One year ago trainer Dale Romans saddled 3-year-old Kitten's Joy to an impressive 3 1/4-length win in the Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT) at Arlington Park. This year the Kentucky-based trainer hopes to return to the winner's circle when the son of El Prado
takes the gate for the Aug. 13 Arlington Million (gr. IT).
Kitten's Joy had his final tune up for the Arlington Million Tuesday when he went five furlongs in 1:04.23, a time that was hindered due to a flock of geese resting on Saratoga's Oklahoma training track. "His work was fine, although it was a little slower than we wanted to go, but I would rather go too slow than too fast," Romans said Tuesday during a National Thoroughbred Racing Association teleconference.
The Arlington Million will be just the second start of the year for the Ken and Sarah Ramsey homebred. He returned to the track to score an easy length win in the July 4 Firecracker Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IT) at Churchill Downs after undergoing knee surgery to remove chips from his left knee following a second-place effort in last year's John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT). He had returned to training earlier in the year at Gulfstream Park, but the colt's progress was halted when Romans' barn was placed under quarantine because of cases of strangles at the Florida track.
"He's been really strong in his training this year," Romans said. "He's grown a lot during his time off and I believe he's gotten stronger. I think he's training better this year than he did last year."
If Romans really believes Kitten's Joy is training better this year than last, then his competition better look out. As a 3-year-old he began the year with three straight stakes wins before finishing second in the Jefferson Cup Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Churchill Downs. He returned to his winning ways in the Virginia Derby (gr. IIIT) before notching an impressive victory in the Secretariat Stakes, stopping the clock in 1:59.65, .43 seconds faster than the Million was run at the same distance. He entered the Breeders' Cup Turf as the favorite off an impressive two-length score in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational Stakes (gr. IT).
"I really believe the Virginia Derby and Secretariat Stakes were his breakthrough races last year," Romans said.
Romans said, barring any setbacks in the Million, Kitten's Joy could next ship to Longchamp Race Course in France for the Grand Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) Oct. 2 before taking another shot at the Oct. 29 Breeders' Cup Turf at Belmont Park.
"I'm just trying to get through the Arlington Million right now," the trainer said. "But if we run as we're expecting to run, then he will ship over to France and begin preparing for the Arc."
Another trainer who is confident in his charge leading up to the Arlington Million is Southern California-based conditioner Doug O'Neill who will saddle Whilly. "We very well could have stayed in our own backyard, I think there is a grade II race coming up in a couple of weeks but we wanted to test the waters and see how we stack up with best," he said.
Whilly enters the Arlington Million off a half-length win in the July 3 American Invitational Handicap (gr. IIT).
"One of his main assets is his natural speed and stamina," O'Neill said during the NTRA teleconference. "He's not the type of horse that needs to be on the lead. If they are absolutely flying out of the gate he doesn't have to be there. The easier he can go early, the more he has left."
The Irish-bred son of Sri Pekan, who races for Triple B Farms owner Paul Boghossian in partnership with sons Paul and Chris, began the year by winning the San Marcos Stakes (gr. IIT) before shipping to Dubai to finish second in the Dubai Duty Free (UAE-I). He returned to the United States to finish fifth in the Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile Stakes (gr. IT), a race that his trainer said was not his best distance. "We believe 1 1/8 miles or 1 1/2 miles suits him best or maybe longer, which is something we might experiment with later on this year," O'Neill said.