Mucciolo: My favorite Arlington Park memory
The final season of racing at historic Arlington Park is likely upon us, with the curtains expected to come down following the action on Saturday, Sept. 25. Officially opened in 1927, the Arlington Heights, Illinois, venue played host to countless magnificent races since its unveiling, and numerous legendary horses graced the racetrack with their presence.
On Oct. 26, 2002, the Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships was contested at Arlington for the first and only time. Many of the races on that day will be forever etched in my memory, including my most beloved contest.
The grand day of equine action was kicked off in the Distaff (G1) where we witnessed a virtuoso performance from future Hall of Famer Azeri. Other results on that Saturday included an upset win by Domedriver in the Mile (G1) over a hard-luck Rock of Gibraltar (which paid for my day of wagering); Vindication driving home a superb winner of the Juvenile (G1) for Bob Baffert who saddled three of the top four finishers in the event; as well as Volponi’s massive upset when dominating a stellar field in the Classic (G1).
But my most prominent memory came in the Juvenile Fillies (G1). Sent postward as the 4-5 favorite in the 10-horse field, Storm Flag Flying from the mighty Phipps Stable was aiming to complete her two-year-old season at a perfect 4-for-4. The dark bay filly by world-renowned sire Storm Cat, and granddaughter of unbeaten legend Personal Ensign, had dominated both the Matron S. (G1) and Frizette S. (G1) at Belmont Park, and she looked untouchable on paper in the Juvenile Fillies.
The filly was always prominent under pilot John Velazquez and took a narrow lead in early stretch, but she had a lot of work to do to keep her unblemished mark intact. Jockey Mike Smith had Bob Baffert’s Composure ranging up on the outside with all of the momentum down the lane, and she put a head in front of the favorite nearing the midstretch mark. The Bob and Beverly Lewis colorbearer appeared well on her way to posting the 7-2 upset, but Storm Flag Flying would not let her get away. Finding another gear inside the final sixteenth like a seasoned veteran, the blueblood regained the lead late en route to capping her championship season.
It was a race where the filly displayed immeasurable class, courage, and tenacity. As racecaller Tom Durkin roared as she crossed the line, “Storm Flag Flying, the heart of a champion!” And I still get the chills when I watch that replay. This was my favorite Arlington Park memory.