My first Arlington Million
This week, we'll be strolling down memory lane to revisit several Arlington Millions that hold special personal meaning for us. The first of two "team blogs" looks back on our first Million memories.
James Scully: The inaugural Arlington Million took place ages ago -- I was still in grade school at the time -- but memories have not completely faded of the world's first $1 million Thoroughbred race. And what a thriller it turned out to be. I watched the telecast at home with my dad, and like many fans, my rooting interest centered upon the heavily-favored gelding, John Henry, who was small in stature but as big as they come in terms of heart. My first reaction afterward was one of disappointment -- like many watching, I thought John Henry didn't catch The Bart on the wire. The television announcers/production team were fooled, believing The Bart held on while the photo sign was up and displaying a graphic with The Bart on top as they went to commercial shortly after the race, and I was stunned when the broadcast returned showing John Henry as the winner. For supporters of the longshot The Bart, it had to be the toughest beat ever -- how in the world did he ever lose? But the first Arlington Million served as a testament to the legendary John Henry, who seemingly knew where the wire was and got his nose up in time.
Kellie Reilly: My first Arlington Million was the first Arlington Million in 1981. I'll never forget seeing a TV ad promoting the race while on vacation with my mom and dad. Ironically, we were in an Arlington, Virginia, hotel. In my nine-year-old mind, I knew of only two Arlingtons: the one in Texas and the one where we were. I yelled, "Is that going to be here? Can we stay? Can we stay?!" Of course, the education industrial complex demanded my presence back home. I was very relieved to find out later that the race was at another Arlington. Of course, I was rooting for John Henry. It didn't matter that I'd never heard of him until recently -- he was the horse featured on the commercial, so he was the one who was supposed to win, right? It would be totally revisionist history to claim that the internationals caught my attention. Completely ignorant, I imagined them only as some exotic creatures here as part of John Henry's supporting cast. Down the stretch, I was shocked as this character called The Bart was going strong in front. Who did he think he was? John Henry valiantly clawed back the yards and drew alongside at the wire, but who won??? John Henry -- and all was right with the world.
Vance Hanson: A couple of days before starting fourth grade, I happened to spend the last Sunday of summer vacation at Canterbury Downs. That was also the first time I witnessed an Arlington Million, albeit from a television screen too distant from my seat to clearly make out who was who despite Phil Georgeff's articulate call. Being a newbie to the sport I wasn't too familiar with many of the entrants, but looking back its amazing how deep that 14-horse field for the 1986 Million was. The English gelding Teleprompter was back to defend his title from the previous year and was joined by 1985 Belmont winner Creme Fraiche, Grade 1 winners Alphabatim, Zoffany, and Flying Pidgeon (coming off a fourth in the Canterbury Turf Classic!), and Pennine Walk, winner of the Queen Anne at Royal Ascot. Favored at 2-1 in the betting was the four-horse entry of Al Mamoon, Estrapade, Palace Music, and Theatrical, who were all coupled due to overlapping ownership interests involving Allen Paulson and Mr. & Mrs. Bert Firestone. None of the above were my pick, though. It might have been his swell name or possibly I had seen him run well behind Manila in in the United Nations in his most recent start, but my few dollars of betting capital went on longshot Uptown Swell. The race itself wasn't particularly spine-tingling as the mare Estrapade entered the history books in more ways than one. She remains the only female ever to win the race and also blew the doors off that remarkable field by five lengths, a record that still stands. Uptown Swell didn't quite get my money back, finishing fourth behind Estrapade and longshots Divulge and Pennine Walk, but that was a pretty smart effort considering all the good horseflesh still behind him at the finish.
Jennifer Caldwell: Chester House's powerful rally up the rail in the 2000 Arlington Million was a great introduction to this international powerhouse event. The Kentucky-bred began his career in England before transferring back to his native country to join the barn of Hall of Famer trainer Bobby Frankel. He only won one race during his time stateside, but that came when it counted in the Million. Jockey Jerry Bailey engineered a perfect ground-saving trip aboard Chester House, keeping the dark bay on the rail in midpack as Asidero was in front on an uncontested lead. The rest of the field caught up with that Argentinean Horse of the Year, and Chester House found himself blocked behind a wall of horses while still on the inside. A bit of luck came into play when the field fanned out a bit on the turn, leaving just enough room for Chester House to slip through. He exploded from there, grabbing control and drawing off to an impressive 3 1/4-length victory in what would be his final career start.