The Arlington Million (gr. IT) at Arlington Park has always been a competitive race with a top-class international field, and most years it would draw a field of 13 or 14 turf stars.
But something unusual has happened this year: Only seven horses were pre-entered in the 1 1/4-mile event, the smallest number of pre-entries in the race’s 32-year history. Only four North American-based horses were pre-entered, and one of them is not even a certainty to run, being pre-entered in the American St. Leger as well.
Although likely favorites Magician and Real Solution are good horses, there is no major standout, which bodes well for the chances of the Canadian-based Up With the Birds, even if just to pick up a piece of the million-dollar purse.
The Sam-Son Farm homebred by Stormy Atlantic has never competed in this kind of company, but is coming off an impressive four-length score in the 1 1/8-mile Nijinsky Stakes (gr. IIT) at Woodbine Race Course July 19, in which he blazed the nine panels in 1:45.74.
Up With the Birds, trained by Malcolm Pierce, former assistant to longtime Sam-Son trainer Jim Day, is already a grade I winner, capturing the 1 1/8-mile Jamaica Handicap against other 3-year-olds at Belmont Park last October, and he’s shown his affinity for 1 1/4 miles by finishing second, beaten only a half-length, in the Queens Plate, putting in a powerful stretch run after racing in 12th early. Last year he also won Canada's turf classic, the Breeders Stakes at Woodbine.
“He needed that race at Keeneland,” Pierce said on a national teleconference Aug. 12. "It was his first start in six months and he missed more time than we planned on. The screws weren’t tightened for that race; you can call it a practice effort. He actually ran a very good race at Pimlico and wasn’t beaten very far (2 1/4 lengths). Hopefully, he’ll step up another notch and be able to run with grade I horses this weekend.”
Although the Arlington Million was always being considered for Up With the Birds, it was the impressive score in the Nijinsky Stakes that persuaded the colt’s connections to definitely go for the big prize.
“We were quite impressed with that race,” Pierce said. “He did have a very quick pace to run at, but he showed a lot of determination, pushing his way out. He’s rounding into his form from last fall. After meeting with the owners, the Million became a lot more on our radar.
“There’s always a great European flavor to the race, and with the million-dollar purse, this would be a big feather in this horse’s cap if he can win and good for his stallion career. If we get lucky and he gets a free ride to the Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT), that could influence our decision where to point him. I’ll sit down with owners and make a decision. We do have the Canadian International (gr. IT) up at Woodbine.”
Pierce loves working for the Samuel family, which owns Sam-Son and has been successful in Canada and the United States for many years, starting with the farm’s late founder Ernie Samuel.
“They breed very good horses and have a top-class broodmare band,” Pierce said. “They are great people to train for. We had no horses this year for the Canadian Oaks and Queens Plate and they were very understanding. They know that happens and they won’t push a horse.”
Up With the Birds has won seven of his 14 career starts, with two seconds and a third, for earnings of $1,286,409.