The Pizza Man, Lovely Loyree Set for 2017 Debuts at Arlington This Saturday

Saturday at Arlington, the Illinois-bred turf routers take centre stage.  Though the fields in both the Black Tie Affair Handicap and the Mike Spellman Memorial Handicap drew short, they drew as classy as any Illinois-bred stakes race has in recent years.

The six-horse field for the Black Tie Affair Handicap features 2015 Arlington Million (G1) winner THE PIZZA MAN, making his first start since a third-place finish in the River City Handicap (G3) at Churchill last November.  Though this will be THE PIZZA MAN’s first foray into state-bred company since he won the 2014 Black Tie Affair Handicap, he faces a salty field including 2016 Black Tie Affair winner CAMMACK, multiple stakes-placed OAK BROOK, and last-out allowance-optional winner SUPER SOLDIER.

Multiple graded stakes placed mare LOVELY LOYREE makes her seasonal debut as part of a field of seven in the Mike Spellman Memorial Handicap.  She was the beaten favourite last year — and STORMIN ELLE, the mare who defeated her, returns to take her on once more.  The field also features Grade 3 winner PRADO’S SWEET RIDE and open stakes winner AMERICA MON AMIE.

Selections are made for turf only.  Morning lines were not available at original publish time.

Arlington Park: Saturday, June 17

Race 7: Mike Spellman Memorial Handicap, Illinois-bred fillies and mares, three-year-olds and up, one and one sixteenth miles on the turf, post time 4:44pm CDT

In 2015, this race took name in memory of Mike Spellman, longtime writer for the Daily Herald.  Spellman covered many sports during his career, became known for his “Spellman’s Scorecard” column, and had taken on the Chicago Blackhawks beat the year before his sudden passing in January of 2015.  But, he grew up going to the races at Arlington Park, and covered horse racing throughout his career for the Daily Herald.  Before the race took its name from Spellman, it was initially named after 1927’s champion two-year-old filly Anita Peabody, an Illinois-bred.  The race held that name from 1976-1997, then was christened the Lincoln Heritage Handicap from 2000-2014.  The most accomplished winner of this race in recent times was its 2013 victress, La Tia.  A multiple graded stakes winner, she would crown her career with a win in the 2014 Matriarch (G1) at Del Mar.


La Tia, winner of the 2013 Lincoln Heritage Handicap, wires the 2014 Matriarch (G1).

This year, STORMIN ELLE will vie to win her second Mike Spellman Memorial Handicap.  Should she accomplish the feat, she would join three other horses as multiple winners of this race: Lady Shirl (1990, 1991, 1993), My Own Lovely Lee (1996, 1997 in a DH with Barn Swallow), and Ioya Two (2000, 2001).  Two of those multiple winners became graded stakes quality broodmares, as well.  Lady Shirl produced 2011 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf (G1) winner Perfect Shirl, as well as 2007 Woodbine Mile (G1) winner Shakespeare.  Ioya Two produced a pair of Grade 3 winners: Amazing Results and Ioya Bigtime.

Despite the layoff, LOVELY LOYREE will likely go off the favourite.  It makes sense: the six-year-old mare has never missed the board in five starts over the Arlington grass, nor in ten starts over the mile and a sixteenth distance.  She gets the top rider in the colony, Jose Valdivia, Jr., in the irons.  (This is particularly interesting, as Valdivia has often ridden STORMIN ELLE in the past — and booted home ONE LIZ in the Isaac Murphy H. last weekend for the same connections.)  At her best, she’s the fastest horse here.  If LOVELY LOYREE is 100% ready for this start, she should be able to stalk off five-furlong type ROYALTY PRINCESS, take over when she sputters, and gallop comfortably home.

