The Arlington Million and the Sword Dancer highlight a full weekend racing agenda on the green grass with lots of green in the purses.
Arlington Park's Saturday card supports the 31st running of the Grade I Million with two other Grade I events on the turf -- the Beverly D. for fillies and mares and the Secretariat Stakes for 3-year-olds. In addition, the afternoon includes the second running of the American St. Leger at the marathon distance of 13 1/2 furlongs.
The Sword Dancer is run at 12 furlongs, or 1 1/2 miles, over the Saratoga grass.
There's plenty more action on the green courses around North America. Woodbine on Sunday has the Sky Classic Stakes at 10 furlongs. Grass-running 3-year-old fillies are featured at Del Mar on Saturday in the Grade I Del Mar Oaks and on Sunday at Saratoga in the Grade II Woodford Reserve Lake Placid.
There's no shortage of action for the main-track aficionados, either.
Saturday's Grade I Alabama at Saratoga is the highlight of the summer season for 3-year-old fillies. Older horses go in the historic Grade III Philip H. Iselin at Monmouth and in the Grade III Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs on Sunday. Sprinters take center stage in the Grade III Rancho Bernardo Handicap on Sunday on Del Mar's all-weather surface.
Overseas, Deauville is in full swing on the French seashore. Sunday's menu includes two Group 1 events -- the Prix Morny for 2-year-olds and the Prix Jean Romanet for fillies and mares.
Let's get galloping on the green, green grass.
Saturday's 31st running of the Grade I Arlington Million drew a field of 13, including winners of Group 1 or Grade I races in Italy, Dubai, Argentina and South Africa as well as the United States. Several others are placed at the highest level. The 7-2 morning-line favorite for the 1 1/4-miles turf feature is Grandeur, who comes off a close second-place finish in the Group 2 York Stakes in northern England. The gray, 4-year-old gelding won the Grade II Hollywood Turf Cup in California during a three-race U.S. visit last year. Indy Point, a former Argentine champion now trained by Richard Mandella, won the restricted Wickerr Handicap at Del Mar in his first U.S. outing and steps up. The defending Million champ, little Mike, is 5-1 on the morning line but the lineup of this year's race makes it unlikely he will get the unchallenged lead that helped him steal the 30th running. Adding to the international flavor of the weekend, some of Europe's top jockeys are in to ride Saturday, including William Buick, Christophe Soumillon, Joseph O'Brien, Christophe Lemaire, Jamie Spencer, Tom Queally and Ryan Moore.
The weekend's other top turf tussle open to all comers is at Saratoga, where another 13 are entered for Saturday's $600,000, Grade I Sword Dancer Invitational, run at 1 1/2 miles. Big Blue Kitten, winner of the Grade I United Nations in his last start, is among the likely ones, along with Boisterous. The latter handed Big Blue Kitten his only loss in his last four starts in the Grade II Monmouth Stakes two races back, then went on to win the Grade I Man o' War at Belmont. Boisterous has not been worse than second since finishing ninth in last year's Arlington Million. Big Blue Kitten has nine wins, two seconds and four thirds from 16 starts -- his only bad race a 10th-place showing in the Group 1 Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2012. Also in here are Twilight Eclipse and Exclusive Strike, who were second and third in the Man o' War; Teaks North, who was second in the United Nations; Nutello, making his first start off the plane from France; Optimizer, who was second to the sidelined Point of Entry in the Grade I Manhattan at Belmont; Tannery, who raced in Ireland and won the Grade II Sheepshead Bay at Belmont earlier this year; and London Lane, the 50-1 upset winner of the Grade II Colonial Turf Cup in his last outing.
Yet another baker's dozen will line up for the $500,000, Grade I Secretariat Stakes at Arlington, a heat restricted to 3-year-olds and also at 1 1/4 miles on the lawn. Oddsmaker Joe Kristufek likes the Todd Pletcher-trained Jack Milton, who comes off a third-place finish, beaten just a neck, in the Grade II Virginia Derby in his last start. Also fancied is Rydilluc, scratched last weekend out east in favor of this race and the winner of four of his seven career starts. Rydilluc, however, faded badly in the Virginia Derby in his first try at the 1 1/4-mile distance. Among a relatively weak international contingent, First Cornerstone ran a good fourth in the Grade I Racing Post Trophy last October at Doncaster in England, a race won by Kingsbarns, who remains among the prospective starters for next Wednesday's Group 1 Juddmonte International at York. First Cornerstone has not shown much this year, however, and will be asked to handle firm going for the first time. An intriguing prospect: Visiyani, a French-bred colt by Rock of Gibraltar, making just his third career start for his owner, the Aga Khan, and trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre. Lemaire is traveling from France for this ride and that bunch doesn't come to Chicago just to visit Navy Pier.
