One year after European invader Cape Blanco ran away with the Grade 1, $1 million Arlington Million, the home defense for Saturday's renewal of Arlington Park's 1 1/4-mile grass fixture looks a tad stronger while the foreign contingent appears slightly less menacing. The Million anchors Arlington's International Festival of Racing which includes two other Grade 1 events -- the Beverly D. for fillies and mares and the Secretariat for three-year-olds.
The slight 4-1 favorite in the morning line is Phipps Stable's Boisterous. Although a three-time graded stakes winner since last fall, the five-year-old is unfamiliar with victory at the highest level and has shown a tendency to favor ground rated less than firm. Scoring on good or yielding ground in taking the Grade 3 Knickerbocker, Grade 2 Red Smith Handicap and Grade 3 Fort Marcy, the son of Distorted Humor has not shown the same kind of acceleration in firm-ground losses in previous Grade 1 attempts, including the Manhattan Handicap in June.In his most recent start, Boisterous found himself 11 lengths down in the Grade 3 Arlington Handicap, a course and distance prep. Uncorking a wide rally turning for home, Boisterous fell a neck short of catching the front-running Rahystrada. Trainer Shug McGaughey, who has made a jockey switch from Alan Garcia to Jose Lezcano for the Million, undoubtedly hopes to see Boisterous in closer attendance to the leaders approaching the quarter pole.
No winner of the Arlington Handicap has gone on to win the Million in the latter's three decade history. For the eight-year-old Rahystrada, this marks his third attempt at the Million following a fourth in 2010 and a fifth last year. Showing rare speed in the July 14 Arlington Handicap, Rahystrada is likely to revert to a more typical stalk-and-pounce strategy on Saturday and will need a career best at his advance age to become the oldest winner of the race since The Tin Man won at age eight in 2006.
The likely Million pacesetter is Little Mike, who is two-for-two over nine furlongs this year including an upset win in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic. Surprisingly left alone on the front end in the race, the gelding cut back in distance for the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile on June 30, but retreated to third after getting caught up in a speed duel.
Willcox Inn has won three of four over the Arlington turf, including the Grade 2 American Derby and Arlington Classic last season. Fourth on boggy ground in the Secretariat while attempting to sweep Arlington's Mid-America Triple, he recently returned from an eight-length layoff to capture a one-mile allowance over the local sod by measured half-length.
The remainder of the domestic contingent -- Cherokee Lord and Vertiformer -- were fifth and fourth, respectively, in the Arlington Handicap. The latter was cross-entered to Saturday's $400,000 Arlington St Leger.
The most accomplished of the European invaders is Treasure Beach, but the Irish classic winner has placed only once in six outings since taking last year's Secretariat. He was favored in both subsequent North American attempts, but lost by significant margins in both the Grade 1 Canadian International last October and the Grade 1 Man o' War on July 14. The Coolmore representative enters on short rest, having run fourth in the Group 3 Ballyroan at Leopardstown on August 9.
Trainer Luca Camani, who won the Million way back in 1983 with Tolomeo, has entered the in-form Afsare. Runner-up to fellow Million entrant Crackerjack King in the Group 1 Premio Presidente della Repubblica at Rome in May, the gelding subsequently beat listed company at Sandown and most recently finished a neck second in the Group 2 Duke of York over 1 5/16 miles.Crackerjack King is undefeated in seven starts on Italian soil but has struggled in two other starts outside that country. His most recent foreign excursion was for the Group 1 Eclipse at Sandown, where the gray finished in mid-pack, nearly a dozen lengths behind Nathaniel.
Wigmore Hall is no stranger to Arlington having run second in the 2010 Secretariat and fourth in last year's Million. The England-based gelding has not won on his home continent in two years, but picked up wins in a Group 2 in Dubai as well as the Grade 1 Northern Dancer Turf in Canada last year. Needless to say he tends to outperform expectations away from home.
Trainer John Gosden, who won the Million two years ago with Debussy, will saddle Colombian, a four-year-old who's been unplaced twice since taking the Group 3 Gordon Richards over heavy ground at Newmarket in April.
The Americans also top the morning line in the $750,000 Beverly D. over 1 3/16 miles on turf, but several of the European challengers look up to the task of taking the top prize back across the pond.
Morning-line favorite Marketing Mix has won six of her past eight starts, owns a win over the Arlington turf in the Grade 3 Pucker Up, and enters off two solid wins in a pair of Canadian Grade 2s -- the Nassau and Dance Smartly. The Glen Hill Farm-owned daughter of Medaglia d'Oro is also a long-winded sort having smashed the opposition in the 10-furlong Wonder Where for Canadian-bred last term.
Aruna, a long-time fixture in graded stakes in the Midwest and the East Coast the past several years, stretched out successfully to take the Grade 2 Sheepshead Bay over 1 3/8 miles on May 26. The Grade 1 veteran fell a length short of catching Beverly D. rival Mystical Star in the Grade 2 New York last time over 1 1/4 miles at Belmont. Mystical Star, a late-blooming daughter of Ghostzapper, has won half of her eight starts and is coming to hand at the right time for Christophe Clement.
The remainder of the U.S. contingent consists of Romacaca and Upperline, first and third, respectively, in the course-and-distance Grade 3 Modesty Handicap last month. Both are multiple Grade 3 winners but neither placed in their respective previous attempt in the Beverly D. Canadian mainstay Stars to Shine won a Grade on Polytrack last time but has never won a grass stakes.
I'm a Dreamer won a Group 3 in England last year and later missed in the Grade 1 E.P. Taylor over 10 furlongs at Woodbine by a head. Though winless in three starts this term, she finished third behind the top-class Izzi Top in both the Group 2 Middleton and Group 1 Pretty Polly earlier in the year.
An intriguing invader is the German-bred Kapitale, a Group 3 winner whose last start came in the Group 1 Premio Lydia Tesio in Italy last October. Third in that 1 1/4-mile test in Rome, she's trained by Andreas Wohler, who won the Arlington Million with Silvano in 2001.
The field is rounded out by the three-year-old Up. The Coolmore-owned filly has just a maiden win on synthetic to her credit, but has placed three times in group company this year including the Group 1 French One Thousand Guineas.