Arlington Million day annually provides an early opportunity for horses from around the world to run their way into the grass events a few months later in the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred championships. Saturday's three turf stakes races at Arlington Park near Chicago provided a preview of the preview.
The $250,000 Arlington Handicap, run at the 1 1/4-mile distance of the Million, was a romp for Cool Conductor. The improving 4-year-old Stravinsky colt, which finished a close fourth in the United Nations at Monmouth three weeks earlier, went out to a comfortable lead on a moderate pace and was unchallenged in the stretch, winning by 3 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Vangelis. Major Rhythm was third. The final time of 2:02.26 reflected a good finish by the winner.
Artiste Royale, an Irish-bred, French-based son of Danehill, never got into the race and finished sixth.
"I wanted to be in front and I could feel I still had a lot of horse at the top of the stretch," said winning jockey Cornelio Velasquez. "He relaxed very well for me. I just tried to put him in good position and let him run his race."
Winning trainer Ralph Nicks said the Million is in his plans for Cool Conductor. "If he comes out of this race all right, we'll see you in three weeks," he said.
Although Artiste Royale failed to challenge in Saturday's race, he could return for the Million and several other foreign-trained horses remain potential runners in that event. Among them are Powerscourt, disqualified in last year's Million after finishing first. He ran second Monday in the Scottish Derby at Ayr. Also on the "possible" list for the Million are Touch of Land, Maraahel and Hazyview.
-- Saturday's $250,000 American Derby at Arlington is the local prep for the $400,000 Secretariat Stakes on Million Day and another potential stepping-stone to the $2 million John Deere Turf on Breeders' Cup Day. Purim came into the race undefeated and the son of Dynaformer went to the post as the odds-on favorite.
Purim looked like a winner in the stretch run, too -- until jockey Cornelio Velasquez brought Gun Salute alongside in the final yards and put his colt's nose in front at the wire. Exceptional Ride was third, 3 1/2 lengths farther back. Gun Salute, a Kentucky-bred son of Military, ran 1 3/16 mile on the "good" turf in 1:55.31.
He won the Forerunner at Keeneland this spring and was a close-up third in the Jefferson Cup at Churchill Downs in his last previous start. Ken McCarthy, assistant to winning trainer Bill Mott, said the $400,000 Secretariat Stakes on Arlington Million day Aug. 13 is the likely next step for Gun Salute. "He's been an awfully nice horse for us," he said.
Purim's trainer, Tom Proctor, said, "You win some, you lose some. That one was close. If you won them all, no one would want to race with you." He said he's not sure about Purim's next start.
English Channel, winner of two straight grass stakes at Colonial Downs, is expected to head the list of Secretariat challengers. Foreign-trained candidates include Irish-trained Merger, who finished a disappointing sixth on Saturday in his first U.S. start.
-- Sweet Return led almost all the way to a 1 1/2-length win in Sunday's $400,000 Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar. Under Alex Solis, the 5-year-old, British-bred son of Elmaamul maintained a comfortable lead on a sensible pace and cruised home 1 1/2 lengths to the good of Forty Niners Son. Singletary was third and the favorite, Castledale, was fourth. Sweet Return ran 1 1/8 mile on firm turf in 1:46.53. "I just let him roll along," Solis said. "He's got a half-mile run in him that is special. You can ask him for it and you'll get it for sure." Trainer Ron McAnally, asked if the Arlington Million is next, said, "Yes. I think Mr. Brunetti is planning on it."
-- A Bit O'Gold stalked the pace in Sunday's $300,000 (Canadian) Chinese Cultural Center Stakes at Woodbine, got to the front with a four-wide move at the top of the stretch and went on to win by two lengths over Mobil. Last Answer was third and the favorite, Affirmative Action, finished fourth. A Bit O'Gold, a 4-year-old son of Gold Fever, ran the 1 3/8 mile on firm turf in 2:15.94.
-- Among those not pointing for the Million but still eyeing the Breeders' Cup is Azamour, an Aga Khan homebred son of Night Shift, who won Saturday's $1.2 million King George the VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes in England in course-record time of 2:28.26. Azamour was stretching out after the 1 1/4-mile Prince of Wales Stakes at Royal Ascot and Irish Champion Stakes last year at Leopardstown. Saturday, Mick Kinane kept him out of the battle for the lead, then launched a late bid on the outside, sweeping past the leaders to win by 11/4 lengths over Norse Dancer. Bago finished third. Trainer John Oxx said the Breeders' Cup is a possibility for Azamour, as is the Champion Stakes at Newmarket on Oct. 15. He said he will take the colt back to the Irish Champion Stakes Sept. 10 and then, perhaps to the Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp on Oct. 2. "We'll see after that," he added. The King George the VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes is the third leg of the World Racing Championship series, to be followed by the Arlington Million. The series concludes with the Hong Kong Cup at Sha Tin in December. Azamour, Vengeance of Rain and Mummify are tied for the lead in the series with a win apiece.