The 1 mile, 5 1/2 furlongs of Saturday's $400,000 American St. Leger pits Arlington Park directly against Saratoga's 1 1/2-miles Sword Dancer. Nonetheless, the St. Leger drew one of the top international "middle distance" runners -- Dandino, who has consistently been in the money against top company in England. The 6-year-old son of Dansili also finished second in his only previous North American start, last year's Group 1 Canadian International at Woodbine. He has been campaigned as far afield as Japan and Hong Kong by trainer Marco Botti and is the 9-5 morning-line favorite Saturday. Another international competitor, Wigmore Hall, finished second in the Secretariat at Arlington three years ago, then fourth and a close seventh in the last two runnings of the Arlington Million. Ken and Sarah Ramsey, whose Kitten's Joy offspring are scattered throughout the day's events, are represented here by a 6-year-old son of Medaglia d'Oro -- Dark Cove, who has won his last three starts, all at 1 1/2 miles and all on the grass. The locals include Suntracer and Ioya Bigtime, both from Team Block.
Sunday's card at Woodbine includes the $500,000 (Canadian), 12-furlongs Breeders' Stakes for Canadian-bred 3-yer-olds -- the final leg of the Canadian Triple Crown -- and the $200,000 (Canadian) Sky Classic Stakes at 10 furlongs on the grass. The former loses a little luster as neither the Queen's Plate winner nor the Prince of Wales victor is in the field. The Sky Classic, however, has plenty of interest with the likes of Forte Dei Marmi, Hotep, Irish Mission, Grand Arch and Peyton in the eight-horse field. Forte Dei Marmi was third behind some really good international runners, including Dandino, in last year's Grade I Canadian International and Grade I Northern Dancer and comes off a win in the Grade III Singspiel Stakes over the course.
Already run: On Wednesday at Saratoga, Balance the Books came from off the pace, found room on the rail and won the $100,000 Stroll Stakes for 3-year-olds by a neck over Hardest Core. Mills led briefly in the lane and held third. Balance the Books, a Lemon Drop Kid colt, ran 9 furlongs on the yielding inner turf course in 1:50.86 with Javier Castellano aboard.
Filly & Mare Turf
A really tough field of nine is set for Saturday's $750,000, Grade I Beverly D. at Arlington Park. Marketing Mix heads the mix at morning-line odds of 2-1 off a record that includes 10 wins from 18 starts and two victories in a row. The Tom Proctor trainee, a 5-year-old Medaglia d'Oro mare, was second in last year's Beverly D. New York-based Dream Peace and Starformer have been impressive in Grade I and Grade II events on the East Coast. Solid Appeal has won two straight Grade II events at her home track of Woodbine in Canada.
Ausus is a 10-1 long shot but comes off a win in the local Grade III Modesty Handicap at 1 3/16 miles -- the exact distance of the Beverly D. The overseas presence here is substantial. Dank, trained by David Wachman (see Ireland section, below), and Duntle, conditioned by Sir Michael Stoute, have been in the money consistently in pattern races in Ireland and England. Gifted Girl has won three of her last four starts in England and finished second in the Group 2 Princess Elizabeth at Epsom. Rounding out the field are La Tia and Artemus Kitten. The latter is not without a chance to share in this purse.
Out west, Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Del Mar Oaks is run at 9 furlongs on the seaside grass. Kitten's Dumplings heads west after consecutive victories in the Edgewood Stakes and Grade III Regret Stakes at Churchill Downs and the Grade II Lake George at Saratoga. Emotional Kitten arrived in California last month and promptly finished second, beaten a head by Emollient, in the Grade I American Oaks at Hollywood Park. Discreet Marq won the Grade II Sands Point at Belmont before shipping out. The locals in this division are no slouches, either, although they have been beating up on each others. Doinghardtimeagain won the Grade II Hollywood Oaks two starts back. Wishing Gate and Unusual Way come off 1-2 finishes in the Grade II San Clemente last month at Del Mar. Sarach won the Grade II Honeymoon before finishing fourth in the Grade I American Oaks at Hollywood. And there are some overseas considerations. Pearlside makes her first U.S. start after finishing third in the Group 3 Prix Chloe at Chantilly in June. The more experienced Ighraa finished sixth in the Chloe and also makes her first start Stateside. Charlie Em finished third in the Campanologist Neue Bult Younster Cup at Hanover, Germany, last November, then won her first U.S. start, the Grade III Senorita at Hollywood in May.
