Previewing the 2017 Ride to the Million

The name may have changed, but it's still one of the best local racing days all year.

Arlington may be calling it the Ride to the Million presented by Miller Lite (instead of Million Preview Day), but Saturday's features are the same four local preps for the Arlington International Festival of Racing that you know and love: the Arlington Handicap (G3), the Stars and Stripes Stakes (G3), the Modesty Handicap (G3), and the American Derby (G3).  These four graded turf stakes give locals the chance to test their mettle, and give shippers the chance to compete over the local oval, tighten the screws, and make sure they will be ready to handle the course come Arlington Million (G1) Day on August 12.

Here, Picks and Ponderings gives you a full preview of Saturday's four graded stakes races at Arlington Park.

Selections have been made for turf only.

Race 5: American Derby (G3), three-year-olds, one and one eighth miles on the turf, post time 3:33pm CDT

Run for the 103rd time this year, and boasting a purse of $100,000, the American Derby began at the old Washington Park, was run once at Hawthorne, resurfaced at the second Washington Park, but has been based at Arlington since 1958.  Its very first edition, run in 1884, was won by a horse who lends her name to one of the other co-featured stakes on this card: Modesty.  Two Triple Crown winners count themselves winners of the American Derby as well: Whirlaway (1941) and Citation (1948).  Prominent sires Native Dancer (1953), Round Table (1957), and Buckpasser (1966) also won this race.

Originally on the dirt, the race has gone through many incarnations, but was moved to the turf for good (well, barring horrid rainstorms...) in 1992, the year Illinois-bred The Name's Jimmy took the laurels.  It currently serves as the local prep for the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes.  Two horses have parlayed a victory in the American Derby into Secretariat Stakes glory: Honor Glide (1997) and Gun Salute (2005).

Former Arlington stakes namesake Swoon's Son takes the 1956 American Derby.

In this field of seven, speed looks likely to hold.  SONIC BOOM and HEMBREE ought to be forward, though HEMBREE is better going short than going long.  GRAND MARAIS likes to be forward, as well, but is probably too slow to keep up with those two early -- not to mention, this would be first-time turf for him, and his breeding is questionable for the turf.  With this the case, SONIC BOOM looks like the one to beat here.  He will be forward, but he has the ability to press and even stalk a bit.  His speeds are strong for the field.  As long as he can see out the nine-furlong trip, he should be tough here.

On the other hand, the nine-furlong trip is not the question for GORGEOUS KITTEN.  He won at the distance two starts ago, and should relish the stretch back out to that distance here.  The question with GORGEOUS KITTEN, however, is the pace.  He will be the one rallying from off the pace and posing the most credible challenge to SONIC BOOM down the stretch.  He does have some tactical ability; he does not have to rally from the clouds.

That said, SONIC BOOM and GORGEOUS KITTEN are the two clear standouts in the field; this space would feel comfortable going two deep here in any multi-race wagers, and moving on.  Among the rest, the one who appeals the best for a piece underneath is MY BARILEY.  He comes in here second off a break, and has been able to rally for at least a piece without a fiery pace in front of him.  Among the closers, he is a bit less pace-dependent than IMPOSING WILL, and a bit less class-challenged than maiden KALININGRAD.  He also has some chance of being able to handle the nine-furlong trip, as a Mizzen Mast half to America Mon Amie.


#2 SONIC BOOM (7/5)


#3 MY BARILEY (12/1)

Longshot:  The longshot writer did their work tipping MY BARILEY to use under in this modest edition of the American Derby, and has chosen to move on to the Modesty.

Race 6: Modesty Handicap (G3), three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, one and three sixteenths miles on the turf, post time 4:06pm CDT

The Modesty Handicap will be run for the 61st time this year, and offers a purse of $100,000.  It began at Washington Park in 1942, and has been run at Arlington almost steadily since 1962, though did move to Hawthorne in 1985.  The race takes its name from Modesty -- a filly who beat males in the first American Derby in 1884.  Her rider that day was none other than a fellow Arlington Park stakes namesake: Isaac Murphy, who has an Illinois-bred filly and mare sprint run in his name each summer.  Murphy also won the Kentucky Oaks with Modesty earlier that year, the only Kentucky Oaks win of his illustrious riding career.

