If turf racing is one’s fancy, this is the weekend when you feel like Christmas shows up just a bit early each season.
In a summer loaded with performances from the best competitors on dirt, the spotlight gets turned solely on some of the top grass performers this Saturday with four Grade I turf contests on tap, including three from Arlington Park’s signature blockbuster card.
The Grade I Arlington Million, and its illustrious undercard, has long prided itself on drawing an international slate of challengers to the palace that the Chicago-based track. This year is no exception as trainer Aidan O’Brien has sent a stout contingent from his Ballydoyle operation – including the barn’s namesake – to contest all three Grade I tests and Godolphin Racing’s Group I winner Tryster will make his North American debut in the 1 ¼-miles test.
For all of the Arlington Million’s international appeal, the track’s marquee prize has stayed in domestic hands of late with U.S.-based runners taking the last four editions of the race. This year’s 13-horse Million field is a wide-open affair with Mark Casse-trainee World Approval a top candidate to carry forth the streak of U.S. success on the heels of his breakout triumph in the Grade I United Nations Stakes at Monmouth Park on July 3.
The 4-year-old Northern Afleet gelding has not been worse than third in five starts this year and has proven form over the Arlington course having won the Grade III American Derby last July.
“I think that maybe when he grew up a lot from 3 to 4, that was big,” Casse said of World Approval’s development. “But more importantly, I think we’re utilizing the speed that he has and positioning him closer to the front which is a big key with him.”
Saratoga has kept Arlington from cornering the market on the top turf runners this weekend. The $500,000 Fourstardave Handicap, which was elevated to Grade I status for 2016, is another pick ‘em affair with a field of ten looking to take advantage of the fact that champion turf female Tepin is bypassing the race.
Here is your weekend cheat sheet to the biggest racing action:
Grade I, $450,000 Secretariat Stakes for 3-year-olds going 1 ¼ miles on the turf at Arlington Park
Post time: 4:43 p.m. EDT
Key contender: The O’Brien-trained Long Island Sound made his North American debut in last month’s Grade I Belmont Derby where he finished sixth, beaten 2¼ lengths by Arlington Million contender Deauville. The Secretariat will mark just the sixth career start for the son of War Front who opened his career with three consecutive wins in Ireland.
Others to watch: Cherry Wine, runner-up in this year’s Preakness Stakes, will be making his first start on turf since his juvenile. The Ben Colebrook-trained Surgical Strike has form over the Arlington surface, having won the Grade III Arlington Classic Stakes on May 28, and finished fifth, ahead of Long Island Sound, in the Belmont Derby on July 9.
Grade I, $700,000 Beverly D. Stakes for fillies and mares going 1 3/16 miles on the turf at Arlington Park
Post time: 5:21 p.m. EDT
Key contender: Sea Calisi could become the latest Chad Brown-trained filly to earn Grade I success in his barn after beginning her career overseas. The daughter of Youmzain won the Grade II Sheepshead Bay in her North American debut at Belmont Park on May 7 and was twice Group I-placed in England. Sea Calisi is coming off a narrow defeat to stablemate Dacita in the Grade II New York in June and has been the regular workmate of unbeaten Grade I winner Lady Eli.
Others to watch: Aidan O’Brien will send out a pair of 3-year-old fillies by Galileo in Ballydoyle and Coolmore. Ballydoyle, a Group I winner at the age of two in France, was a disappointing 13th and last during her North American debut in the Grade I Belmont Oaks in July, the same race that Coolmore finished third in. Faufiler, another daughter of Galileo, represents the Graham Motion barn and comes into the Beverly D. on the heels of a victory Grade III Modesty Handicap at Arlington on July 9.
Grade I, $1,000,000 Arlington Million for 3-year-olds and up going 1 ¼ miles on the turf at Arlington Park
Post time: 6:09 p.m. EDT
Key contender: Godolphin Racing’s Tryster tops the field and brings considerable class to his first North American start. Last seen finishing fifth in the Group I Prince of Wales Stakes at Royal Ascot in June, the 5-year-old son of Shamardal earned a Group I win in early March in the Emirates Jebel Hatta at Meydan. In between those two races, the Charles Appleby-trainee finished third in the Group I $6,000,000 Dubai Turf on the Dubai World Cup card.
Others to watch: The Pizza Man scored a most emotional victory in last year’s Million when he became the first Illinois-bred to capture the race. The English Channel gelding has not been able to find his form this season, however, losing each of his three starts so far in 2016 including a fourth-place run in the Grade III Stars and Stripes Stakes at Arlington on July 9. Take the Stand hasn’t raced since Grade II Muniz Memorial Handicap at Fair Grounds on March 26 but trainer Bill Mott is a master at bringing horses up to top form off a layoff.
Grade I, $500,000 Fourstardave Handicap for 3-year-olds and up going one mile on the turf at Saratoga Race Course.
Post time: 6:32 p.m. EDT
Key contender: Grade I winner Grand Arch is the defending winner of the Fourstardave but is still trying to get back to his best form in what will be just his third start of 2016. The Arch gelding was most recently sixth in the Grade III Poker Stakes at Belmont Park on June 18 after running third in the Grade II Dixie Stakes during his seasonal bow at Pimlico on May 21. “He’s never run bad at Saratoga so we’re hoping he gives us a repeat performance,” trainer Brian Lynch said “There’s the old saying ‘horses for courses’ and it seems like he likes this one.”
Others to watch: Ring Weekend finished a brave second, beaten just a neck by fellow Fourstardave entrant Takeover Target in the Grade II Dixie Stakes. That race was the first start for Ring Weekend in more than a year after the Tapit gelding was sidelined with a terrible foot abscess. Stakes winner Tourist has lost five straight but has been knocking on the door of top-level success including his second-place effort in the Grade I Shoemaker Mile Stakes on June 4 at Santa Anita Park.