But — the question is if.  LOVELY LOYREE has not raced since last July, and this race may be just a prep for a defense in the Indiana General Assembly Distaff next month.  If she does not bring her best at this start, PRADO’S SWEET RIDE has form from this spring that could make a race of it — and this space will back her at a bit of a price.  A Grade 3 winner against her own age group as a sophomore, PRADO’S SWEET RIDE is as good as ever now, at age five.  She strung together a good four-race campaign in stakes company against open fillies and mares at Fair Grounds over the winter and spring.  Last out, she won the New Orleans Ladies Overnight Stakes over heavy favourite Cash Control, a horse of similar class and calibre as LOVELY LOYREE.  PRADO’S SWEET RIDE also ran too good to lose three starts back in the Marie Krantz Memorial Stakes, rallying late and missing by just a nose to Kitten’s Roar.  Both of those came at a mile and a sixteenth, the same distance as the Spellman.  Note, as well, that PRADO’S SWEET RIDE’s best efforts in New Orleans both came over turf with give — the New Orleans Ladies Overnight was over good ground, and the Krantz came over soft turf.  With rain in the forecast on Saturday, she should get that cut in the ground that she loves so much.

The third slot was a close call between STORMIN ELLE and AMERICA MON AMIE.  Both return to turf here after finishing off the board in a washed-out allowance on May 20.  Both stand to improve on grass.  But, AMERICA MON AMIE does her best work at a flat mile, not a mile an a sixteenth, and she prefers firmer ground.  STORMIN ELLE, on the other hand, is a true mile and a sixteenth mare, with better flashes of form over off going.  Advantage to last year’s Spellman winner, STORMIN ELLE.  Yes, it is a bit of a concern that she finished so well beaten in a polytrack try last out, given her back form over that surface.  But, STORMIN ELLE has not run between November and that outing, and she tends to need a start or two to get going.  Given that pattern, she should be sharper here.  Just like last year, she’ll have to run one of her best races to win the Spellman — but if she does find her best second off the lay, a repeat could happen.

Selections:

#2 PRADO’S SWEET RIDE (5/2)

#5 LOVELY LOYREE (7/5)

#4 STORMIN ELLE (5/1)

Longshot:  #1 SMILING GAMBLER (8/1) was well beaten last out — but she is a mare who needs a start or two under her before she really gets going.  That race on June 3 was her first start since November, and it came against open N2X/$35K males.  Here, she steps back into state-bred company and back against fillies and mares.  That last race also came at a flat mile.  A mile and a sixteenth, what she gets in the Spellman, is SMILING GAMBLER’s best distance.  Is winning this race a bridge too far?  Probably; she will have dig several years back in her form to have a shot to win, or hope everyone else takes a step back.  But, could SMILING GAMBLER factor into the exotics as the likely second-longest shot on the board?  With ROYALTY PRINCESS (almost certainly your longest shot) on the front end and the likes of LOVELY LOYREE and IMA LITTLE KITTEN also likely to be forward, SMILING GAMBLER could get the setup and round out the trifecta or superfecta.

Race 8: Black Tie Affair Handicap, Illinois-bred, three-year-olds and up, one and one sixteenth miles on the turf, post time 5:16pm CDT

Most Illinois-bred stakes races named after racehorses are named after runners who were themselves bred in the state.  Black Tie Affair was not bred in Illinois, but rather in Ireland.  However, he spent most of his career in the barn of local trainer Ernie Poulos.  Already a stakes winner at Philadelphia Park when he joined Poulos’s barn in the spring of his three-year-old year, Black Tie Affair found his best as an older horse.   At age four, he finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.  At age five, he capped off his season (and his career) with a string of six graded stakes wins, including a tenacious wire-to-wire win in the 1991 Breeders’ Cup Classic.


