Top picks, value plays for Arlington Million Day
Some are speculative stabs, others firmer opinions, so here go my thoughts on Saturday’s Arlington Million (G1) card:
1ST Race – #5 Call to Arms (6-1) is an intriguing pedigree play, being by Into Mischief and out of half to Devil May Care and Regal Ransom. Trainer Eoin Harty wins with 12 percent of his runners debuting in maiden special weights, but the sire is 14 percent firsters, and he may be a little sharper than most from his barn.
4TH Race - #3 One Last Strike (8-1) is considerably better priced than the other Ramsey, #4 Kitten’s Solution (the full brother to 2013 Arlington Million winner Real Solution) at 3-1, and has a fine pedigree himself. The Smart Strike colt is out of a full sister to Precious Kitten (and a half-sister to Kitten’s Joy), whose three winners are all black-type performers. One Last Strike may be ready to move forward second time out for Mike Maker. Note that both One Last Strike and the Ward-trained Kitten’s Solution shipped in from Saratoga for this maiden – intent for a best chance of a Ramsey winner on Million Day?
7TH Race, the Secretariat (G1) – #3 Permian (9-5) is the likeliest winner if performing up to his high level of form in Europe, although I have a healthy respect for 8-5 favorite Oscar Performance (#4) as well. It’s difficult to envision both of them losing. With internationals Afandem and Taj Mahal attracting support as logical alternatives, #5 Gorgeous Kitten (12-1) is getting lost in the shuffle. Like Oscar Performance, he’s a son of Kitten’s Joy, and thereby entitled to improve at this first chance at 1 1/4 miles. The Ramsey/Maker runner was compromised by tepid pace scenarios in both the Arlington Classic (G3) (where he was last early on yielding ground) and American Derby (G3), yet still rallied for second. Likely to get a more genuine tempo here, he is qualified to hit the board at a big price.
8TH Race, the Bruce D. Memorial – #7 Yorkton (5-1) is a generous price for a horse who brings a 4-2-0-2 mark on synthetic and exits a pair of stakes wins at Woodbine for Stuart Simon. The one-turn mile configuration fits him, judging by his recent score in the grassy Charlie Barley. To cap it off, the Chiefswood Stable homebred has a smart pedigree as a son of Speightstown and an A.P. Indy mare, from the all-star family of Hall of Famer Sky Beauty. If 3-1 morning-line favorite Uncontested (#8) isn’t quite the horse he was before stretching out on the Derby trail, Yorkton can spring the mild upset.
9TH Race, the American St Leger (G3) – #2 Taghleeb (2-1) is an unimaginative selection, but the Maker charge is the most accomplished horse in the field overall and proven at marathon trips. While stablemate Keystoneforvictory won the local prep, the Stars and Stripes (G3), over a warming-up The Pizza Man, I’m more inclined to take that as a feather in the cap of Taghleeb. He could have lorded it over the Stars and Stripes if he hadn’t chosen the Arlington H. (G3) on “Ride to the Million” Day instead. A sneaky fifth versus a trio of Million horses at an inadequate 1 3/16 miles, Taghleeb will thrive back up in trip. He’s been competing in far deeper races all along and faces no international challenge. His most intriguing rival is the repatriated #7 Postulation (5-1), fresh off his most resounding career victory in the Cape Henlopen at Delaware. By the way, that’s the same race that trainer Eddie Graham used for Hardest Core on the way to his upset in the 2014 Million. Déjà vu?
10TH Race, the Beverly D. (G1) – Argentine champion #4 Dona Bruja (7-2) has hinted of potential superstar status in the US. Without saying I’m desperate for her to live up to it, I am earnestly hoping that this marks her grand arrival among the elite of this loaded division. She’s looked just as comfortable traveling behind, and quickening off, a fast pace in the Mint Julep (G3) – off a six-month layoff in her American debut – as she did in her breezy rally in the slowly-run Modesty (G3) last out. That’s the hallmark of a special animal.
It could be an all-South American exacta. I still believe in #1 Dacita (4-1), who’s had the deck stacked against her when beaten by Hawksmoor both starts this term. The Chilean champion ran a mighty race on unsuitable ground in the Beaugay (G3), and even her sixth in the paceless New York (G2) was stronger than it looks. She motored a final quarter in :21.47, one of the three fastest in the field, according to Trakus. With better spacing going into this race, her preferred firm turf, and perhaps a distance closer to her wheelhouse, I rate Dacita the best of the Chad Brown trio. She’s still the 2016 Diana (G1) winner who beat Tepin two summers ago at the Spa.
