013) among its heroines.  Last year’s running of this race was forced to the main track on account of foul weather.  The Lincoln Heritage received a name change in 2015  to memorialize Mike Spellman (1964-2015).  Spellman served as a sportswriter for the Daily Herald, the newspaper that serves the communities in and around Arlington Heights.  A graduate of St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights, he was exposed to the track as a child when a heatwave forced the family to stay at a hotel near the track.  Spellman met the track, and never looked back.  Though a general columnist known for “Spellman’s Scorecard”, Spellman was known as much as a turf writer, and was a fixture of the local press box roll call.  At the time of his death, he had taken on the Blackhawks’ beat in addition to his work at Arlington.

In the lines of LOVELY LOYREE’s past performances are a horse named Tepin.  This is the same Tepin that went to Royal Ascot and proved her mettle and more in the Group One Queen Anne.  Tepin’s body of work up to and including that English race makes a horse like LOVELY LOYREE – who tried but wasn’t up to her level in two graded affairs at Tampa Bay Downs – a magnet for casual bettors.  She’s quoted at even money because of that.  And like a Michelle Boyce trainee last week – she has a horse who fits this condition like hand in glove.  LOVELY LOYREE won the fall counterpart of this race last year at cross-town Hawthorne and enters this race off a spring freshening.  LOVELY LOYREE won’t look around and see Tepin in the field too.  This is a $50,000 stake for Illinois-breds, not a graded stakes or graded-stakes quality race at Tampa featuring quality horses like Tepin, Isabella Sings (G2W), Lady Lara (ran in the G1 Just A Game), or Lexie Lou (won the G2-CDN Nassau).  She’s the lady among girls in this field if she runs back to her Tampa form, and she’s shown can fire fresh off the shelf  like last September at Churchill.  Cisco Torres has the mount, and his presence here rather than taking mounts at Indiana or Churchill is another positive sign on a favorite that looks hard to topple.  The defending champion of this race, CABANA, returns.  She’s going second off the layoff after wintering at Oaklawn.  She ran into some toughies at Oaklawn like Call Pat and Streamline, but she looks back on the beam after a second in an N3X AOC last time at Churchill going a grasy mile.  Last year she ran a sparkling race second second off.  She can be the lead, but she doesn’t need it as seen last time.  PRADO”S SWEET RIDE makes a homecoming of sort in the $50K Spellman Memorial.  Last seen in a six-figure stakes at Gulfstream, she threw in a clunker in that effort.  That could be a caution flag given it was her start against older and one wonders if she’s unable to progress from three to four.  However, that was an open stakes and a pretty legitimate one based on time and field – and this race is a drop in class.  A G3 winner last year, she looked off form two back at Churchill but maybe the time away has her back to her old self.



#2 CABANA (7/2)


Longshot: This space originally liked TAPNFIRE, but she scratched on the morning of the race.

Arlington International — Race 7 — Black Tie Affair  Handicap — One and one-sixteenth miles on Turf — post time 4:15 pm CT

This memorializes Black Tie Affair, the 1991 American Horse of the Year who capped that season winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic in gate-to-wire fashion.  While not bred in the Prairie State, he was no stranger to it as he won the Equipoise Mile (now the Hanshin Cup) at Arlington and the Hawthorne Gold Cup in 1990.  His HotY season saw a local triumph in the Washington Park Handicap as he zig-zagged over the Midwest (The Stephen Foster, Cornhusker, and Washington Park were all stakes he took down).  The race in his namesake predates him; it was first run in 1978 as the W. H. Bishop Handicap.  Shelved (with all of Arlington) from 1998-99, it returned in 2000 as the Cardinal Handicap (not to be confused with the autumnal grass race at Churchill), then the current name in 2001.  Past winners include Hawthorne stakes namesakes Milwaukee Avenue (1979) and Buck’s Boy (1997), graded stakes winner Fort Prado (2005-2007, 2009), and 2015 Arlington Million winner (and by extension, Illinois-bred) The Pizza Man (2014).

Black Tie Affair wins the 1991 Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI).

This year’s $50,000 Black Tie Affair Handicap is also known as the Chris Block Owners and Breeders Invitational Handicap.  Chris Block trains four of the runners in this field, and bred three more of them that aren’t under his shedrow.  His hands will be full with four to train of the eleven. This space looks to one of them – but not PEEJ, the morning line favorite.  BOLD RALLY is one of from the Block Party, and gets double points for being bred and part-owned by Team Block.  He won (in a dead heat with Yankee Dealer) the Cicero Handicap – the fall counterpart of this stakes – at Hawthorne last October and wintered down south.  He was treading water at Tampa and Fair Grounds, but those were N3X allowances he was in and he was facing some tough ones: Mister Marti Gras (G2P millionaire), Chocolate Ride (G2W), Flashlight (open stakes placed).  He drops into the state-bred ranks, as an N3X grades out no worse than these stakes.  Chris Emigh takes the call on a runner that showed his closing kick in the winter in a variety of pace scenarios.  AMEN KITTEN is well known to Arlington types because of the allowance races that seem to be written for him.  He won one of those at cross-town Hawthorne but has back classic from an open stakes winner and a graded stakes placed type.  AMEN KITTEN doesn’t have a drastic pace limitation and that’s a good thing in a race where there’s only dyed-in-the-wool front runner – CAMMACK – who is more of a plodding type.  CAMMACK took a year off but has rebounded nicely with two wins and a second in his three outs this year – clearing the open N1X condition.  This one is a Block Family homebred without any outside ownership (unlike BOLD RALLY) – and named for the late Addison Cammack for whom a stakes was contested last week.  Where he makes most sense is on pace: he’s the only true forward one in the bunch and Cisco Torres will do fine being a front runner.  One worries if he’s a rabbit for other Blocks, but he’s finding his place as a two-turn type.   As a plodding type who could have been had for$25K down at Tampa, he’ll be the longest of the Blocks on the board.


#2 BOLD RALLY (5/1)

#9 AMEN KITTEN (4/1)

#3 CAMMACK (15/1)

Longshot: Sorry, no “Animaniacs” references here and no longshot once again given that REIGNING CATFISH also defected on the day of the race.


For another look at both the Mike Spellman Memorial Handicap and the Black Tie Affair Handicap, read Nicolle Neulist’s analysis here.


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