Arlington Race Report: French Connection

Published in the August 3 issue of The Blood-Horse
A horse for the course is a powerful force. That old racetrack axiom proved prophetic twice on July 27, Million Preview Day at Arlington Park, when Falcon Flight and England's Legend both overcame long layoffs to win at the site of their biggest 2001 victories.

Falcon Flight gave Donald Burke II just his second win as a trainer with a stretch-running neck victory over fellow California-based runner Kappa King in the $225,000 Arlington Handicap (gr. IIIT). The 6-year-old French-bred son of Persian Bold had been idle for 10 months after a tough 2001 campaign highlighted by his win in the Stars and Stripes Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIIT), his trainer's only other career win.

Classy 5-year-old mare England's Legend earned her chance at a repeat win in Arlington's Beverly D. Stakes (gr. IT) by winning the $150,000 Modesty Handicap (gr. IIIT). The daughter of Lure spotted her seven rivals between five and nine pounds. Still, the odds-on favorite appeared well within herself as she galloped to a wire-to-wire, two-length triumph after a nine-month layoff.

Besides their French origins, long layoffs, and wins last year at Arlington, both winners were piloted by Arlington's leading rider, Rene Douglas. The jockey has now won six of the seven graded stakes run this season at Arlington, including all five graded turf stakes. After the Modesty, he joked he had discovered the secret to winning on Arlington's lawn, but wasn't prepared to share it.

Burke, who worked with trainers Charlie Whittingham and Dick Lundy before taking out his trainer's license last year, demonstrated infinite patience in keeping Falcon Flight away from the races for 10 months. He explained that the star of his four-horse stable had raced for two years without any break, finally showing the wear and tear after an extremely troubled sixth-place finish (moved up to fourth after a double disqualification) in the Canadian International (gr. IT). However, he shrugged off praise for Falcon Flight's comeback, saying, "First, you've got to take praise and criticism the same way. Secondly, you've got to give a lot of the credit to (owner Gary) Tanaka, who lets me execute my vision, and I can't stress how important that is."

Trainer Christophe Clement gave England's Legend a similar break by design after a disappointing effort in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT). Clement sent the mare to Arlington while saddling Voodoo Dancer to a second-place finish as the favorite in the Diana Handicap (gr. IIT) at Saratoga.

In the Modesty, England's Legend raced over a "yielding" course similar to the one she encountered in winning the Beverly D. by 7 3/4 lengths last year. While she beat runner-up Quick Tip by only two lengths in the Modesty, her time of 1:55.69 for the 1 3/16 miles was more than a second faster than her Beverly D. finish. Edouard de Rothschild's runner benefited from morning rains and the lack of pace in the Modesty, said Clement's assistant Nicholas Bachalard.

Both Burke and Bachalard indicated they plan to return for the Arlington Million (gr. IT) and Beverly D., respectively, on Aug. 17, although they each lamented not having longer than a three-week interval between races following their first races off long layoffs. "Sure, we'd like more time, but I don't think we'll be able to move the date of the race back a week," Bachalard said with a laugh.

While the winners and several also-rans in the two graded turf stakes are likely to show up for Arlington's International Festival of Racing, the Round Table Stakes for 3-year-olds on Preview Day isn't likely to produce an entrant for the Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT).

The winner, Cowboy Stuff, enjoyed one of those patented, perfect rides under rider Patrick Valenzuela, and wired the field by two lengths over the nine muddy furlongs. The order of finish for the first three runners went unchanged from gate to wire, with Pass Rush in second and A.P. Five Hundred finishing another four lengths back in third.

Cowboy Stuff is a son of Evansville Slew, who was trained by Donnie K. Von Hemel, the son of Cowboy Stuff's breeder, trainer, and part owner, Don Von Hemel. Noting the colt is an Iowa-bred, the senior Von Hemel pointed out his operation has produced four Iowa-bred champions. After the Round Table eye-opener, the trainer is rethinking plans to keep Cowboy Stuff in the Iowa-bred ranks for now.

(Chart, Equibase)