For a total bomb, German shipper #8 Sarandia (30-1) has plenty of appeal. Last year’s German Oaks (G1) runner-up sports good early speed to go along with a fantastic pedigree and connections, as detailed in her international scouting report. And from the idle speculation department: could the presence of this Gestüt Fährhof homebred have influenced plans for their American-based Quidura? I thought Quidura was a Beverly D. natural, but she went to the Diana instead and split Brown’s dynamic duo of Lady Eli and Antonoe. If so – just my reading between the lines – that puts a whole new angle on Sarandia’s chances. Fellow international Rain Goddess strikes me as more of a horse to use underneath, considering Aidan O’Brien’s winless record in this race, the difficulty three-year-olds have historically had, and the fact she’s vulnerable to opponents with a sharper turn of foot.
11TH Race, the Arlington Million (G1) – I was all set to pick #13 Mekhtaal (9-2) until he drew that awful post, started to reconsider, but then decided to stick with the original idea anyway. Frankie Dettori will know how to position him to best effect, and given his tactical foot, he’s eligible to mitigate ground loss. This is a horse who appeared to be going places before losing his way last year, and finding it anew for Jean-Claude Rouget. If he duplicates his near-miss to Cloth of the Stars in a 2,000-meter course-record 1:58.77 at Chantilly, he’ll take a world of beating. Mekhtaal arguably didn’t have to run as well to win the Prix d’Ispahan (G1) next time. His closing sixth in the Prince of Wales’s (G1), where he wasn’t well placed given the race shape, came at the hands of five top-class horses he’s not facing here. Mekhtaal is awfully close to Deauville on Racing Post Ratings (if you look only at 10 furlongs, and not Deauville’s higher figure for the one-mile Queen Anne [G1]), and we may not have seen the best of him yet. He’s turning into the Million’s “wise guy” horse for a series of good reasons.
That’s not in any way to diminish #5 Deauville (7-2), who’s on course to deliver his typically high-caliber effort with Ryan Moore and cheekpieces. I’ll be surprised if he’s not in the top two. But Mekhtaal has the alluring profile of a horse about to put it together on the big stage. In other words, we already know what Deauville can do, and Mekhtaal could be his match at a better price. Also, and this might not be really fair to Deauville, how would he have fared in the Prince of Wales’s? He took the shorter option of the Queen Anne at Royal Ascot, since Highland Reel had the 1 1/4-mile beat covered. Would Deauville have finished in the top four that consisted of Highland Reel, Decorated Knight, Ulysses, and Queen’s Trust? In that thought experiment, Deauville and Mekhtaal again aren’t that far apart – and Mekhtaal didn’t really get to run his style of race.
With the American-based runners being much of a muchness, it’s tough to make a compelling case for a domestic winner, but the two I think might perform best are #10 Beach Patrol (5-1) and #8 Kasaqui (10-1). Beach Patrol just hasn’t gotten the right circumstances this season, but he’s yet to run a bad race, and now gets a rider switch to Joel Rosario. What’s not to like about last year’s Secretariat winner, especially one trained by Brown who also tops the field in BRIS Prime Power? Kasaqui is an obvious chance as the 2016 Million runner-up, yet he’ll still offer value. If this edition is a bit better, at least Kasaqui (Dona Bruja’s stablemate from the Ignacio Correas barn) is a dependable type. That makes him a must-use in the exotics.
For more thoughts on the entire field, see my Million analysis for the Breeders’ Cup.
12TH Race, the Pucker Up (G3) – #4 Journey Home (9-2) is the only filly taking a class drop here, having finished eighth in the Belmont Oaks Invitational (G1) for Graham Motion, and that factoid could be determinative. She’s also a beautifully bred daughter of War Front and the multiple Grade 1-placed A.P. Indy mare Soul Search, and number one in BRIS Prime Power. Former stablemate #10 Happy Mesa (5-1), who recently sold for $575,000 at Fasig-Tipton in July, should do better in her second start for Maker, while Brown’s #3 Lipstick City (4-1) is entitled to be right there in the finish.
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Happy Million Day!