Nowadays, the Modesty Handicap serves as the local prep for the Beverly D (G1), covering the same course and distance.  Originally run on dirt, but moved to the grass in the 1960s, the race's winners include current Keeneland stakes namesake Bewitch (1948), onetime Hawthorne stakes namesake Indian Maid (1960, 1961), Illinois-bred Grade 1 winner (and Grade 1 producer) Lady Shirl (1991), and recent Grade 1 producer Chic Dancer (2006).

Eight fillies and mares passed the entry box, and there's going to be plenty of pace in this race: DARING DUCHESS and LA PIBA reliably show speed, and STORMIN ELLE and ONE LIZ do so at times, as well.  In other words, DONA BRUJA should get a beautiful setup.  Last out, in her first start since coming over from Argentina, DONA BRUJA won the Mint Julep Handicap (G3) at Churchill.  There, she ran down an even better speed horse than anyone here: Believe in Bertie.  There, that one got a bit of early pressure.  Here, DONA BRUJA's trainer Ignacio Correas has ensured something similar would happen: stablemate LA PIBA looks a little overmatched here, but her running style makes it clear that she's here to keep DARING DUCHESS honest, and set things up for DONA BRUJA.  This mare also has the stamina to see out the trip; she won a pair of Group-level races in Argentina at a mile and a quarter.  Her race last out proves she can compare with the American turf set, and DONA BRUJA looks well-intentioned here.

TIME AND MOTION has not won yet in two starts this year, but she takes a class drop here.  Last out, she as a close third behind Hawksmoor and Dacita in the Beaugay (G3); Hawksmoor would return to win the New York Stakes (G2) next out.  The time before that, her seasonal debut, she was sixth beaten three lengths -- but beaten by the likes of Dickinson and Lady Eli.  This is enough to make TIME AND MOTION the class of the field.  Her running style also suits the field, as she prefers to rally from midpack and gets a pace target here.  Though she loses regular rider John Velazquez (he is riding at Belmont, including star-in-the-making Yoshida in the Belmont Oaks), TIME AND MOTION gets an excellent replacement in Florent Geroux.  If he can coax out TIME AND MOTION's best, she stands as Dona Bruja's most formidable rival.

PRADO'S SWEET RIDE disappointed last out, running third in the Mike Spellman Memorial Handicap.  However, speed held well that day, and that was her first start since April.  Here, the Fort Prado mare comes second off the lay, and gets more pace to chase.  Her middle and late pace figures compare well with the better among her foes, and the form she showed over the winter at Fair Grounds is close to what she needs to do well here.  She keeps trainer Chris Block's "A" rider in Carlos Marquez, Jr.  PRADO'S SWEET RIDE is already a Grade 3 winner at a mile and an eighth -- the stretch to a mile and three sixteenths is a question, but with the favourable setup and a likely fair price, it's a chance worth taking.


#1 DONA BRUJA (8/5)



Longshot: #5 ONE LIZ (20/1) is one of two Illinois-bred longshots sent out by trainer Wayne Catalano, and looks to be a bit better form than stablemate STORMIN ELLE.  She also has a bit better distance breeding -- they are out of the same mare, but her sire (Kitalpha) is a better stamina influence than her stablemate's (Stormello).  Though ONE LIZ stretches out from a victory in a six-furlong sprint stakes, she won going two turns two starts back.  Particularly interesting for a stretch-out type, particularly as one with so much early speed in her back tries at a route, ONE LIZ was able to rate and rally in that seasonal debut back in May.  Though both of her tries this year have come on the synthetic, ONE LIZ has done most of her running on turf, and has won both of her tries over the Arlington grass earlier in her career.  She will be a long shot -- and has so much class to prove that she deserves to be -- but one of her better races makes her interesting.

