2018 Black Tie Affair Handicap and Mike Spellman Memorial Handicap Preview

With a Triple Crown on the line and supporting action that actually deserves being compared to a mid-year Breeders’ Cup, Picks and Ponderings has spend much of this week looking at Belmont Park.  (Friday here; Saturday here).  But, at our heart, we are a Chicago website.  And, we would be remiss if we did not look at the pair of excellent Illinois-bred turf stakes happening at Arlington Park on Saturday.

Open company has the Black Tie Affair Handicap; fillies and mares have the Mike Spellman Memorial Handicap.  Both races were originally slated to cover a mile and a sixteenth on the grass, though both have been washed off to the polytrack after heavy rains Friday night and Saturday morning.  Both are for ages three and up.  Both offer purses of $75,000: $50,000 for any Illinois-foaled horse, and an extra $25,000 for those conceived in the state as well.  Though both drew relatively small fields, they both drew high-quality fields: stakes mainstay CAMMACK and up-and-comers like DON’TASK DON’TTELL, MEMORY BANK, and CHRISTIAN C among the males, and well-established mares like PRADO’S SWEET RIDE and ONE LIZ on the fillies’ side.

Picks for the Black Tie Affair Handicap and the Mike Spellman Memorial Handicap have been updated on June 9 in light of the move to the polytrack, and in light of the scratches of LOVELY LOYREE and GODDESS OF KIP from the Spellman.

Arlington Park: Saturday, June 9

Race 5: Black Tie Affair Handicap, Illinois-registered, three-year-olds and up, one and one sixteenth miles on the polytrack (originally carded for turf), post time 3:40pm 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 two years ago.  He finished second last year, and this year he will again 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. 

Speed in a short field is dangerous when there isn’t much of it.  And, when you have a horse game enough to figure strongly even if someone could go with him, they get even more dangerous.  Enter CHRISTIAN C.  The Kitalpha gelding makes his second start of the season.  His return in the Hanshin Cup was not great, but he didn’t start well, and from there he had no way of outjumping the likes of GONEGHOST.  He will be fitter here, and a better start puts him right on the front.  He has two good races sprinting on the polytrack last year, and with his two-turn form on grass, he has every right to stretch out.  Plus, the polytrack can get rather speed-friendly on rainy days.  He holds the upper hand in a game of catch-me-if-you-can.


With the move to polytrack. MEMORY BANK becomes quite dangerous.  He broke his maiden over the polytrack in a washed-off race last year (over DON’TASK DON’TTELL), and showed a good staking style in that race.  He has shown tactical speed when he need it, and he stalked and pounced to score in an Illinois-bred allowance last time out.  Though he needs a step forward from that to win this race, MEMORY BANK’s form from last year suggests that he has plenty of room to improve second off the lay.

It’s impossible to talk about this year’s Black Tie Affair without talking about the barn of trainer Chris Block — after all, he conditions three of the six runners.  CAMMACK, the morning line favourite, is a class horse.  But, with his closing style, it looks worth taking a shot against him at a short price here.  FORT RIDGE is in a bit tough, but has some longshot appeal.  DON’TASK DON’TTELL is not just a clever Pride Month name play.  He’s Block’s best shot to win.  He appealed a bit more on the turf than on the polytrack, but in his only polytrack race at Arlington last year, he sat a little further off the pace than he has been in his most recent starts.  The better tactical speed can pay dividends here, and ought to give him the jump on his stablemate.


#5 CHRISTIAN C (2/1)

#1 MEMORY BANK (9/2)


Longshot:  The longshot writer took a pass on the turf…but the move to polytrack uncovers some longshot potential in FORT RIDGE.  On class he looks in a little tough, and his last few races have not been great.  But, he is a perfect two-for-two on the polytrack: clearing allowance conditions, as opposed to the claiming races he has been winning on turf.  The pair of polytrack wins also feature two of the top three Brisnet figures he has ever run.  FORT RIDGE will have to run back to that career best form to win this, but even if the move to the polytrack just gets him close, he’s a threat for the exotics at a nice price.

Race 7: Mike Spellman Memorial Handicap, Illinois-registered fillies and mares, three-year-olds and up, one and one sixteenth miles on the polytrack (originally carded for turf), post time 4:52pm CDT

In 2015, this race took its 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.  Further back in time, Lady Shirl also stands tall.  The only three-time winner of this race, Lady Shirl was not only a Grade 1 winner (1991 Flower Bowl) and multiple graded stakes winner in her own right, but she also produced 2011 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner Perfect Shirl, multiple Grade 1 winner Shakespeare, and multiple graded stakes winner Lady Shakespeare.

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

LOVELY LOYREE, last year’s winner, was originally entered for an attempt to win this race for the second time, but scratched when the race was moved off the grass.  There have been several horses who have won this race multiple times: Magnetic Type (1984, 1986), Lady Shirl (1990, 1991, 1993), My Own Lovely Lee (1996, 1997), Ioya Two (2000, 2001), and Cumulonimble (2010, 2012).  Though ONE LIZ has not won the Mike Spellman Memorial, she did win the Isaac Murphy Handicap last year — and her half-sister Stormin Elle (Stormello) won the 2016 edition of the Spellman.

The race drew a field of seven originally, though LOVELY LOYREE and GODDESS OF KIP have both been withdrawn now that the race is on polytrack.  Though ONE LIZ figured some on turf, she becomes downright dangerous with the move to polytrack.  She is well proven over the surface, with five wins in six tries over it.  Even though her victory last out came at one turn, she has proven herself well at two turns as well.  ONE LIZ also has early speed — enough to keep DREAMOFJEAN E. honest.  Since DREAMOFJEAN E. does better uncontested and ONE LIZ can win a pace battle, that makes ONE LIZ look the one likely to survive the front end, and the game grey mare may prove mighty hard to catch.

However, with the move to polytrack and the scratch of the also-speedy LOVELY LOYREE, you can’t count rail-drawn speedster DREAMOFJEAN E. out completely.  She does come in off a lay, but trainer Larry Rivelli tends to get layoff horses ready, and this mare has run well off a lay in the past.  DREAMOFJEAN E. also loves the polytrack, as evidenced by her eight wins and six seconds in eighteen tries over all-weather footing, most of which have come locally.  She is the speed in this short field, and if the track ends up playing heavily for speed (as it can on rainy days) or ONE LIZ ends up rating a little too far off the speed, DREAMOFJEAN E. might be gone.

PRADO’S SWEET RIDE is a question on the polytrack, as she has only raced on it once.  She finished off the board, but that was her debut as a juvenile — so, you can’t put a ton of stock in that.  She should be fit second off the lay, and she comes off a good effort against males in the Milwaukee Avenue Handicap last out at Hawthorne, where she chased Goneghost every step of the way.  That had her a little closer to the pace than his her best style — and the fear is, she may have to be a little closer than she likes once again.  But, PRADO’S SWEET RIDE is the class of the field, and she is too fast not to include in the mix even with the pace and surface questions.


#5 ONE LIZ (3/1)



Longshot: With this race scratched down to five, the longshot writer is saving their greenbacks for Belmont.


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