Five things to know for Arlington Million Day
Having spent the past week deep in the formbook for the international shippers – the racing equivalent of a policy wonk – I need to take a few strides back to see the larger picture.
Here are the salient points that come to mind:
1.The international phalanx for the Arlington Million (G1) is robust.
Team Europe is far stronger than in 2015, when The Pizza Man made it four straight Million wins for American-based runners. (That skein got an assist from the stewards, however, thanks to the disqualification of South Africa’s The Apache in 2013). The longest American streak in the Million is five in a row (1993-97), but the historical norm is for greater parity.
Thus the probabilities would tend to favor the Europeans striking back this year in any event, even if you didn’t know the participants. Those chances are enhanced by the presence of three bona fide Group 1-caliber animals in Mondialiste (whose career-bests have come in North America already), Deauville, and Tryster. Their number is reduced by the unfortunate scratch of Decorated Knight, but they’re all class. (Click the links to their respective scouting reports for details, replays, and my opinions.)
Moreover, the U.S. divisional leader isn’t here. Flintshire is enjoying his summer at the Spa too much to jet off to Chicago for business. His absence made the Million an open race, and accordingly paved the way for a big field. World Approval might be regarded as the leading domestic hope, based on his placing to Flintshire in the Manhattan (G1) and his defeat of Wake Forest in the United Nations (G1), but the rankings are hardly airtight. Wake Forest was compromised by a very slow start at Monmouth, where he also gave World Approval a five-pound weight concession. It’s level weights here. Although I could be underestimating defending champion The Pizza Man again, he’s up against it trying to become the first horse in Million history to win back-to-back. Kasaqui must buck history as an Arlington H. (G3) winner aiming to double up in the Million, but he enters in peak form and has bomb potential at 20-1.
2. Three-year-olds have been beating their elders in several of Europe’s Group 1s this summer.
Aidan O’Brien is attempting a bold assault on the Arlington record book, pitching sophomores in against their elders in both the Million and the Beverly D. (G1). Deauville seeks to emulate Tolomeo (1983), the only three-year-old to lift the Million, while Beverly D. contenders Ballydoyle and Coolmore have a nearer precedent in Euro Charline (2014). Chad Brown also has a sophomore filly engaged in the Beverly D., Elusive Million, but she would be a massive surprise for reasons outlined in her scouting report.
Deauville’s cause in the Million may be assisted by the moderate pace scenario, so he could carve out a trip reminiscent of his Belmont Derby (G1). But he’ll need new rider Seamie Heffernan to orchestrate it as perfectly as Jamie Spencer did, and he’ll have tougher opponents than Highland Sky to fend off late. Ballydoyle has back class in spades, but needs to find it after clunking up badly in the Belmont Oaks (G1). Coolmore has a good one in her, but must step up off her known form to produce it.
Perhaps the thing that makes them more dangerous than usual is the depth of Europe’s 2016 classic crop, which has been raking in Group 1s over older horses of late. Of course, we’ll need a longer historical perspective to judge how good this group is overall, but so far, early returns suggest they’re better than average. And the success is across both divisions. Hawkbill won the Eclipse (G1) over fellow sophomore The Gurkha (O’Brien), who came back to claim the Sussex (G1) over three-year-olds Galileo Gold and Ribchester. Minding (O’Brien) has swept the Pretty Polly (G1) and Nassau (G1), while Alice Springs (O’Brien) bolted up in the Falmouth (G1) and Qemah took the Prix Rothschild (G1). Wings of Desire couldn’t catch Highland Reel in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (G1), but as the Derby (G1) fourth-placer he certainly made his Epsom conquerors look good. If this pattern keeps playing out in Europe, why not try to replicate it in America?
3. Galileo goes for the Million/Beverly D. double, and War Front may have the Secretariat exacta.
Remember when Kitten’s Joy was the hit sire of 2013 Million Day? The Ramsey Farm patriarch has Oscar Nominated in the Secretariat (G1) and Generous Kitten in the American St Leger (G3), but he may be eclipsed on the day by Coolmore supersire Galileo and Claiborne’s coveted War Front.
Galileo has two left in the Million (Mondialiste, Deauville) and three in the Beverly D. (Ballydoyle, Coolmore, and Faufiler). The Beverly D. is likely the more difficult half of the double, since Sea Calisi (by Youmzain) looms large. But she’s not necessarily a slam dunk at a 1 3/16-mile trip that’s a tad short for her. Ballydoyle has a proper chance if back on song, and Faufiler has a scintillating turn of foot. A strong pace designed to help Sea Calisi could just as easily redound to the benefit of Faufiler – or to longshot special Pretty Girl.
War Front isn’t represented in the Million or Beverly D., but he’s got an excellent chance of a Secretariat exacta. American Patriot looked ready for prime time in his course record-setting Kent (G3), and O’Brien’s Long Island Sound promises to move forward off his Belmont Derby experience. He must in order to turn the tables on the eminently logical Beach Patrol (by Lemon Drop Kid), who like Oscar Nominated, will appreciate the fast pace.
4. The European winners of the American St Leger all had Grade/Group 1 form over 1 1/2 miles. If a horse has established class at the European classic distance of 1 1/2 miles, it proves that he’s no plodder. The Leger trip of 1 11/16 miles, in American conditions, likely requires a performer who’s effective going a little shorter than that. Thoroughgoing stayers who need marathons in Europe may find this a bit sharp for them, or at least that’s the pattern so far in the brief four-year history of the American St Leger.
In Saturday’s fifth renewal, the lone international who qualifies on this basis is Billabong, thanks to his runner-up effort in last year’s Gran Premio di Milano (G1). Admittedly, his level of form isn’t as deep as Jakkalberry’s (2012) or Dandino’s (2013). Hence this may provide a rare opening for an American in this spot – Da Big Hoss looks tough to beat even with his 126-pound impost, and former French stayer Montclair has the look of a proper dark horse in his first start for The Pizza Man’s trainer, Roger Brueggemann. (Montclair’s already proven he copes with American conditions, so his lack of European Group 1 form doesn’t apply.)
5. The weather may not be a significant player. At last update by track announcer John G. Dooley, Arlington’s turf course is listed as good-to-firm. I'm still seeing it officially labeled "good," but at least it's dodged the proverbial bullet from Friday’s rain. The forecast is now favorable for Million Day, so fingers crossed that it verifies. Last year’s ill-timed downpour played a material role, particularly in the Beverly D., and we really don’t need the insertion of another variable here.
Good luck and happy Million Day!
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