Favored Honor In War and jockey David Flores wore down Della Francesca in the mid-stretch and held off a relentless Better Talk Now to post a neck victory in Saturday's $250,000 Arlington Handicap (gr. IIIT), the major local prep for the Arlington Million Aug. 16.
The Woodford Reserve (gr. IT) winner atoned for a disappointing sixth-place showing in the Manhattan (gr. IT) at Belmont June 7 with his third victory in four races for owner Wil Wolford and his 3rd Turn Stables and trainer Paul McGee. Flores rode the 4-year-old chestnut colt by Lord At War for the third consecutive race. He was aboard for the first time in the Woodford Reserve at Churchill Downs May 3.
The final time was 2:02 3/5 for the 1 1/4-mile test on a firm Arlington turf course.
"If all goes well between now and then, the Arlington Million is definitely our goal," said McGee, the Kentucky-based trainer. He indicated that Honor in War would return to the Bluegrass State to prepare for the Arlington Million.
Honor In War was able to edge over after breaking from the outside in a field of ten, coasting along in mid-pack as Extra Check, with Early Fires aboard, established fractions of :25, :49 1/5 and 1:14 before Della Francesca, ridden by Larry Melancon, edged to the front after a mile in 1:38 3/5. Flores moved Honor In War up easily on the turn, poised to challenge Della Francesca at the head of the stretch.
Honor In War opened up a daylight lead in deep stretch but was under heavy pressure to hold off Better Talk Now and Rene Douglas. Mystery Giver and Robbie Albarado came on late to edge Della Francesca for third, three-quarters of a length behind the runner-up.
Better Talk Now rallied from eighth at the top of the stretch to get up for second.
"I had my horse in perfect position right behind the winner, but he
lugged in all the way down the stretch," said Douglas of his trip aboard the runner-up. "I tried my best but it's hard to ride like that."
Flores said he was mindful of a strong head wind when he hit the stretch.
"He broke so nice and I got a great spot," Flores said. "He relaxed so beautifully on the backside. When I shook him a little bit, he responded really strong. I wasn't really worried about those two horses in front. On the second turn, I really started working on him just to get in front by the quarter pole. With this (head) wind in the stretch, I think if you can get in front in that spot you have a great chance to (win)."
Honor In War, a $140,000 Keeneland yearling buy in September 2000, won for the seventh time in 15 starts. He also has a second and three thirds while accumulating career earnings of $612,296.
The winner paid $5.20, $3.60 and $5.20. Better Talk Now returned $8.40 and $5.20. Mystery Giver's show was $3.80.