Summer is starting to heat up here in Chicagoland, and so is the racing at Arlington International Racecourse.
The biggest race day of the year is, of course, the Grade I Arlington Million. But this weekend’s Million Preview Day will feature some racing that may be just as compelling.
For the fifth year in a row, The Pizza Man, an Illinois-bred and fan favorite, will contest the Grade III Stars and Stripes, a 1 ½-mile affair on the turf which goes off as race 8. The eight-year-old Gelding is a two-time winner of this event, including a win in 2015 that propelled him to his upset victory in the Million. The Roger Brueggemann charge is coming off of a fourth-place finish in the Black Tie Affair on June 17 following a seven-month layoff.
He was closing fast into a slow pace that day under Arlington’s leading jockey, Jose Valdivia, Jr., and could be primed for a big race with a better pace setup. His connections would surely love to give The Pizza Man’s fans a thrill at his favorite track and though he will always be an underlay when he runs at Arlington, he may just be sitting on a monster effort come Saturday in his second race off a layoff.
His main competition may be the likely pacesetter, Applicator, who is coming off an eighth-place finish in the Grade I Manhattan Handicap at Belmont Park on June 10. Though he faded late, he may be the lone speed in this race and could have enough gas in the tank to hold off The Pizza Man’s late charge.
The other two main contenders, Keystoneforvictory and Flashy Chelsey, should ensure an honest pace under riders Julien Leperoux and Robbie Albarado, respectively, setting the table for Illinois’ favorite son.
(Applicator is cross-entered in the Arlington Handicap. If he scratches out of the Stars and Stripes, longshot Mongol G will be the lone speed. I doubt he will be up to the challenge of staying the distance, but he may complicate matters for the late-running The Pizza Man.)
Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Gorgeous Kitten is sure to be a short price in race 5, the Grade III American Derby, a 1 1/8-mile affair for three-year-olds on the turf which serves as the local prep race for the Grade I Secretariat Stakes on Arlington Million Day. The Kitten’s Joy colt finished second here in the Arlington Classic last month, and will leave from the rail under jockey Robbie Albarado.
He may get squeezed by Sonic Boom, an Ian Wilkes charge who will likely show early speed under Julian Leparoux. If a speed duel breaks out between that one and Hembree, who is trying his luck on the turf again after two disappointing dirt tries for trainer Joe Sharp, look for Imposing Will to make a late charge on the outside.
The likely favorite in the Grade III Modesty Handicap, the local prep race for the Beverly D. which goes off as race 6, is Time and Motion. James Toner’s four-year-old filly will enjoy some class relief after a disappointing sixth-place finish in the Grade I Jenny Wiley at Keenland in April and a third-place finish in the Grade III Beaugay at Belmont Park in May. Jockey Florent Geroux returns to the Windy City to pilot the daughter of Tapit.
She may see some stiff competition in the South American import Dona Bruja, who has been referred to as a “freak” by her trainer Ignacio Correas. Dona Bruja made her North America debut as a five-year-old in last month’s Grade III Mint Julep Handicap at Churchill Downs, where she benefitted from a dream rail trip and fast pace to defeat 3/5 favorite Believe in Bertie, earning a 103 Beyer Speed Figure in the process.
To me, the Modesty is essentially a two-horse race, although Wayne Catalano has a couple of interesting entries in One Liz and Daring Duchess. Still, I’ll be leaning hard on Time and Motion, keying her on top of my exotic wagers and singling her in my multi-race wagers.
Finally, in the Grade III Arlington Handicap, the ninth race on the card, Kasaqui (ARG) will return as the defending champ in an event he used as a springboard to a second-place finish in last year’s Million. The seven-year-old horse is in top form, coming off a victory in the Grade II Wise Dan at Churchill Downs on June 17. He has shown an affinity for the Arlington turf course — a course that jockey James Graham is quite familiar with — and will be tough to beat.
Kasaqui will face a number of formidable opponents, including a couple of tough local foes in Oak Brook and Cammack.
Oak Brook, a five-year-old Illinois-bred gelding, is coming off a 16-1 wire-to-wire upset victory in the aforementioned Black Tie Affair. Though he benefited from a perfect pace setup on a yielding track, he gamely held off a hard-charging Cammack down the stretch to get the win.
If Applicator’s connections choose to run him in the Stars and Stripes, Oak Brook will again have his way on the lead and he could wire the field for a second time in a row.
The race is wide open, however, with the aforementioned Cammack, Taghleeb, Manitoulin and Sir Dudley Digges all having a legitimate chance.
Assuming Applicator scratches in order to run in the Stars and Stripes, Oak Brook will be my top selection.
While the eyes of the racing world will be rightly focused on the Stars and Stripes Racing Festival at Belmont Park this Saturday, horseplayers and casual fans alike would be wise to spend some time handicapping Saturday’s card and enjoying some great racing at beautiful Arlington Park.