After a day when Europeans dominated the other top stakes in Arlington Park's marquee day, Kentucky-based Little Mike shot right to the lead in the Grade I Million, slowed things down to a relative walk and had plenty left to hold off European raider Asfare and win by 1 1/2 lengths.
Rahystrada and Colombian finished in a dead heat for third and fourth, another 1 1/2 lengths back.
Little Mike, a 5-year-old Spanish Steps gelding, now has won six of his last eight races over the last 18 months. Trainer Dale Romans was stretching him out to the 1 1/4-mile Million distance after Little Mike got home third last time out in the Shoemaker Mile at Hollywood Park in California. He led in that race, too, but with much faster fractions. Before that, he won the Grade I Turf Classic on Derby Day at Churchill Downs, going 1 1 1/8 miles.
Saturday, it was a case of lulling the competition to sleep as jockey Ramon Dominguez let Little Mike plod through a half mile in 49.95 seconds and 6 furlongs in 1:15.03 -- nearly 2 seconds slower than the day's previous stakes events. By the time the field turned for home, he had not only a substantial lead but also plenty left in the tank for the stretch run. After a quick final furlong, Little Mike finished the 1 1/4 miles in 2:02.44 over a surface rated good.
"He was running very comfortably," Dominguez said, "Turning for home, when I decided to let him run, he beautifully started opening up. I wasn't sure how slow we were going."
Kieren Fallon, who rode Asfare, said, "I knew what was going on and there was nothing I could do. I had to ride my horse to win and there was no pace."
Jakkalberry got the International Festival of Racing off to a real international start with a determined stretch drive that got him past local hero Ioya Bigtime to win the $400,000 American St. Leger. This was the first running of the St. Leger, carded at 1 11/16 miles, and it drew a nice foreign contingent. Top among them was Jakkalberry, whose resume includes stops in Hong Kong, Dubai, Italy and England. The 6-year-old Storming Home gelding lived up to his name Saturday. Ioya Bigtime, owned by local powerhouse Team Block, led the field through a sensible clip into the stretch for a second time, repeating the tactics that led him to victory in the 1 1/2-mile Stars and Strips last month. This time, he had Jakkalberry to contend with and the latter drove by outside the leader and kept on well to win by 2 1/4 lengths, finishing in 2:49.01. It was his first win since a visit to Italy nearly a year ago. Zuider Zee, a German-bred gelding trained by John Gosden and ridden by William Buick, was up for third. Winning rider Colm O'Donoghue said Jakkalberry "gave me a lot of confidence rating him. We expected a good run. My horse was the class and he really can run."
Bayrir, under a well-timed ride by Christophe Lemaire, ran to the lead in the stretch run in the $500,000, Grade I Secretariat Stakes for 3-year-olds and got home first by 1 1/4 lengths. Finnegan's Wake also rallied late to take second and Summer Front finished third. The early leader, Silver Max, came into the race after six straight front-running wins. He again made the early pace but folded quickly on the far turn when he was headed by the enigmatic Daddy Long Legs. Neither of those rivals persevered through the stretch. Bayrir, a French-bred colt by Medicean, finished the 1 1/4 miles on good turf in 2:02.92. Lemaire said he hadn't planned to lay so far off the pace "but the race started out very quickly ... He took the bit on his own around the last corner. When I put him out, he reacted very well. He's a very clever horse."
I'm A Dreamer, with Haley Turner in the irons, sat in a perfect stalking position until the final turn in the $750,000, Grade I Beverly D. for fillies and mares, drove to the lead with a determined stretch run and held off Marketing Mix at the end to win by a head. Joviality was third and Kapitalite fourth. I'm A Dreamer, a 5-year-old, Irish-bred Noverre mare, finished the 1 3/16 miles on firm going in 1:55.29. She had finished her 2011 season with a victory in the E.P. Taylor Stakes at Woodbine in Canada, then finished third, fourth and third in her first three starts this year in England and Ireland, all group races. "It was a long stretch," said winning trainer David Simcock. "It isn't really, but it just felt like it. She quickened up when that closer was coming." Turner noted the Woodbine experience had accustomed I'm A Dreamer to the travel regime. "I think she seems to sparkle well when she's over here," she said.
Arlington Park hosted an on-track crowd of 34.022.
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