$2 million Distaff
Fillies and mares, 3 and up, 1 1/8 mile
The first handicapping question for this race is this: Is Azeri for real? If she is, the 4-year-old Jade Hunter filly should be hard to beat. She has won nine of her 10 lifetime starts, including six in a row. In her last four races, she has led all the way. But, she has raced almost exclusively in California and, in Saturday's race, she may be challenged for the lead.
A likely candidate for that task is Imperial Gesture, owned by the mighty Godolphin Racing machine and winner of three straight in New York. The 3-year-old daughter of Langfuhr also likes the lead. Should those two knock each other out in a speed duel, several of the six other starters could benefit. Among them is Summer Colony, the only horse that has ever beaten Azeri.
The daughter of Summer Squall likes to stay close to the lead, then pounce in the stretch. Mandy's Gold has shown similar tendencies recently on the East Coast although both finished behind Imperial Gesture in their last race. Take Charge Lady, the runner-up in the Kentucky Oaks in May, may get the first run at the leaders. Oaks winner Farda Amiga also is in the field and should be running late. Longshots are Starrer and Two Item Limit.
Picks: 1-Azeri, 2-Take Charge Lady, 3-Imperial Gesture. Longshot: Mandy's Gold.
$1 million Long John Silver's Juvenile Fillies
2-year-old fillies, 1 1/8 mile
This race has a lot of question marks. Because of the configuration of the Arlington Park track, the race is a sixteenth of a mile longer than usual, asking a lot of young fillies. That said, Storm Flag Flying looks like she should handle both the competition and the distance.
By Storm Cat out of Breeders' Cup champion My Flag, the Shug McGaughey trainee has won all three of her races convincingly. In the Frizette at Belmont, she beat a few of Saturday's rivals, winning by 2 lengths without much urging. In each of her races, she has come from slightly off the pace. The best of the West appear to be Composure and Santa Catarina. Composure won her last two starts at in California, including the Oak Leaf in her last start.
Santa Catarina, a daughter of Unbridled, was impressive in California but lost to Storm Flag Flying by 2 lengths in the Frizette. Florida sensation Ivanavinalot would have been a factor but was scratched from the race on Thursday after coming down with a fever. That defection could leave Santa Catarina and another Californian, Buffythecenterfold looking for the lead in a heat unusually devoid of pure speed horses.
Ruby's Reception appeared to be improving in her last two stakes starts in Kentucky and could take another step forward to be a factor. Most of the other seven appear overmatched.
Picks: 1-Storm Flag Flying, 2-Composure, 3-Santa Catarina. Longshot: Ruby's Reception.
$1 million NetJets Mile
3-year-olds and up, 1 mile, Turf
This race kicks off the Pick Six and it could kick out a lot of players unless Rock of Gibraltar lives up to his reputation. The even-money favorite on the morning line in a field of 14, the 3-year-old Danehill colt has never been beaten at the distance in five starts and won the Group 1 Prix du Moulin de Longchamp in his last outing.
Lifetime, he's 10-for-12, all in top European competition. Beat Hollow and Good Journey could be the best of the Americans. Beat Hollow won the Arlington Million August and trainer Bobby Frankel shortened him up for this race with a near-miss in the Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland on Oct. 6.
Good Journey, based in Southern California, traveled to Toronto in September to win his fourth straight race and seems to be in top form. One of the challenges here is that Rock of Gibraltar likes to race behind the early leaders -- and there isn't much obvious speed in the race. Forbidden Apple, runner-up in this race last year, may go to the front, would have to be caught and thus might have a tactical advantage. Another to consider is Landseer, who shipped in from Ireland last month to win the Shadwell by a neck. Landseer's credentials include two second-place finishes behind Rock of Gibraltar.
Picks: 1-Forbidden Apple, 2-Rock of Gibraltar, 3-Good Journey. Longshot: Landseer.
$1 million NAPA Sprint
3-year-olds and up, 6 furlongs
If you're still alive after the Mile, the Sprint awaits with its own set of challenges. The issue here usually seems to be which horse can run fastest for 6 furlongs. In fact, it often comes down to which horse can pass the leaders in deep stretch.
The favorite on the morning line is Orientate, riding a four-race win streak. The 4-year-old son of Mt. Livermore runs on the front, where he probably will be joined by several other speedballs, including the super filly, Xtra Heat, Arlington Sprint Handicap winner Bonapaw and Test Stakes runner-up Carson Hollow, another filly.
All of them have shown the ability to withstand early challenges and still go on to win. Xtra Heat showed an "xtra" dimension in her last race at Keeneland by briefly relinquishing the lead, then coming back to win. A big flight of challengers will be right behind. Those include Kona Gold, who is running in a record fifth-straight Sprint. He, however, has been idle since July.
Others who could mount a threat are Kalookan Queen, a 6-year-old mare who won the Ancient Title against males at Santa Anita last out, and Swept Overboard, who was marvelous in the Met Mile in May.
Picks: 1-Xtra Heat, 2-Orientate, 3-Bonapaw. Longshot: CRAFTY C.T.