Race 8: Stars and Stripes Stakes (G3), three-year-olds and up, one and one half miles on the turf, post time 5:10pm CDT

This year marks the 86th running of the Stars and Stripes Stakes.   Currently, the race serves as the local prep for the American St. Leger Stakes (G3), and offers a purse of $100,000.  It has produced one American St. Leger winner so far: Illinois-bred THE PIZZA MAN parlayed his victory in the local prep into an American St. Leger victory in 2014.  The next year, he became the sixth horse to win the race more than once -- and then proceeded to become the first Illinois-bred winner of the Arlington Million (G1), and the first one to follow up a Stars and Stripes victory with a win in the big one.  Though THE PIZZA MAN finished just fourth last year, he returns this year and will once again attempt to join Rossi Gold among the ranks of three-time Stars and Stripes winners: Rossi Gold won it in a dead heat with Ben Fab in 1981, then alone in 1982 and 1983.

Stop me if you've heard this one before: a horse wins an allowance-optional at Churchill, Mike Maker claims him for owner Michael Hui, and they come to the Stars and Stripes next.  Okay, I'll stop...that happened last year with Stars and Stripes winner Greengrassofyoming.  But, that's also the case with 2017 Stars and Stripes entrant FLASHY CHELSEY.  (Fun fact: FLASHY CHELSEY was also third behind Greengrassofyoming in the race from which they claimed Greengrassofyoming last year.)  Trainer Mike Maker wins 20% of the time with runners first off the claim, and he excels at claiming long-distance horses and getting the best out of them quickly.  Greengrassofyoming is not the only one: Maker got star stayer Da Big Hoss via the claim box as well, as well as the long-winded Taghleeb.  And, in the Stars and Stripes specifically?  FLASHY CHELSEY is reunited with rider Robby Albarado, and should benefit from some pace in front of him courtesy of APPLICATOR, ONE GO ALL GO, MONGOL G, and perhaps even BELOMOR or FEODOR.

FLASHY CHELSEY is only one of two in the nine-horse field sent out by trainer Mike Maker; the other, KEYSTONEFORVICTORY, deserves a look as well.  He has won three out of his four starts, with his lone defeat in that span being a third-place finish in Ken and Sarah Ramsey's favourite tropical paradise, Barbados.  Last out, KEYSTONEFORVICTORY stretched to a mile and a half for the first time, and rallied to score by daylight.  This will be a bit of a class test compared to that, but his best races compare well speed-wise.  And, KEYSTONEFORVICTORY also has the versatility to stalk close to the pace or rally from well off.  Given how rider Julien Leparoux has ridden him in the past, it would be no surprise to see him sitting in the next flight off the pace battle, and to get that first run on the leaders.

Does THE PIZZA MAN have a chance to repeat here?  Sure, he has a chance if he brings his meatiest race.  There's an argument for using him defensively.  Unlike last out, this is a stakes and not a handicap -- so he carries 117, just like everyone but BODHISATTVA (who carries 121).  He is well-proven over the course, and well-proven over the distance.  He will not only be tighter second off the lay, but will benefit from getting far more pace to run at here than he did last out in the Black Tie Affair.  What's the rub with THE PIZZA MAN?  The price, of course.  His class, his form over the course, the return of Florent Geroux to the irons, and his fan favourite status will make his price at the windows rather thin.




#5 THE PIZZA MAN (8/5)

Longshot:  Turf is the question for #2 BODHISATTVA (12/1), as he has not tried the green stuff yet.  But, if he can translate his dirt form to turf, this deep closer always seems to invade the frame when there's some early pace in front of him.  He gets that here.  This race is also a class drop from his last two starts; he's not chasing around the likes of Shaman Ghost, Imperative, or War Story, or even their turf equivalents.  BODHISATTVA also gets the services of rider Blake Shinn.  Shinn can ride a closer fearlessly, and has begun to find his stride during his summer residency at Arlington.  Expect him to get BODHISATTVA rolling.  If this horse, already with a win at a mile and an eighth, can stretch out the extra half-furlong and take to the grass, he will be a threat in the late stages.

