Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Road to the 2014 Million – Vol. 5: Wednesday, July 9, 2014

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Road to the 2014 Million – Vol. 5:  Wednesday, July 9, 2014            
  • Arlington Million XXXII:  Main Sequence Greets America in Style
  • Beverly D.:  Clement Serves Notice with Aigue Marine
  • Secretariat:  Mr. Speaker Roars into the Picture
  • American St. Leger:  Still Waiting for a Standout

        Last weekend's Grade I United Nations Stakes at Monmouth Park saw a promising Stateside debut for recent English import Main Sequence.  Owned by the Niarchos Family's Flaxman Holdings, the homebred son of Aldebaran was also making his first start for trainer Graham Motion after previously residing at the Kingsdown yard of David Lanigan.  The highlights of his Lanigan tenure include an excellent second in the 2012 Group I English Derby behind Camelot and a runner-up finish in the Group II Great Voltigeur Stakes at York that year, defeating subsequent Group I St. Leger victor Encke and 2014 Group I Tattersalls Gold Cup conqueror – and Frankel's little brother – Noble Mission.
        On Sunday, it was Main Sequence's day to take a win at the top level.  Despite a wide trip under Rajiv Maragh, the chestnut mowed down Twilight Eclipse and globetrotting English invader Side Glance to win the race in the final strides.  The next stop is not certain for the charge, but if he is aimed at the Grade I Arlington Million, it will make for a potent one-two punch from the Niarchos family, which already has Smoking Sun eying the race from France for trainer Pascal Bary.
        The aforementioned Side Glance – a very good third in last year's Million, as well – is very much possible for a return to Chicagoland.  A Group I winner whose best distance is somewhere between nine and 10 furlongs, he may have been a step beyond his best trip at Monmouth.  Additionally, he seemed very fresh and displayed such by uncharacteristically setting the pace under Jamie Spencer.  Despite that, the race could go a long way in sharpening him for another go at Arlington for owner Pearl Bloodstock and trainer Andrew Balding. 
        Overseas, Shadwell's Mukhadram finally broke through at the top level with a dynamite performance in the Group I Coral Eclipse Stakes at Sandown.  Too often a bridesmaid, including runner-up finishes in last year's Eclipse Group I Prince of Wales's Stakes and this year's Grade I Dubai World Cup, the son of Shamardal ran away from Group I Irish Derby winner and recent Godolphin acquisition Trading Leather.  Though it is assumed Mukhadram will head directly to York for the Juddmonte International Stakes, one should not count out the Jim Bolger-trained runner-up, especially considering Godolphin's penchant for international glory.
         The next three weekends each include a key race to watch.  Saturday at Arlington, last year's Grade I Secretariat winner Admiral Kitten aims to return to his former glory over the course and 1¼-miles distance of both his aforementioned victory and the Arlington Million.  The Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey homebred is hoping to garner an entry into the Million with a quality showing, but will have to go through Diamond M. Stable's War Dancer, who is coming into fine form for trainer Kenny McPeek, as well as Team Valor's Infinite Magic, winner of last year's Grade III American Derby for Rick Mettee. 
        Two other races to watch are the Grade I Eddie Read Stakes at Del Mar on July 20 and the Group II York Stakes in England on July 26.  While it has been since Tight Spot in 1991 that a horse has landed the Eddie Read/Million double, the York Stakes as recently as last year produced the horse to cross the finish line first (and later be disqualified), The Apache, as well as the beaten morning line Million favorite, Grandeur.

Two graded stakes for fillies and mares over the grass highlighted the lead-up to the Grade I Beverly D. this past weekend.  Aigue Marine dismantled 11 other distaffers in the Grade III Robert G. Dick Memorial at Delaware Park, while Overheard displayed her grit to win the Grade II Dance Smartly Stakes at Woodbine. 
While she may be mostly a 1½-miles mare, Haras du Mezeray and Skymarc Farm's Aigue Marine has consistently proven she can drop a furlong to 1 3/8 miles, as she did with aplomb in the Dick Memorial.  The question, if Christophe Clement decides to bring her to Arlington International Racecourse for the Beverly D., is how she will handle a two-turn event after eight consecutive three-turn races since her arrival from France in the fall of 2012.  Still, even with that query, the daughter of Galileo is one worthy of note, as she inhaled the field at Delaware Park and asserted herself in arguably the best performance of her career.