$1 million Filly & Mare Turf
Fillies and mares, 3 and up, 1 1/4 mile, Turf
Here's a race that's just wide open. Golden Apples, a 4-year-old, Irish-bred daughter of Pivotal, is the morning-line favorite at 5-2. The longest shot on the morning line at 50-1 is Owsley, who won three of her last four races, all graded stakes. Golden Apples won the Beverly D. at Arlington in August, then came back to win the Yellow Ribbon at Santa Anita on Oct. 5.
She has been consistently effective with a pace-stalking style and should have a satisfactory pace to stalk in this event. But she only beat Voodoo Dancer by 1 length in the Yellow Ribbon and that rival is back to try again. Several of the excellent Europeans have taken turns beating one another but Islington stands out as the winner of Yorkshire Oaks and a close-up fifth in the Arc d'Triomphe after leading until near the finish.
Banks Hill won this race last year but finished behind Golden Apples and Voodoo Dancer in the Yellow Ribbon. Owsley, winner of the Winstar Galaxy at Keeneland, and Riskaverse, winner of the Queen Elizabeth II at the same track, both seem to be peaking at the right time.
Picks: 1-Islington, 2-Golden Apples, 3-Banks Hill. Longshot: Starine
$1 million Juvenile
2-year-old colts and geldings, 1 /8 mile
The race also is run this year at a longer-than-normal distance. Sky Mesa, the undefeated winner of three races, would have been the favorite but was declared out of the race on Friday with an ankle injury. Looking elsewhere, you rarely get an undefeated son of Seattle Slew, trained by Bob Baffert, at anything like decent odds but Vindication might fit that bill here.
He also is undefeated in three starts, including the Kentucky Cup Juvenile and, given his breeding, should love the extra half furlong. The front-running colt has not raced, however, since mid-September. Whywhywhy won the Futurity at Belmont, leading most of the way and there's no reason "why" he can't do that again. Toccet came off the Maryland circuit to win the Champagne at Belmont and has won three straight running from off the pace. Baffert has two others here with a chance: Kafwain and Bull Market, who ran 1-2 in the Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita last time out. Although Kafwain caught Bull Market at the wire, many observers thought Bull Market ran the better race, finishing gamely on the inside.
Bull Market is by Holy Bull; Kafwain is by sprinter Cherokee Run, so Bull Market gets the nod on breeding for the longer distance. Among the Europeans, keep an eye on Tomahawk, another Seattle Slew offspring who has improved in each of his three starts overseas.
Picks: 1-Bull Market, 2-Vindication, 3-Toccet. Longshot: Tomahawk
$2 million John Deere Turf
3-year-olds and up, 1 ½ mile, Turf
Only eight were entered for this race but most of them have a chance to win. High Chaparral, an Irish-bred 3-year-old who has won six of eight, is the early favorite and one of the stars of trainer Aidan O'Brien's strong stable. The Sadler's Wells colt ran third in the Arc d'Triomphe but didn't have the late kick to do any better. That was his first race off a two-month summer vacation.
Some Euro analysts feel he might not like the harder turf found in America. Golan, a 4-year-old Irish-bred, ran an excellent race to win the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth at Ascot in July, then was a close second in the Juddmonte International at York in August. Both High Chapararal and Golan tend to sit off the pace and make a late run.
They will have to hope that likely leader The Tin Man finds someone to push him along in the early stages. Denon, winner of the Turf Classic at Belmont, and Ballingarry, another son of Sadler's Wells, both will be close to the lead and might get the first run as the field hits the stretch. With Anticipation likely will join the top British pair in a late cavalry charge.
Picks: 1- Denon, 2-High Chaparral, 3-With Anticipation. Longshot: The Tin Man
$4 million Classic
3-year-olds and up, 1 ¼ mile
Horse of the Year honors could be at stake here as Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner War Emblem starts the wagering as the favorite. War Emblem appears to need the lead to win. He didn't get it in the Belmont and caved in, finishing eighth. Ditto in his last race, the Pacific Classic, finishing sixth behind two other horses in this race: Came Home and Milwaukee Brew.
The apparent challengers for the lead Saturday are E Dubai and Medaglia d'Oro. E Dubai, a Mr. Prospector 4-year-old from the Godolphin stable, won the Suburban Handicap at Belmont in July at this distance but hasn't raced since. Medaglia d'Oro won the Jim Dandy and Travers at Saratoga and conceivably could fight the good fight up front and still get the distance.
If the leaders go too fast, the pace-stalkers most likely to benefit are Came Home and Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Evening Attire. Deep closers to watch out for include Milwaukee Brew and Dollar Bill.
The pace battle -- if any -- probably will decide the finish of this race, so trainers and jockeys would do well to remember the Kentucky Derby. In that race, the field sorted itself out before it hit the first turn and there was virtually no change in the running order from there to the finish line.
Picks: 1-Came Home, 2-Evening Attire, 3-Medaglia d'Oro. Longshot: Dollar Bill