Summertime is all about turf racing and 2-year-olds, and those are the central themes across the nation Saturday.
In the Midwest, the 35th running of the Arlington Million (G1T) follows two other grade 1 grass races at Arlington International Racecourse, the Secretariat for 3-year-olds and the Beverly D. for fillies and mares.
In upstate New York, Saratoga Race Course offers the grassy Fourstardave Handicap (G1T), as well as the Adirondack Stakes (G2) for 2-year-old fillies.
Out in Southern California, eight juvenile colts will square off in the $200,000 Best Pal Stakes (G2) at Del Mar.
We'll focus on the grade 1 turf races:
Secretariat (Arlington, race 7, 4:50 p.m. ET): Only six signed on for this 1 1/4-mile test, and the tried and true take-out strategy of one from Column A and one from Column B may be the way to go. That is simply because Oscar Performance (4) is the best of the three entrants from the United States, and Permian (3) looks best among the three Europeans.
Oscar Performance handled the 10 furlongs nicely enough in the rich Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes (G1T) last time out, and his win in the Pennine Ridge Stakes (G3T) two back took on added significance when runner-up Good Samaritan returned to post a dominating win in the Jim Dandy Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G2). Oscar Performance's full brother, Oscar Nominated, runs in the Million later on the program.
Permian ran in the Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris (G1)—one of Europe's oldest stakes races—on Bastille Day, and led to the final strides before he was run down by the Aga Khan's Shakeel. Prior to that he had won stakes at Royal Ascot, York, and Newmarket earlier this season. He goes well on firm ground.
A - 4
B - 3
Beverly D. (Arlington, race 10, 6:35 ET): Things get more complicated here, but it's difficult to knock Dona Bruja (4), the mare from Argentina, who is now 10-2-0 from 12 starts after coming to the United States to win the Mint Julep Handicap (G3T) at Churchill Downs and the Modesty Handicap (G3T) over the Beverly D. layout five weeks ago.
Dona Bruja's final win in her native country was at the expense of Kiriaki, who subsequently earned an automatic berth in the Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1) by taking the Gran Premio Criadores (G1).
A 30-1 morning-line quote on Sarandia seems remarkably generous, considering she has won five of seven starts on ground labeled as "good," which is usually the equivalent of our "firm."
Rain Goddess was up late for second in the Darley Irish Oaks (G1) on short rest last time out, and it's noteworthy that Zhukova, who was coming off a win over males in the Man o' War Stakes (G1T), could do no better than fourth.
A - 1, 4, 9
B - 7, 10
C - 8
Arlington Million (Arlington, race 11, 7:19 ET): Last year Deauville (5) nearly became the first 3-year-old to win the Million since Tolomeo edged John Henry in 1983, but he came up a half-length short after leading in the stretch and lost second late to Kasaqui (8).
Deauville will shed a dozen pounds, and is back on Lasix, after he prepped for this in a group 3 over yielding turf in Ireland.
Mekhtaal (13) moves into post 12 now that Scottish has been scratched, but that's still a very low-percentage place to be in 10-furlong races on the Arlington turf course. Be that as it may, he's still a use for me based on a group 1 win two starts back and a switch to Frankie Dettori.
I'll throw in Beach Patrol (10) and Ascend (12) as well. However, it looks as though Father Time may have caught up to 2015 Million winner The Pizza Man (7), who notched the first of his 10 local wins back in 2012.
A - 5, 8
B - 10, 12, 13
Fourstardave (Saratoga, race 10, 6:28 ET): The forecast calls for scattered thunderstorms developing in the afternoon, which you may recall as a forecast very similar to a year ago, when the last half of the Fourstardave card was wiped out by a storm of Biblical proportions and the race was rescheduled for the following week.
Then again, the forecast last Saturday called for a 100% chance of rain, and possibly some hail, but nothing of the kind ever materialized. Being a weatherman is nice work if you can get it.
At any rate, with only six entered for turf, the main talk is whether the filly Sassy Little Lila (5) can take advantage of a lone-speed situation while getting seven to nine pounds from her male rivals.
I suppose it could happen, but the daughter of 2005 Breeders' Cup Mile (G1T) winner Artie Schiller was able to set dawdling fractions of :23.70 and :46.92 and still wasn't able to hang on in the Just a Game (G1T). It's hard to imagine things being any easier for her up front here.
Disco Partner (6) is the one they have to beat. After he ran six furlongs in a North American record 1:05.67 in the Jaipur (G3T), he stretched out nicely to take the one-mile Forbidden Apple while hardly drawing a deep breath. He is in the best form of his life, plain and simple.
Disco Partner projects to get first run on the filly, and from there it will be a question of whether he can outkick Time Test (3) and World Approval (7), who are cutting back in distance after disappointing efforts in the Woodford Reserve Manhattan (G1T).
A - 6
B - 3, 7
C - 5