Meanwhile in Canada at Woodbine, Pin Oak Stable's Overheard was a tenacious winner of the Dance Smartly over a one-turn 1 1/8-miles course.  Trained by Malcolm Pierce, the daughter of Macho Uno closed resolutely to overtake stablemate Deceptive Vision by a nose.  Last year, Solid Appeal used the Dance Smartly as a stepping stone to the Beverly D., but unfortunately encountered Dank that day. 
As far as an update on the reigning champion of the Beverly D., James Wigan's aforementioned warrior mare is still very possible for a return trip to Arlington, but may run in the Group I Nassau Stakes two weeks prior, instead.  While this is bad news for American fans of the reigning Eclipse champion turf filly, it is not the final word in the participation of the Michael Stoute trainee in either race.  The Nassau is coming up very strong this year, with Grade I winners The Fugue, Thistle Bird and Sky Lantern among the 29 preliminary entries. 
Races to watch over the next couple weeks include the Grade III Modesty at the course and distance of the Beverly D. at Arlington this Saturday and the Grade I Diana Stakes at Saratoga July 19.  A full field of talented fillies and mares are entered in the Modesty, including local favorite Kepi for trainer Brian Williamson, Todd Pletcher's invading charge Ana Luisa and Clement's intriguing graded stakes-placed Tabreed, who will be making her seasonal debut.  The Diana is expected to draw a competitive field of Beverly D. possibles, including Stephanie's Kitten.  This year, unlike in the past few, the Diana is four weeks out from the Beverly D., which will presumably increase the likelihood of fillies and distaffers running in both Grade I events.

        Phipps Stable's once Triple Crown-trailed Mr. Speaker has always been well regarded by trainer Shug McGaughey, but on Saturday July 5, he went one step farther when accelerating past favored Irish invader Adelaide in the Grade I Belmont Derby Invitational to score at the wire by a neck.  The victory landed him $670,000 and square in the picture for the Grade I $500,000 Secretariat Stakes on Arlington Million Day at Arlington International Racecourse.
        Coolmore's Adelaide made a winning run to the lead before being tagged in the final 150 yards.  The positive performance of the international powerhouse stable bodes well for their participation at Arlington five weeks later, whether with the aforementioned son of Galileo or one of the many other sophomores they possess.  One such nominee who fits the profile is recent Group I Irish Derby runner-up Kingfisher.  Originally sent as a rabbit for winner Australia, Kingfisher held on gamely for the place.  The run was similar to that of Treasure Beach's runner-up finish in the 2011 English Derby before he won a weak edition of its Irish equivalent and then the Secretariat seven weeks later. 
        Another to watch out of the Belmont Derby is French invader Gailo Chop, who went off a 9-2 fourth-choice and ran to his odds, finishing a respectable fourth after a mild bid at the top of the stretch.  A gelding unable to compete in the French classics because of his unfortunate pruning, it would be no surprise to see him prolong his stay for trainer Antoine de Watrigant and owners OTI Racing and Alain Chopard. 
Disappointments in the race included the well backed domestic duo of Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey's Bobby's Kitten and Glen Hill Farm's Global View.  While the former tipped his hand to a lack of stamina and therefore is unlikely to contest the Secretariat, the latter is to attempt to atone his lackluster Belmont run at the Chicagoland course at which he is based on Aug. 16.
Canada's biggest day of racing – Queen's Plate Day – included a Secretariat possible in the Ramsey's Todd Pletcher-trained beaten favorite We Miss Artie.  The son of Breeders' Cup Mile winner Artie Schiller fits the bill not only because of his erratic trip and consequential alibis, but also because of his connections' knack for winning Grade I races at Arlington – including two in the Secretariat. 
        Across the pond in England, Godolphin's talented sophomore True Story made a quality account of himself in the Group I Coral Eclipse Stakes, finishing a competitive fifth against older horses in the 1¼-miles event.  By European Horse of the Year Manduro, the bay colt was making his first start since a seventh-place showing in the English Derby in June and a quality third behind subsequent Group I French Derby winner The Grey Gatsby in the Group II Dante Stakes in May.  Trained by five-time Million starter Saeed bin Suroor, who won the Festival centerpiece in 2003 with Sulamani, True Story could appreciate a return to his own age group over a course which has been kind to his connections.
