In five starts on turf this season, no horse has been able to head Silver Max. Whether that trend continues will be determined Saturday when the streaking three-year-old heads a field of 10 in the Grade 3, $200,000 American Derby at Arlington Park.
The 1 3/16-mile American Derby is one of the many highlights on Arlington Million Preview Day, which features local preps for three Grade 1 events -- the Arlington Million, Beverly D. and Secretariat -- and the newly-instituted American St Leger, all of which will be held at Arlington on August 18.
Of the three major preps, the American Derby might have the most significance on its corresponding Grade 1 event. Arguably the nation's leading three-year-old turf performer, Silver Max has enjoyed a whirlwind spring and summer with wire-to-wire tallies in the Grade 3 Transylvania, Grade 2 American Turf, Arlington Classic and Oliver. The latter, a one-mile event at Indiana Downs, proved an explosive performance as the Dale Romans charge drew off to win by 6 3/4 lengths while setting a course record of 1:33 4/5.
If there is one potential roadblock standing in Silver Max's way, it's distance. The Badge of Silver colt has not raced beyond 1 1/16 miles, but on paper none of his opponents might be able to keep up with the speedy colt. Only Skyring, who took his one and only turf appearance in the James W. Murphy at Pimlico, seems likely to challenge the favorite in the early stages.
Sachem Spirit, who finished two lengths behind Silver Max when runner-up in the Arlington Classic May 26, is a veteran of only four starts and has plenty of room for improvement. The Neil Howard pupil did not debut until February, but broke his maiden second time out at Fair Grounds before edging allowance foes by a head at Keeneland two back.
Initially campaigned with a turf career in mind, Daddy Nose Best developed into a classics candidate for Steve Asmussen following back-to-back scores in the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby and Grade 3 Sunland Derby. Far up the track in both the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby and Grade 1 Preakness, the colt returns to the turf Saturday with a surface mark of 6-2-1-1, including a Grade 3-placing last fall at Woodbine.
Cozzetti, a stablemate of Silver Max's, finished a well-beaten second to that companion in the Oliver last time. Despite being a son of the late turf champion Cozzene, the Oliver has Cozzetti's only placing in four career attempts on grass. Quick Wit, a last-out allowance winner at Churchill Downs for Romans, looks best of the remainder.
Rahystrada hopes to join an exclusive club when he seeks a second victory in the Grade 3, $200,000 Arlington Handicap at 1 1/4 miles. Unlike Round Table (1958-59) and Cosmonaut (2006-07), however, Rahystrada will not be defending a title as his previous win in the Arlington Million prep came in 2010.
An eight-year-old gelding, Rahystrada has enjoyed mixed success since last gracing the Arlington Park winner's circle. He won or placed in three of six starts last term, capturing the Colonial Turf Cup and Grade 3 River City Handicap, but struggled other times in Grade 1 company. He enters the Arlington 'Cap off a title-defense third in the Colonial Turf Cup on June 16.
The probable favorite here is Phipps Stable's Boisterous, who since November has won the Grade 3 Knickerbocker, Grade 2 Red Smith Handicap and Grade 3 Fort Marcy. Boisterous was most recently third in the Grade 1 Manhattan Handicap.
The Arlington Handicap field also includes Joinem, who's placed in the Grade 2 Mervin H. Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap and Grade 3 Louisville Handicap in his last two; multiple Grade 3 winner Mister Marti Gras; and Sky Blazer, a sharp third-level allowance winner at Belmont last out for trainer Barclay Tagg.
A contentious field of seven will line up for the Grade 3, $200,000 Modesty Handicap at 1 3/16 miles, a prep for the Beverly D. Upperline, a Grade 3 winner on turf and synthetic, might go as a slight favorite despite a recent upset loss in the Trillium at Woodbine.
Another expected to be well-backed is Bizzy Caroline, whose two Grade 3 wins both came at Churchill Downs, the most recent of those being the June 2 Mint Julep Handicap. Snow Top Mountain, meanwhile, has registered a pair of Grade 3 wins this season in the Suwannee River and All Along.
She's All In, an emphatic 8 3/4-length winner of the Grade 3 Sixty Sails Handicap on dirt at Hawthorne, returns to a surface where she is two-for-three, including a stakes triumph at Louisiana Downs last fall. The field's other graded stakes winner, Smart Sting, has not yet lived up to her potential despite being a daughter of turf champion mare Perfect Sting.
The Grade 3, $150,000 Stars and Stripes at 1 1/2 miles serves as a prep for the $400,000 American St Leger, which will be run over 1 11/16 miles on the Million program. The likely favorite is multiple Grade 2 winner Musketier, a 10-year-old gray who recently captured the Grade 3 Singspiel at Woodbine.
Among the other graded veterans in the field, the one Musketier might have to fear most is Eagle Poise, who was just nipped by Bourbon Bay last out in the Grade 2 San Juan Capistrano Handicap at Santa Anita at about 1 3/4 miles.
The stakes action kicks off Saturday with the $65,000 Coach Jimi Lee, a seven-furlong event for three-year-olds on the Polytrack.