Arlington Million Contenders
By Nicolle Neulist
Though the Chicago racing season runs for much of the year, its apex comes with the Arlington Million (GI), scheduled for August 13. The field has yet to coalesce completely, as entries are still a week out. But possible and probable entries are emerging. The field could turn out large, since Flintshire is expected to head to the Sword Dancer (GI), not the Million. Here, we focus on a few horses who have indicated interest in the Million, and already have links to Arlington Park.
Last year’s Arlington Million winner, The Pizza Man, looks to defend his title this year. However, one must wonder whether he is the same horse he was. Last year he was so consistent — winning four of six, including the Arlington Million, and only missing the board in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. This year, he has missed the board in three starts. Though this start will have him third off the lay, and he was fourth beaten a head for all of it in the Stars and Stripes (GIII) last out, the company gets tougher in the Million. Yes, he loves the Arlington grass. But, will he be enough of a price to take on account of being third off the lay on his home course? Unlikely. Local hearts may want to see the Illinois-bred win a second Million, but savvy players will likely be looking elsewhere.
Typically the Stars and Stripes is the local prep for the American St. Leger, but The Pizza Man instead parlayed a victory there into a Million win last year. Greengrassofyoming, this year’s Stars and Stripes winner, is considering that direction according to Arlington notes. It makes sense — his stablemate in the Mike Maker barn, Da Big Hoss, has emerged as the premier turf marathoner in America. Maker has been mentioning the American St. Leger for him since he won the Belmont Gold Cup. It would be a fantastic story if Greengrassofyoming were to step up in the Million, particularly since he was claimed by his current connections in June for $62,500 at Churchill. The story will be a long shot – but so will his tote price should he run in the Million. Greengrassofyoming did show he could handle the Arlington course, and showed gameness to get the best of a four-horse blanket finish. He also has pace versatility, and can run a good race from closer up or well off. Whether he can take such a massive leap up in class remains to be seen. But, he stands to be a long enough price to make it worth placing that question in your pocket, and taking the time to ask whether he can invade the exotics once the field is drawn.
As opposed to the Stars and Stripes, the determined local prep for the Arlington Million is another race on Million Preview Day, the Arlington Handicap (GIII). Ignacio Correas, trainer of Arlington Handicap winner Kasaqui, did state after the race that the Arlington Million was under consideration. Should he cleave to those plans, history is not on Kasaqui’s side. No winner of the Arlington Handicap has come back and won the Arlington Million. Aside from that history, this will be a class test for him. He did try Grade I company earlier this year, in the Woodford Reserve Turf. He mounted a run, but fell. With two strong starts since that race, it is safe to say he came out of the fall no worse. In terms of pace, he has shown tactical speed. He can take the lead should no one else want it, or settle in striking range. The stretch out to a mile and a quarter should be no issue, as Kasaqui has two romping victories in Argentina at the same distance. If Correas has the confidence to enter Kasaqui in Grade I company again, demand a price, but there may be enough to consider him to break the trend, given his recent and local form.
One other possible Million entrant with an Arlington victory under his belt is World Approval. Should trainer Mark Casse elect to send World Approval to the Million and not the Sword Dancer, he merits a look for several reasons. He has a win over the course in last year’s American Derby (GIII). But, as good as he was at age three, he has hit his stride at four. In five starts, he has not missed the board, and he has won twice: once in an allowance to begin his season, and again last out in the United Nations (GI). The cut back from the mile and three eighths of the United Nations back to the mile and a quarter in the Million should help his case. And, if he keeps Florent Geroux in the irons? Even better. Not only has Geroux won the Arlington Million before, and not only has ne made a name in stakes races over the last two years, but he rode on the Chicago circuit for several years. He knows the course as well as anyone. All told, should World Approval try for another run in Chicago, he should be among the strongest domestic hopes in the Million.