Arlington Park Race Report: Pin Up

Published in the Oct. 5 issue of The Blood-Horse
If there's a vaccine that prevents Breeders' Cup fever, there must have been a lot of freshly inoculated horsemen at Arlington Park on Sept. 28 and 29. Arlington scheduled its biggest races of the season for the handicap division, 2-year-olds of both sexes, and turf milers four weeks before hosting the World Thoroughbred Championships. Among the connections of the four winners, only one, trainer Ronny Werner, who saddled Arlington-Washington Futurity (gr. III) victor Most Feared, was expressing any commitment to return for racing's biggest day.

Not even a track record of 1:55.07 in the little-used 1 3/16-mile distance for the $400,000 Washington Park Handicap (gr. II) could bowl over Tenpins' trainer, Donald Winfree, regarding the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I). Joseph Vitello's gangly 4-year-old Michigan homebred by Smart Strike, out of the Deputy Minister mare Maid's Broom, overcame a 3 1/2-month layoff to overtake determined frontrunner Generous Rosi and prevail by a neck. The 54-year-old Winfree, while enjoying his biggest payday as a trainer, said he feared the Washington Park may have taken too much out of his colt.

"This was a tough race coming off that layoff," he said. "We're not going there unless he really snaps back good. I think next year will be the best year for this horse. He's still filling into himself. He's a big, long horse and if a race is ever going to tell on him, this would be the race. This race I'm sure got to the bottom of him. He's got a big engine and a lot of guts."

While Winfree said he'd love to make his first Breeders' Cup start with Tenpins, "I'm not going to do it at my horse's expense."

Tenpins' four Washington Park victims included Macho Uno. Stronach Stable's 2-year-old champion of 2000 posed a mild threat entering the stretch before fading to finish last, beaten 7 1/2 lengths. The Holy Bull colt, coming off an eight-week layoff after finishing fourth in Left Bank's Whitney Handicap (gr. I), was most assuredly prepping for the Classic, trainer Joe Orseno said.

"This was definitely his prep for the Breeders' Cup," an outwardly unfazed Orseno said. "Mr. (Frank) Stronach knew it, and (jockey) Gary Stevens knew it."

The public apparently did not, betting Macho Uno down to 7-10.

"It's not like we didn't want to win," Orseno said. "I wanted to win, but I also wanted to accomplish getting a race over the racetrack here and fight a battle here and if we won this, fine. It's a very tough track to ship into. That's why I got him here. We got one breeze over the track, but it wasn't enough. A month from now, I think we'll be happy for what we accomplished today. It doesn't look like we accomplished anything, but we did."

Tenpins, in winning for the sixth time in just nine career outings, shows "unlimited earning potential," Winfree said. Vitello, the owner of a trucking company in the Detroit area, should be rewarded, the conditioner explained, for having "the patience of a saint" in allowing Winfree to take his time with Tenpins.

Fearing Ronny Werner
On the surface, Ronny Werner has shown little patience with Most Feared, having raced him five times already, once on April 3 in a two-furlong event at Turfway Park. But the Texas conditioner is making all the right moves with the obscurely bred son of Commanchero, out of Visual, by Avatar. And things should get even better as the distances grow longer. "He seems like he'll just run all day, like his granddaddy Unbridled did," he said.

The former Quarter Horse trainer is following in the footsteps of D. Wayne Lukas and Bob Baffert, enjoying his initial success in Thoroughbreds with 2-year-olds. Another trainee, Awesome Humor, was the pro-tem juvenile filly leader before being sold to WinStar Farm and sent to trainer Elliott Walden. She since has been sidelined by injury.

Werner saw Most Feared's success as a sign of progress for his stable. "We're still in the building process, but there are two reasons why this win is very important to me," he said. "I've been known for having a lot of speedy, precocious-type 2-year-olds, and I've been wanting to get those classic horses, but that really wasn't what we were buying at first. Now we are, and this is really my first 2-year-old that hopefully is of that caliber. The other reason is he's a homebred and it gives Texas a little credibility."

Owner/breeder Tom Durant, who owns a quarter share in first-crop sire Commanchero, gave away the dam, who is in foal again to the stallion. The lucky recipient was Werner's assistant Jack Bruner, "the man who helps me break my babies."

Most Feared won the Arlington-Washington Futurity by three lengths over Anasheed, who was part of the favored Godolphin entry, along with Spectacular Bid Stakes winner and seventh-place Futurity finisher Sharp Impact. Glen Hill Farm's Unleash the Power was a neck back in third.

Werner said he not only has Most Feared for the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), but he also is prepping last year's Iowa Derby winner, Touch Tone, for the Sprint (gr. I). Werner is confident enough of his 2-year-old's chances that he sounded more worried about Baffert's expected insults of his cowboy hat than the West Coast titan's powerful juvenile brigade.

"I feel good about his style of running for this track," Werner said of his closer. "Going from a fast track to a laboring track is death."

Sweet Sonata
Moonlight Sonata took advantage of a similar closing style to break her maiden in the Arlington-Washington Lassie (gr. III) at 60-1. She went from ninth at the first call to prevail by 1 3/4 lengths over even deeper closer and fellow longshot Parting. Her time of 1:37.82 was .30 seconds slower than Most Feared's Futurity score.

Trainer William Helmbrecht recorded his first win of 2002 in 20 starts in the Lassie, but said his primary business is not training. "I broke my maiden here today, too, but I don't run many horses," he said. "I pinhook, buy and sell, and sometimes we'll race a horse once to evaluate it before we sell it."

Owner Bill Geist said he kept Moonlight Sonata as a broodmare prospect because her dam, Wheatly Way, by Wheatly Hall, produced stakes winner Bevo. Wheatly Way resides on Geist's "little blue-collar farm" outside Lexington, Woodbridge Farm, the owner said.

The winning connections persevered with the daughter of Carson City after her runner-up finish in the Bassinet Stakes, Helmbrecht said, because all signs pointed to a big effort in a one-turn mile.

"We saw the stats on Carson City, that they're the best at the end of their 2-year-old year," he said. "They seem to peak then. Everything pointed for this filly to be a good 2-year-old. The mother was a stakes winner as a 2-year-old, and she produced a 2-year-old stakes winner."

But while owner and trainer dared to dream about the Lassie, the same cannot be said for the Long John Silvers Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I). Geist said the Lassie had been the primary objective, and they agreed not to look ahead.


(Chart, Equibase)