Saturday afternoon at Arlington, Illinois three-year-olds take centre stage with a pair of stakes races going the one-turn mile over the polytrack.
Race 5: Springfield Stakes, Illinois-registered, three-year-olds, one mile on the polytrack, post time 3:46pm CST
The Springfield Stakes debuted in 1987, returned in 1989, and then ran each year through 2014 with the exceptions of 1998 and 1999. It failed to fill in 2015 (thanks, Recount!) or 2016 (thanks, Shogood!), but returned to the calendar in 2017. Over that time, it has always been run at a flat mile, a distance it keeps today.
The most accomplished of its winners made his stakes debut in the 2004 Springfield Stakes. After dismantling a field of Illinois-bred sophomores at generous 13/1 odds, Fort Prado would go on to win 18 of his 59 career starts, including a pair of Grade 3 races, before retiring to stud. His daughter Embarrassing won the Mike Spellman Memorial Handicap last weekend. On the other hand, stakes races were old hat by the time Tex’s Zing won the Springfield Stakes in 1989. Yet, he kept on winning stakes races here in Illinois — and, once, as far afield as Bay Meadows — to close his career with 17 wins in 28 starts. For such a consistent career, he was honoured with a stakes race in his name at Fairmount Park.
For a field of six, there is a lot of speed. A LOT of speed. D’FEVER and COLONEL KLINK have been exposed as one-way speed, and TAK ran his first two races right up on the early lead as well, and he is stretching out from a sprint to a mile for the first time.
That’s great news for DABO, who gets on the van from Kentucky to make his second appearance at the Arlington meet. He faced older horses for the first time in an allowance on opening weekend, beating them soundly. Since then he has run twice, and has a G3 placing at Woodbine to show for it, but now he returns to the surface over which he has been flat-out brilliant. The cut back to one turn is a question, but he did win his debut at six furlongs last year, suggesting that he doesn’t need to run all day to show a devastating turn of foot. All in all, it’s going to take a lot for anyone to outrun DABO at his own best game: closing into a strong pace over the Arlington polytrack.
There are two other closers in the field, D’ YANK and ANOTHER MYSTERY. D’ YANK has something to prove against horses of this quality, and has yet to try the polytrack. ANOTHER MYSTERY, however, is a cozy fit at the class level. He cleared his maiden and N1X conditions over open company earlier this meet, and did come running a bit late against far tougher foes in the American Derby (G3) last out. Both that maiden win and the N1X were over the polytrack, so the footing suits him beautifully. (Not like his love of polytrack is a surprise — both DABO and ANOTHER MYSTERY are by Temple City, who has emerged an excellent polytrack sire.) The big question about ANOTHER MYSTERY is the distance. He has never cut back to one turn before, and both his pedigree and his racetrack performance suggest that he is a two-turn horse.
Among the speed horses, TAK is the least exposed, and therefore the most interesting. His two polytrack races, though they came against claimers, were brilliant. He disputed the pace briefly before drawing off with authority in his debut, in a seven-furlong $12,500 maiden claimer on May 25. He returned the next month in a six-furlong $35,000 N2L, a level that, at Arlington, is only a hair’s breadth below a one-other-than, and ran them off their feet from gate to wire. His next time out, in a state-bred allowance turf dash, was a disappointment. Sent off at 2/5, he never got near the lead and never got involved. Perhaps turf isn’t his thing. Perhaps five furlongs isn’t his thing. But, now he moves back to the main track where he is proven, and stretches out. The question is whether he can handle either battling with or sitting off of D’FEVER and COLONEL KLINK, but there’s some upside to find out.
#1 DABO (9/5)
#3 ANOTHER MYSTERY (2/1)
#6 TAK (5/1)
Longshot: The longshot writer is still cranky about not betting DABO on debut, just because he was a full to polytrack savant Cooper’s Keeper.
Race 8: Sharon N. Kirby Memorial Stakes, Illinois-registered, three-year-old fillies, one mile on the polytrack, post time 4:36 pm CDT
Originally run as the Colfax Maid Stakes starting in 1976, this race was renamed the Purple Violet Stakes for Illinois’s state flower in 2000, and then was renamed in 2019 to honour Sharon Kirby. Sharon Kirby is the late wife of trainer Frank Kirby; the Kirbys co-owned Hondo Ranch in Monee, Illinois, where they bred, boarded, broke, and trained horses.
Always run on the main track — at Arlington, except for runnings in 1988 and 1995 at Hawthorne — it has been run at distances as short as six and a half furlongs, but has held firm at its current mile distance since 1997. Though La Tia went on to become a multiple graded stakes winner, including the 2014 Matriarch (G1), she made her stakes debut in Illinois-bred company: the 2012 Purple Violet Stakes, which she won in a frontrunning romp. Several former Illinois-bred stakes namesakes won this race: Pretty Jenny (2005) lent her name to a sophomore stakes race at Hawthorne in the spring, and All Sold Out (1982) and Bungalow (1990) both were namesakes of Fairmount Park races.