Out east, nine 3-year-old fillies signed on for Sunday's $200,000, Grade II Woodford Reserve Lake Placid Stakes at Saratoga at 9 furlongs on the lawn. Tapicat won the Grade III Florida Oaks back in February but then was off until a month ago, when she finished third behind Kitten's Dumplings and Watsdachances in the Grade II Lake George Stakes at the Spa. Watsdachances is in Sunday's field while, as noted, Kitten's Dumplings plumps for the slightly richer pickings in California on Saturday. Concise raced in England and finished second in a Saratoga allowance in her first U.S. start. Nellie Cashman comes off a victory in the Grade III Virginia Oaks at Colonial Downs -- at 20-1 odds. Broken Spell hasn't seen the winner's circle in 13 tries since breaking her maiden at Saratoga a year ago. Silsita was 10th in the Kentucky Oaks but that was her only poor race and she has a win in a minor local stakes over the course.
Up north, nine 3-year-old fillies are set for Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian), Group III Ontario Colleen Stakes at Woodbine. Captivating Dancer has two wins and two starts in her last four tries. Coffee Clique won the Grade III Selene Stakes two starts back, then finished fourth in the Grade II Dance Smartly. A couple of the others have shown promise and could move up.
History: Left a Message sent a message to her divisional rivals in Wednesday's $100,000 (Canadian) Flaming Page Stakes at Woodbine, closing sharply on the stretch turn, then drawing clear late to win by 3 1/4 lengths. Sky High Lady Sky High Lady and Clear Blue Sky both rallied from the clouds to finish second and third. Left a Message, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Mr. Greeley, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm going in 2:27.65 under Luis Contreras. She won for the first time since April of last year at Keeneland.
Hogy got by pacesetting favorite Great Mills in the stretch run to win Wednesday's $100,000 Troy Stakes at Saratoga by 1 1/2 lengths. Great Mills, making his first start since January, held on for second, a neck in front of Strong Impact and another neck in front of Tripski. Hogy, a 4-year-old Offlee Wild gelding, finished 5 1/2 furlongs on yielding turf in 1:02.61 with Joe Rocco Jr. aboard.
Princess of Sylmar comes to Saturday's $600,000, Grade I Alabama at Saratoga off wins in the Grade I Kentucky Oaks and the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks at Belmont. Overall, she has six wins from eight starts. For Saturday's 1 1/4-miles effort, the Majestic Warrior filly will face just five rivals, including her stablemate in the Todd Pletcher barn, Galloping Giraffe -- this week's no-brainer "name of the week." The competition is more likely, however, to come from Fiftyshadesofhay, the California-based filly who won the Grade II Black-Eyed Susan at Pimlico and the Grade III Iowa Oaks at Prairie Meadows in her last two starts. Bob Baffert trains Fiftyshadesofhay, a Pulpit filly. The others appear to need significant improvement to compete here.
Sunday's $150,000, Grade III Philip H. Iselin Stakes at Monmouth Park features Last Gunfighter, who saw a six-race win streak broken when he finished second to Flat Out in the Grade II Suburban Handicap at Belmont last time out. Percussion, who was fifth in the Suburban, is among seven rivals, as is last year's Iselin winner, San Pablo. Pants On Fire, the 2011 Louisiana Derby winner, appears to be rounding back into form with a win last out in the Grade II Monmouth Cup. Raging Daoist won the Grade III Salvator Mile in his last outing and heads a contingent of minor-stakes winners, any of who could improve right into the picture here going 9 furlongs.