Black Tie Affair wires the 1991 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

The race was originally named the W. H. Bishop Handicap (1978-1997).  It was not run in 1998 or 1999, returned in 2000 as the Cardinal Handicap, and took its current name in 2001.  The race takes its name from a Breeders’ Cup winner, and one Breeders’ Cup winner has won this race — Buck’s Boy won in 1997, and would win the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) the following year.  In the second half of the 2000s, Fort Prado dominated this race.  He won it four times (2005-2007, 2009), and finished second in 2008.  Fort Prado’s half-brother by Giant’s Causeway, CAMMACK, won this race last year; he will attempt to join Fort Prado, former Fairmount Park stakes namesake Tex’s Zing (1989, 1990) and Homing Pigeon (1994, 1995) as the only horses to win this race more than once.  THE PIZZA MAN will also try to win this race for the second time; he won the Black Tie Affair in 2014.

Last year, Roger Brueggemann and Midwest Thoroughbreds brought THE PIZZA MAN back for his seasonal debut off a shorter-than-usual winter break, and against graded stakes company.  That didn’t work out for the best, and it took a while for THE PIZZA MAN to rise back into his meatiest form.  This year, they gave him more time off, and start him off at the softest level he has seen in about three years — state-bred company.  Will he be back to 100% here?  Perhaps not, thosugh he has a solid and consistent pattern of works since mid-April.  But, the question is whether THE PIZZA MAN will need to be 100%.  He faces some good horses here…but their best still leave something to be desired against what THE PIZZA MAN shows in his not-quite-best races.  Especially since he reassured us in Canada that he can run well from a bit closer to the pace?  As long as Jose Valdivia, Jr. gives him a smart ride, THE PIZZA MAN ought to get the dough.

Two others figure most strongly for the intra-race exotics…or for those who, unlike this space, think THE PIZZA MAN’s class will not prevail.  SUPER SOLDIER has won his last two, a N2X/$35K at Tampa in April, and a N2X/$35K two weeks back at Arlington.  In his last-out victory, his trip trouble down the stretch gave him every excuse to lose.  He would have been the “trip notes horse” no matter what.  But, instead of losing, he bulled through traffic and kicked clear to win by 2 1/4 lengths.  That brought his record over the Arlington grass to a sparkling 9: 5-0-3.  Though those last two wins came at a flat mile, SUPER SOLDIER also has enough form at a mile and a sixteenth to figure here, including a close third in a live rendition of the Black Tie Affair in 2015.  Long a frontrunning or close-stalking horse, SUPER SOLDIER has shown a midpack dimension recently — rider Julio Felix has options, and his recent form and excellent Arlington track record make him the premier threat should THE PIZZA MAN get caught in traffic on the way to the wire.

CAMMACK won this race last year, and his form this year suggests he has come back just as good at age seven.  After a few races of “too little, too late”, he has found the wire in his last two starts, which came in a starter stakes at Gulfstream and then a salty starter-optional at Tampa Bay Downs.  When CAMMACK is good at Arlington, he is very, very good: he has five wins and five off-board finishes in ten tries over their turf course.  Four of those victories came in his four local starts last year, bolstering the theory that CAMMACK is a better horse at six and seven than he was at three and four.  He also has a solid record over the distance, with four wins and a second in eight tries.  Will CAMMACK have to take a step up to challenge THE PIZZA MAN?  Sure.  But, on his home course, with the consistently good speed and form over the last year and a half, he’s the other logical candidate here.

Selections:

#3 THE PIZZA MAN (4/5)

#2 SUPER SOLDIER (7/2)

#1 CAMMACK (3/1)

Longshot:  The longshot writer usually remains quiet in a six-horse field.  And, should the race remain on the grass, this space cannot find enough to endorse anyone other than the three already discussed.  However, should the rain in the forecast be bad enough to wash the race off?  Too bad for OAK BROOK that Arlington’s main track is not dirt, as he is a slop monster par excellence.  It’s all-weather, so #6 EMPIRESTRIKESAGAIN (12/1) should be on the radar.  He has never hit the board on grass.  But, on the Arlington polytrack, he has hit the exacta in five of nine starts, including a resounding victory last out as a main-track only entry.  Even on polytrack, he has class to prove against this set.  But, should the race wash off, his affinity for the surface makes EMPIRESTRIKESAGAIN a live price shot.

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