From the auction side, the highest-priced Illinois-bred ever sold at public auction won this race. 1995 Colfax Maid winner Sassy Pants won two stakes during her career: this one, and the Violet Stakes at Sportsman’s Park, also against state-breds. In the breeding shed, she produced Dubai Escapade (Awesome Again), who won the 1996 Ballerina Stakes (G1). Later that year, Sassy Pants sold at Keeneland November for $4,500,000, in foal to Storm Cat.
This year’s renewal of the Kirby is an odd duck, a race full of will-they-or-won’t-they.
It’s not uncommon to see two-year-old stakes full of maidens. Three-year-old stakes, especially halfway through the year? That’s a little more weird. And, out of eight horses who entered the Kirby? Five of them are maidens — including sentimental favourites STORMY EMPIRE and STOPSHOPPINGAMY, both bred by Sharon Kirby and trained by Frank Kirby.
And, as for distance? Among the eight entrants, only two of the runners have gone a mile or more. RONAN, who ran 2nd behind Irish Marvel in the mile-and-a-sixteenth Pat Whitworth Illinois Debutante, has made six starts at a mile or more, though she remains a maiden. And, W W FITZY ran the one-turn mile on the polytrack last out against open sophomore N1X/$75K fillies, tracking close to the pace before weakening late.
W W FITZY does get a class drop in this — a meaningful one, from a tough open allowance to a state-bred bunch that’s mostly maidens. And, she looks the speed of the speed. There have been others in this field who have shown some early gas, like SISTER RULER toward the inside and STOPSHOPPINGAMY outside her. But, both have also shown the ability to sit off the pace if they’re outjumped, and W W FITZY has the zip to outjump them.
And, W W FITZY should be able to stay the mile now that she is facing an easier bunch. She is by credible Illinois two-turn main-track sire Well Positioned out of Stormy Fitz, a Stormy Atlantic mare who retired a maiden, but whose only other foal to race, Fitz’s Storm, won at a route over both dirt and polytrack.
PATSY J is one of the other winners in the field, and she has been sharp in both her starts. The one issue with her is that it’s not clear she’s going to get enough pace to suit her stretch-running style. However, she may be able to get a bit closer to the pace on the stretch out, and if she can maintain her late kick, it would not be a surprise to see her run on smartly late. With all this talk about pedigree, PATSY J is bred to handle the stretch to a mile well: she is by Morning Line, who did well at a mile and even up to a mile and an eighth, who has been able to pass that forward, out of a mare whose only win came at a sprint, but who has been versatile enough to produce both sprinters and routers. A mile should suit PATSY J beautifully.
SISTER RULER is the class of the field. She hit the board in an open three-year-old filly allowance-optional last out, after winning an open maiden special, meaning she has plenty of form and plenty of polytrack acumen. She’ll certainly get a forward spot. But, does she want to stretch out to a mile? Despite being 3×3 to Cox Plate winner and Australian Hall of Famer Strawberry Road, analysis of the closer generations of SISTER RULER’s pedigree uncovers sprinter upon sprinter: Road Ruler is a top Illinois sire who leans heavily toward sprints. And, underneath? Her dam, the Marte mare Canyons Sister, has produced three winners, two by Road Ruler, who did all their winning at sprints. This is a close family that has won a lot of races here in Chicago, and Canyons Sister is half to two-time stakes winner Royal Posh, but it’s a family that flourishes sprinting. Might she have the class to close this out? Sure. But, as the likely favourite, and with a pedigree so uncertain to want the mile, it’s good to be a little wary.
#7 W W FITZY (7/2)
#1 PATSY J (4/1)
#2 SISTER RULER (5/2)
Longshot: When it comes to winners facing maidens, it makes sense to slant toward the winners, the ones who have proven both the talent and the desire to get their noses on the wire first. But, especially given how lightly-raced some of these maidens are, there’s still room for some over the others in this race to wake up, move forward, and make rolling the dice in a stakes race worth it for their connections. Among them, #8 STOPSHOPPINGAMY (5/1) has shown the most talent. She is a four-start maiden, but has run into the superfecta all four times. She has done so from near the pace or off it, though is probably better near the pace, and should get at least relatively close to the speed on the stretch out to a mile. It’s her first time going the mile, but she should like it. Her dam has produced winners at both sprint and route distances, and in STOPSHOPPINGAMY’s only start at an extended one-turn trip, she stalked the pace and missed by less than a length going six and a half furlongs on the polytrack. There is a question about the rider, as this will be Sophie Doyle’s first time riding, but STOPSHOPPINGAMY has had four riders in four different starts so far. She seems an adaptable sort, and looks like the maiden most likely to ruin the winners’ party.
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