Don't overlook the half dozen entered for Saturday's $175,000 Governor's Cup at 9 furlongs at Remington Park in Oklahoma. Steve Asmussen sends Prayer for Relief off his victory in the Grade III Prairie Meadows Cornhusker. He finished second in this race last year behind Alternation, who also is back for another try. He's been on the sidelines since finishing eighth in the Grade II Oaklawn Handicap back in April but has been working well for trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel. Then there's Brethren, looking to bounce back on one week's rest from a win in the Evangeline Mile down in Louisiana. He's come a long way back since an 11th-place finish in the 2011 Arkansas Derby ended his 3-year-old season. Stachys and Worldly, both hard-knocking Midwestern vets, also are in this interesting field.
And then there's the $200,000, Grade III Longacres Mile on Sunday at Emerald Downs, the lingering legacy of the track swallowed up by Boeing. Even though Wesley Ward is in France (see below), he sent Politicallycorrect out to Seattle a couple weeks ago to prepare for this heat. The 4-year-old Kitten's Joy gelding comes off a second-place finish in the Grade II James Marvin Stakes at Saratoga and in the past has shipped as far as Oklahoma and California for nice paydays in local stakes races. Mr. Bowling comes from Kentucky for trainer Larry Jones. He won the Grade III LeComte Stakes at Fair Grounds in January of 2012 but was sidelined after the Louisiana Derby and has struggled since. Tres Borrachos also has been a frequent traveler, earning more than $1 million mostly with minor awards. Herbie D was an unbeatable terror at Hastings and won the Mt. Rainier Handicap at Emerald in his last start. Stryker Phd has been a consistent stakes performer at Emerald without much to show in the win column.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Sunday's $150,000, Grade III Rancho Bernardo at 6 1/2 furlongs at Del Mar got only five takers. Among them, Reneesgotzip comes off a convincing allowance win over the track and was third in last year's Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint. She just failed to last in the 7-furlogns, Grade I La Brea at Santa Anita last winter, losing to Book Review by a neck. Sweet Marini has won two straight for trainer Bob Baffert. Sugarinthmorning needs just a little improvement.
Over the blue water:
Asfare, who finished second to Little Mike in last year's Arlington Million, easily crushed five rivals in Thursday's Group 3 Sovereign Stakes at Salisbury, near Stonehenge. When asked, the 6-year-old Dubawi horse drew off smartly and his closest rival at the end, Boom And Bust, was 6 lengths back. Asfare is tough to handle and, in fact, delayed the start of the 2012 Million with antics behind the gate. Trainer Luca Cumani's wife, Sara, told Racing Post, "He is the most frustrating horse we have had anything to do with. He has tremendous ability ... He should have been in America now for the Arlington Million but you can't take your own handler for the race."
Catching up from last weekend, Sudirman upset the Group 1 Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh, taking the lead inside the furlong marker and running on just enough to hold safe Big Time by 1/2 length. War Command, winner of the Group 2 Coventry Stakes at Ascot, had every chance on the outside but could not quicken late and finished third. Sudirman, a Henrythenavigator colt trained by David Wachman, scored his third straight win, running 6 furlongs in 1:09.35.
Also Sunday at the Curragh, Tapestry remained undefeated in two starts for trainer Aidan O'Brien by taking down the Group 2 Debutante, beating stablemate Perhaps by 1 3/4 lengths. She covered 7 furlongs in 1:22.89 under Joseph O'Brien. The elder O'Brien said the Galileo filly "could go for all the big races now" and her odds for next year's 1,000 Guineas were lowered appropriately on the major betting sites.
American trainer Wesley Ward is focused this weekend on France. His 2-year-old star, No Nay Never, who won the Group 2 Norfolk Stakes at Ascot in June will try to show he's no fluke while taking on some really good ones in Sunday's Group 1 Darley Prix Morny at Deauville. The Scat Daddy colt won at first asking at Keeneland in April and would become an extremely interesting international celebrity with a good showing at the French spa this weekend. Ward brought along two other horses for this week's festivities and all will be ridden by David Flores.
Vancouverite landed the Group 2 Prix Guillaume d'Ornano Haras Du Logis Saint-Germain for 3-year-olds at Deauville on Thursday for Godolphin, taking over in the closing furlong to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Pilote. The Darley-bred son of Dansili covered 1 1/4 miles in 2:04.22 with Pierre-Charles Boudot up for trainer Andre Fabre. Godophin Racing Manager Simon Crisford said his best distance might be another 2 furlongs, leading to the possibility he will be a candidate for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.