Locals to Watch on
Million Preview Day at Arlington
By Nicolle Neulist
July 9 at Arlington is Million Preview Day. The card featuring four Grade III turf races: the Arlington Handicap, Stars and Stripes Stakes, Modesty Handicap, and American Derby. Each serves as a local prep for one of the four Festival races on Arlington Million Day (August 13). Much ink has been spilled about The Pizza Man. Yes, he is Illinois-bred. But, as the defending Arlington Million champion, he will also be chalk. Here, we take a look at a few other local horses and connections pointing for Million Preview day, horses who may be the right price to investigate as contest plays once the races are drawn.
For years, trainer Chris Block’s name has been synonymous with live Illinois-bred or Illinois-based horses in turf stakes. Rarely does this reputation shine more brightly than on Million Preview Day. He has won two of the day’s four graded stakes before. His mare Ioya Two annexed the 2001 Modesty Handicap. He has won the Stars and Stripes twice: with Free Fighter in 2008, as well as with Ioya Bigtime (a son of Modesty winner Ioya Two) in 2012. Even in the two he has not yet won, he has seen recurring success. Two of his horses, Mystery Giver and Mister Marti Gras, each hit the board in the Arlington Handicap twice. Both Suntracer and Nun The Less got a share underneath for Block in the American Derby; the durable Suntracer also finished in the money in the Stars and Stripes three times. In short, if Block thinks a horse merits a slot in the starting gate on Million Preview Day, they stand to be live.
This year, Block plans to enter a pair of his charges on Million Preview Day. Illinois-bred Peej, second last out behind wire-to-wire winner Cammack in the Black Tie Affair Handicap, is expected to try graded company for the first time in the Arlington Handicap. The distance and class are questions. But, depending on who else enters, his tactical style and consistent form make him a fascinating local prospect. Block also plans to enter No Fault of Mine in the Modesty Handicap. Unlike her stablemate, No Fault of Mine has already proven she can belong in graded company, though those placings have come on polytrack. However, the one time this daughter of Blame tried grass, it went well. She won a stakes-quality allowance at Keeneland over grass in April.
One of the horses who finished well-beaten behind No Fault of Mine in that Keeneland allowance also may turn up in the Modesty for a trainer who has already seen success in that race already: Stormin Elle, for Wayne Catalano. That allowance was Stormin Elle’s
first start in a year and a half. But, she has improved since that try, and third off that extended layoff she won an Illinois-bred turf stakes over multiple graded stakes placed Lovely Loyree. However, this will be a tougher ask than Catalano had with his previous Modesty winner, I’m Already Sexy (2014), as that one had already proven her mettle against that class of horses before. However, Stormin Elle does have one thing in common with her old stablemate: a love of the Arlington grass. Four of her five career victories have come there. If Catalano sends her in the Modesty, she will be a long shot, but may be coming into good enough form to rate a longshot try depending on who else enters.
Another runner who is merely possible for the Arlington Handicap, but worth a look should he enter, is R. Great Adventure for trainer Brian Williamson. Unlike Catalano and Block, Williamson has not yet seen triumph on Million Preview Day. However, his typically under-the-radar barn has seen some stakes success recently down at Oaklawn, with Streamline winning the Pippin and then getting underneath shares in all three graded dirt route distaff stakes. R. Great Adventure has mainly been racing in Kentucky in recent years, but won an allowance at Arlington two starts back and shined locally in 2014 as well. He has wins going as long as a mile and an eighth. The biggest question is his complete non-effort in the Wise Dan (GII) last out. Still, he has bounced back quickly from off races before. If R. Great Adventure gets some pace to chase, he could outrun his odds.