Race 9: Arlington Handicap (G3), three-year-olds and up, one and three sixteenths miles on the turf, post time 5:40pm CDT

Though the Grade 3 Arlington Handicap currently serves as the local prep for the Arlington Million, it predates the Million by a few years.  The Handicap was first run in 1929 over the Arlington main track.  It was first run on turf in 1941, though it periodically moved from the turf to the dirt and back over the years.  It has been regularly carded for turf since 1972, and only run on the main twice since then: 1972 and 1975, when it was moved due to turf course conditions.  This year, the race offers a purse of $100,000.

Since the inception of the Arlington Million in 1981, no winner of the Arlington Handicap has won Arlington's richest race.  However, four winners of this local prep have gone on to finish second in the Million: Evanescent (1993), Fanmore (1994), Just as Well (2009), and KASAQUI (2016).  Though his best finish in the Million was third, few in the history of the Arlington Handicap stand out the way Rahystrada did.  He won the race three times: in 2010, 2012, and 2013.  KASAQUI has entered to defend his Arlington Handicap crown.  Should he find the winners' circle once again, he will join Rahystrada, Round Table (1958-1959), and Cosmonaut (2006-2007) as a repeat winner of this race.

A game Rahystrada wins his third Arlington Handicap.

MANITOULIN has not yet tried graded stakes company, but this is the right time.  He has turned a corner at age four, and is a perfect two-for-two this year in classy allowance company.  He won by daylight both times, and had Florent Geroux in the irons both times.  Arlington's prodigal son returns to ride MANITOULIN here.  The pace should set up for him: with APPLICATOR, CREWMAN, and OAK BROOK in the field, the front-end clip will be honest.  That said, MANITOULIN has proven himself tactical enough to handle either a slower pace or a faster one.  He also has the stamina to get the 1 3/16 mile trip.  His allowance wins both came at nine furlongs, and his maiden win came at eleven, so he has all the stamina you'd hope to see from an Awesome Again son out of a Kris S. mare.  This will be a class test, but this looks like a perfectly calculated James Toner move.

Trainer Mike Maker, always dangerous on the grass, has two in here among the field of nine.  The 1 3/16 mile trip is on the short side for TAGHLEEB -- he would be a better fit for the Stars and Stripes, but Maker has two others in there.  However, the trip hits SIR DUDLEY DIGGES right between the eyes.  He won the Queen's Plate last year going a mile and a quarter on all-weather, and won an allowance at Churchill last out going a mile and an eighth on the grass.  The pace should also set up for him for the same reasons as discussed with MANITOULIN; SIR DUDLEY DIGGES has good form coming from a handful of lengths off a hot pace.

KASAQUI is a defensive use.  His emphatic win last out in the Wise Dan (G2) shows that he is rounding back into form.  He shined last year at Arlington, with a smart victory in the Arlington Handicap and a close second in the Arlington Million.  He is well proven at the distance, never out of the exacta in six starts between 1 3/16 and 1 1/4 miles.  And, he has James Graham aboard.  It has been a few years, but Graham used to ride at Arlington regularly, and "James Graham going long on the grass" was a great angle when he hung his tack here.  But, KASAQUI will be a defined favourite -- while dragging ten more pounds than MANITOULIN, eight more than SIR DUDLEY DIGGES.  Could he still do it?  Sure, and it would be difficult not to use him at all.  But, others appeal more at the likely prices.




#5 KASAQUI (9/5)

Longshot:  Let's go with the home team here: #2 CAMMACK (20/1).  Last out in the Black Tie Affair, OAK BROOK beat him, but OAK BROOK will have more to handle on the front end with the likes of APPLICATOR and CREWMAN here.  CAMMACK's off-pace style should be more effective.  And, it stands out that Carlos Marquez rides CAMMACK -- he has been the "A" rider for both Chris Block (CAMMACK's trainer) and Dee Poulos (CREWMAN's conditioner) in recent times, and booted CREWMAN home to Grade 3 glory in the Hanshin Cup earlier this meet.  A mile and three sixteenths is the question.  But, he has good form at a mile and an eighth, and he is a Giant's Causeway half to Fort Prado (a Grade 3 winner at distances as long as a mile and an eighth).  So, the stretch out merits a shot.


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