The 8-year-old gelding The Tin Man had Saturday's Arlington Million (gr. IT) at his mercy, going gate to wire to defeat a powerful field on the Arlington Park turf.
The Tin Man, ridden with great confidence by Victor Espinoza to win for trainer Richard Mandella and owner/breeders Ralph and Aury Todd, ran one-two with the Bobby Frankel-trained Cacique virtually the entire way. He completed the 1 1/4-mile event in 2:01 1/5 while winning by just over a length on a firm course.
The Tin Man had things his own way from the beginning, setting soft fractions of :24 3/5, :50 1/5 and 1:15 while facing little pace pressure. On the far turn, Cacique, ridden by Edgar Prado, closed to within a half-length with English Channel challenging on the far outside as well. But Espinoza gave The Tin Man a little encouragement and the veteran son of Affirmed responded to open up by daylight in upper stretch. He edged away to a commanding lead in deep stretch and held on doggedly for the upset in the final strides as Cacique closed in belatedly.
The Tin Man was the first wire-to-wire Arlington Million winner since Michael Tabor's Marlin in 1997. Lord Derby's Teleprompter, in 1985's fifth running of the Arlington Million, was the only other to successfully lead at every call.
The slow pace left a smiling Mandella scratching his head afterward.
"I couldn't believe they let him do that (a half in :50 1/5). I had it in my mind that someone will press him a little bit." said the Hall of Fame trainer who picked up his first Arlington Million win in seven tries. He had second-place finishes with Sandpit in 1995 and 1997.
"(The Tin Man) been around a long time," Mandella said. "He's a pretty cool guy. I've been trying to win this race for a long time and it's nice to finally win it."
Only John Henry was an older winner of the Million. John Henry was 9 when he won the Million a second time in 1984.
The Tin Man won for the 11th time in 26 starts and pushed his earnings to $2,976,860.
It was 1 1/4 lengths back to the European invader Soldier Hollow who got up for third by a head for Rene Douglas. English Channel, the 2-1 favorite in the field of 10, faded after a wide trip under John Velazquez and finished fourth.
The Tin Man, a multiple graded stakes winner, ran sixth in the 2003 Arlington Million, but he appears to be a better horse now. Since returning in late December after an absence of nearly 15 months with an ankle injury. The Tin Man has won four of five starts, including a pair of grade II wins. His only loss since his comeback was a second-place showing in the Dubai Duty Free (UAE-I) at Nad al Sheba. The Tin Man was coming off a gate-t-wire victory in the 1 1/8-mile American Invitational Handicap (gr. IT) at Hollywood Park July 2.
"On the first turn I knew the pace was slow," said Espinoza, who has been The Tin Man's regular rider since the gelding's comeback began. "Then turning for home when no one was coming to me, I knew we were going to win the race. Any time there's a slow pace he's hard to catch.
"This was the second easiest win I've ever had – the first was the (2002) Kentucky Derby (gr. I) on War Emblem.
Sent off as the fourth choice, The Tin Man paid $13, $6 and $4.60.
Cacique, who won the 1 14-mile Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) on a yielding Belmont course in June, returned $5.40 and $3.80 while completing a $70.60 exacta.
"I was exactly where I wanted to be" when they reached the stretch, Prado said of the runner-up. "When I asked him for more he gave it to me, but we couldn't catch the winner."
Soldier Hollow, a group I winner in Italy making his first U.S. start for trainer Peter Schiergen, was $6.80 to show.
"The horse really tried for me but the pace was too slow," Douglas said of Soldier Hollow.
Trainer Todd Pletcher also blamed the slow pace for the beaten favorite English Channel. "Hats off to The Tin Man. He slowed it down enough and stayed. End of story."
Cosmonaut finished fifth, followed by Ace, Better Talk Now, Touch of Land, Major Rhythm and Phoenix Reach.