Finnegans Wake has been as challenging to train as his namesake novel is to read, but the rewards for figuring out the horse can be as satisfying as navigating James Joyce's final tome, notes the Arlington International Racecourse media team.
Two years ago, Finnesgans Wake entered the Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT) off a third-place finish in the Virginia Derby (gr. IIIT), and trainer Dale Romans promised, "This horse has a big one in him."
Finnegans Wake finished second that day to international invader Bayrir, the second of 13 consecutive losses over a two-year period before a win in the Arlington Handicap (gr. IIIT) July 12. Even with the local prep win, though, Romans did not commit to the Aug. 16 Arlington Million (gr. IT) for Donegal Racing's son of 2005 Million winner Powerscourt until seeing how the rest of this year's field shaped up.
"The field size is what made the difference," Romans said. "We can run against a small field for a lot of money."
The Million on Saturday is part of Arlington International Racecourse's International Festival of Racing and will be Finnegans Wake's seventh try at the grade I level. Although Romans called the horse's Arlington Classic win "huge," he acknowledged that the Million was the type of race he had in mind when promising big things for this horse two years ago.
"It took me a little longer than I expected with him to get that first big win, but we haven't seen him cap out," Romans said. "As he gets older, he gets better. If he wins Saturday, it doesn't get any bigger than that."
Romans won the 2012 Million with Little Mike, and a win Saturday would make him the sixth trainer in history to capture the race multiple times with Aidan O'Brien being the most recent to do so with the aforementioned Powerscourt, then Cape Blanco in 2011. Finnegans Wake finished fourth in last year's Million.
European jockey Ryan Moore will have the call on Finnegans Wake. The international superstar rider has never won the Million, but he does have several Breeders' Cup and International Festival wins to his credit, including the Beverly D. Stakes (gr. IT) and Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT) double last year aboard eventual champion turf female Dank.
"I've ridden Kieren Fallon a few times but never Ryan, but he's one of the best riders in the world, so I think he'll be able to figure [Finnegans Wake] out pretty quick," Romans said.
In Finnegans Wake's best grade I efforts he rallied from near the back of the pack, but he won the Arlington Classic pressing a soft pace, and Romans expects Moore to employ similar forwardly placed tactics in the Million.