        The same can be said for Godolphin's rival Coolmore, as its sophomore War Command ran seventh in the Eclipse and raced like a colt who may appreciate a 10-furlong attempt against his own crop.  Always well regarded by trainer Aidan O'Brien, the Group I-winning son of War Front is co-owned by American Joseph Allen and has often carried his green and white checkered silks.  Being by one of America's top studs, owned by the same connections as who brought Declaration of War to the States last year to finish third in the Grade I Breeders' Cup Classic and trained by the winner of the 2011 Secretariat – it would be no surprise to see him go from simple 'nominee' to invading probable.
        The key prep this weekend will be the Grade III American Derby over Arlington's world-renowned turf course.  A mere sixteenth of a mile shorter than the Secretariat, the $200,000 fixture produced last year's Secretariat winner Admiral Kitten for the Ramseys.  This year it will include Team Block's highly esteemed Afortable, a three-quarter brother to talented marathoner Suntracer, as well as the Todd Pletcher-trained Divine Oath and European shipper Our Channel from the white-hot yard of William Haggas – trainer of Eclipse victor Mukhadram.  Another race to watch through the month of July is the $125,000 Toronto Cup over a grassy 1 1/8 miles at Woodbine on July 20.
The third edition of the Listed $400,000 American St. Leger progressively looks to be a tough affair.  Overseas, two-time defending champion conditioner – and only trainer to win the race – Marco Botti has yet to reveal whom he will send from his expansive selection of stayers, but the assumption is that Darren Dance's syndicate Australian Thoroughbred Bloodstock would love to win its third edition.  Their best shot is presumably with classy defending champ Dandino, who exits a commendable mid-pack finish in the Group II Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot – his first race since a tough trip landed him fourth in the world's most prestigious marathon, the Group I Melbourne Cup in Australia. 
Stateside, two possible St. Leger runners were in action in Sunday's Grade I United Nations Stakes at Monmouth Park.  A furlong longer than the Grade I Arlington Million and 5/16 miles shorter than the St. Leger, the U.N. can serve as a stamina checkpoint for horses unsure which International Festival of Racing event they should consider.  A duo who appeared to want more ground than the 1 3/8-miles Monmouth turf event were Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey's Charming Kitten and West Point Thoroughbreds' Twilight Eclipse. 
Charming Kitten seemed to flourish when winning the two-mile Belmont Gold Cup a race prior, but did not enjoy his trip on the tighter turns and less gallop-friendly Monmouth course.  The Ramseys last year were sadly forced to scratch Dark Cove – arguably the top American hope in the first two runnings of the American St. Leger – within 24 hours of the race.  Charming Kitten, an honest and multiple graded stakes-placed homebred who seems to have found a home at marathon distances, could provide a welcome consolation.
Twilight Eclipse is highly likely to pursue the Grade I Sword Dancer at Saratoga next, but his connections were on the American St. Leger fence until late in the game last year with the endurance-laden son of Grade III Arlington Classic winner Purim.  The tough bay was second in the Sword Dancer last year and could be a serious threat to do one placing better if his connections decide on the Chicagoland route in lieu of Upstate New York. 
        Canada produced a competitive renewal of the Grade III Singspiel Stakes this past Saturday when Sam-Son Farm's Malcolm Pierce-trained Aldous Snow outbid Charles Fipke's Roger Attfield-trained Perfect Timber.  Run over a slightly undulating 1½-miles course, the Singspiel has the look of an ideal prep for the St. Leger, but has yet to produce a serious contender.  Still, Sam-Son and Fipke have never been shy about sending horses to Arlington and in these two fine 5-year-olds, they seem to have a duo of dynamic doggedness. 
The big race this weekend is Arlington's Grade III $150,000 Stars and Stripes over 1½ miles.  Well respected at the windows will be Team Block's 2013 American St. Leger runner-up Suntracer.  The Chris Block-trained son of Kitten's Joy will be tough to beat on his home course, but will be tackled by the likes of Moro Tap, who was third directly behind Suntracer the Grade III Louisville Handicap last out for trainer Mike Maker, the Roger Brueggemann-trained The Pizza Man and the Brazilian-bred Olympic Thunder from the stable of Kenny McPeek. 
David ZennerSenior Manager of Communications
Arlington International Racecourse
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