Other races that could affect the Breeders' Cup card Oct. 29 at Belmont Park:
$1 million Filly & Mare Turf
-- Amorama, with the help of some traffic problems to her inside, rallied in the final 16th to win Saturday's $400,000 John C. Mabee Handicap at Del Mar by a head over Island Fashion. The favorite, Intercontinental, was third after checking sharply during the stretch run. Amorama, a French-bred, 4-year-old filly by Sri Pekan, got the 1 1/8 mile in 1:48.01. Martin Pedroza had the winning ride, subbing for Rene Douglas, who opted to ride at Arlington on Saturday where he finished sixth in the American Derby. "I claimed foul and there was a stewards' inquiry, too," said Alex Solis, who rode Intercontinental. "When I went for home, the hole opened and I went for it. But (Island Fashion) closed it on me. Do I think they made the wrong call? It doesn't matter. Do I think I was on the best horse? Of course." Winning trainer Julio Canani said he was happy to ride Pedroza. "I'm very lucky with him. He's worked this filly a lot of times and he's never complained if I don't ride him," Canani said.
-- In the third stakes of the day Saturday at Arlington, Noisette rallied boldly through the stretch to win the $150,000 Modesty Handicap by 1/2 length over the odds-on favorite, Shaconage. Spring Season was third and 51-1 shot Ide Be a Lady was just a head farther back in fourth after leading most of the way. Noisette, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Broad Brush, ran 1 3/16 mile on "good" turf in 1:57.30 for Cornelio Velasquez, completing a lucrative stakes hat trick for the jockey. "Every jockey needs good horses to ride and I got lucky today with three of them," Velasquez said.
$2 million Distaff
Smuggler distanced herself from the other "S-named" 3-year-old fillies, both in Saturday's $500,000 Coaching Club American Oaks at Belmont Park and in the season-long competition. Smuggler, an Ogden Phipps homebred by Unbridled out of Inside Information, just did beat Spun Sugar by a neck in the Mother Goose last month, with Kentucky Oaks winner Summerly third. Saturday, Edgar Prado kept the regally bred filly just back of Summerly's leisurely pace, came to the front with a three-wide entering the stretch and drew off to win by an authoritative 3 1/2 lengths. Summerly held second, but just a head in front of Spun Sugar. Previously undefeated For All We Know, another with excellent breeding, was fourth, six lengths farther back. Smuggler finished the 1 1/4 mile in a relaxed 2:04.39 on a fast track. "It worked out the way we planned it," said winning jockey Edgar Prado. "I wanted to wait, and then when it was time to go, wait a little more." Trainer Shug McGaughey added, "We have four weeks to the Alabama now. I feel like we are in pretty good shape. It's pretty exciting. We have been looking for a really nice horse for a while. It looks like we have one now." Jerry Bailey said Summerly "left it all on the track today. She probably doesn't want to run that far."
$4 million Classic, Powered by Dodge
Sunday at Del Mar, Choctaw Nation came from the back of a six-horse field to win the $250,000 San Diego Handicap by 1 length over Ace Blue. Preachinatthebar was third. Choctaw Nation, a 5-year-old Louis Quatorze gelding, ran the 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:42.40 for Victor Espinoza. Trainer Jeff Mullins said the Pacific Classic might be next if Choctaw Nation returns well. "He's ready," added Solis.
$1 million TVG Sprint
Cherokee's Boy rated nicely on the lead in Sunday's $150,000 Salvator Mile at Monmouth Park, then had little trouble holding off Aggadan to post a 1 1/4-length victory. The odds-on favorite, Gygistar, had no late response and finished third of five. Cherokee's Boy, a 5-year-old son of Citidancer, finished in 1:36.79 with Aaron Gryder in the irons.
$1.5 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile
--Edenwold dueled for the lead through most of Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Colin Stakes at Woodbine, got clear in the final furlong and went on to win by one length over the odds-on favorite, Key West Breeze. Top Authority was third in the six-furlong event, clocked in 1:11.04. Edenwold is an Ontario-bred son of Southern Halo, out of the Mining mare Best of Friends. "He broke very comfortably," said winning jockey David Clark. "He went on and finished up well. They would have had to fight to get by him."
