John Shirreffs has trained more than 20 graded stakes winners, but After Market, who will be one of the favorites in the Aug. 11 Arlington Million (gr. IT), has a unique quality among them—his ability to out kick his opponents down the stretch.
"I guess one of the things you look for is a horse that can kick at the end, to have the ability to sprint the last part. Being a Storm Cat, going a mile-and-a-quarter, and having that kick is exceptional. He has that explosive kick; he is one of those exceptional horses," Shirreffs said.
"He really makes a big move; his move is the best down the stretch of any horse I have trained," Shirreffs said Aug. 7 during the weekly National Thoroughbred Racing Association teleconference.
Part of his kick, Shirreffs said, might come from the 4-year-old colt's dam. He is the first foal out of the multiple grade I-winning Rahy mare Tranquility Lake.
"She was such a great race mare," the trainer said. "He is so unique with his qualities and the way he runs. He is deceptively tall because he is so muscular. He is a big, robust horse."
The Million is the highlight of Arlington Park's turf card Aug. 11, which also features the Beverly D. (gr. IT) for females and Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT) for 3-year-olds.
After Market, a homebred for Marty and Pam Wygod, started his career with trainer Bill Mott on the East Coast. He has run five times for Shirreffs, winning his last three, the Inglewood Handicap (gr. IIIT), Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap (gr. IT), and Eddie Read Handicap (gr. IT), the latter July 22. Alex Solis will again have the mount.
"That is probably the only concern, the short time between races, but the Million is such a prestigious race. As horses go, sometimes they start to peak but if you are lucky they continue to get better. Every time we challenged him he was up to the challenge," Shirreffs said.
The colt also won two stakes with Mott last year, the Lexington (gr. IIIT) and National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. IIT).
It was recently announced he would stand at Lane's End Farm following his racing career. That is one factor, Shirreffs said, that may force them to look at a stakes on dirt, including the Breeders' Cup Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I).
Among those expected to challenge After Market are last year's Million winner, The Tin Man, and new turf star Sunriver. Both are good stories in their own right, The Tin Man being a 9-year-old and Sunriver being a classic-placed runner who is now two-for-two in his new career on grass.
While Shirreffs is right that the Million is prestigious, at least one owner said he thinks the race has lost some of its luster because of its purse.
Barry Irwin, head of Team Valor, will run Irridescence in the Beverly D. but said the Million was also considered for the South African-bred filly.
"The Beverly D. is a very hot thing. It has gotten very prestigious," Irwin said. "The Million has gone down some. A million dollars is not a lot of money anymore. Two million would be better and three million even better.
"In order to get horses good enough, in order to get people to leave Europe, you have to give them something significant. A horse that may have a shot at the Arc (Fr-I) is not going to come for this race. We were thinking about running (Irridescence) in the Million because there might not be much difference (in the toughness of the fields)."
The Beverly D. carries a purse of $750,000.
This will be the first, and probably only, race in the United States for Irridescence, Irwin said. It was chosen in part because several of her owners live in Chicago. She is a group I winner in South Africa and Hong Kong.
Irwin said he had just learned that her regular rider, Weichong Marwing, was returning to South Africa and the daughter of Caesour would be ridden for the first time in the Beverly D. by Johnny Murtagh. She is trained by Mike de Kock.
Among the others expected for the Beverly D are Honey Ryder, the top turf mare who last out finished second against males in the United Nations Handicap (gr. IT).