In other weekend racing:
Soldier's Kiss dueled for the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Fleet Treat Stakes for Cal-bred 3-year-old fillies, dispatched her early rival and then just held on to win by a nose over from-the-clouds rival Gn. Group Meeting. Short Route was third, another one length back. Soldier's Kiss, a daughter of One Man Army, ran seven furlongs in 1:22.50. Part-owners E.W. and Judy Johnson, whose family also owned Fleet Treat, the filly for whom the race is named.
Yankee Man opened a big lead midway through Sunday's $100,000 Evan Shipman Handicap for New York-breds, then rolled home a 1 1/2-length winner over West Virginia. Chowder's First was third. Yankee Man, a 4-year-old son of Maria's Mon, ran 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:43.52 with Edgar Prado up.
Missme surged to the lead at the top of the stretch in Sunday's $100,000 Omaha Stakes and ran off in the stretch to win by 3 3/4 lengths over Stormy Impact. Big Glori was third. Missme is a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by Belong to Me. He ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37 2/5 under Calvin Borel.
Pirates Bite scored a swashbuckling upset in Saturday's $75,000 Regaey Island Stakes for 3-year-olds. Moving right to the lead under Calvin Borel, the Kentucky-bred Military colt turned back a mid-stretch challenge by Slammin' Sam and won by 1 1/2 lengths over that rival. The favorite, Mesawmi, was a neck farther back in third with a belated bid. Pirate's Bite ran the 1 1/16 mile on firm turf in 1:43.66.
Mingo Mohawk came from last in a field of seven to win Saturday's $60,000 Iowa Stallion Stakes for state-bred 3-year-olds. The Mercedes Won gelding, with Glen Corbett aboard, came four-wide around the turn and drew off to win by 2 1/2 lengths over Okie Dozer, finishing the 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:42.63. One Fine Affair was third. Mingo Mohawk and stablemate Perfect Pose went to the post as the odds-on favorite entry.
Calder Race Course
Running Lass was running from the git-go in Saturday's $50,000 G.T.O.B.A. Juvenile Filly Turf Dash. Breaking from the 11 hole, the Running Stag filly immediately seized the lead and won off by 2 1/4 lengths. Time Banshee was second and Southern Fortune finished third. The five furlongs on firm going took 56.76 seconds.
Silver Moose was just up in the final yards to win Saturday's $55,000 Anderson Fowler Stakes for 3-year-olds by a neck over the favorite, Yes Yes Yes. Swissle Stick was third, completing a sibilant trifecta. Silver Moose, a Florida-bred Concorde's Tune gelding, completed the five furlongs on firm turf in 56.46 seconds.
Sunday, Golden Locket completed a two-day, precious-metals double by winning the $60,000 Serena's Song Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. The Storm Creek filly rated off the pace, came four-wide to launch her bid and came home 1 3/4 lengths ahead of Toll Taker. Capitulation ran third and the favorite, Winning Season, was last of five.
Sixteen Grand controlled the running of Saturday's $50,000 Southern Belle Stakes for Louisiana-bred 2-year-old fillies. After sticking close to the pace, the Festive filly took the lead in the stretch run, winning by 1 3/4 lengths over Tortuga Flats. Kourtneysfirst was third. Sixteen Grand got the 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:05.64.
Euro Code dominated Saturday's $55,000 Oh Say Stakes for 3-year-olds, setting a brisk pace, then leaving four rivals well behind in the stretch. At the wire, the Kentucky-bred son of Forestry was 7 1/2 lengths in front of his closest rival, Captain Corelli. Pointsman was third. Euro Code, with Jeremy Rose in the irons, ran six furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.86.
Dawn of War took charge in the stretch run to win Saturday's $40,000 Brian Barenscheer Juvenile Stakes by 2 1/2 lengths over Counterfeit Gold. Casper Who was third. Dawn of War, a Kentucky-bred colt by Catienus, finished the 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:03.59.
Bountempo rallied three-deep from off the pace in the final furlong to win Saturday's $40,000 Canterbury Park Lassie Stakes by two lengths over Sentimental Charm. Jb's Golden Regret was third. The odds-on favorite, Wildcat Bette B, bolted on the turn and was eased. Bountempo, a Florida-bred daughter of Cape Town, ran 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:05.37.