By: Nicolle Neulist, Blinkers-Off
The centerpiece of the summer meet at Arlington is the Arlington Million: the world's first million-dollar Thoroughbred race when it was inaugurated in 1981.
Last year's winner Mondialiste did not return to contest his title, as the two-week turnaround between the York Stakes (G2) and the Arlington Million was a bit too tight. But, one horse will vie to join John Henry (1981, 1984) as a two-time winner of the Million: 2015 hero The Pizza Man, who makes his third tilt at his state's richest horse race.
Race 11: Arlington Million (G1), three-year-olds and up, one and one quarter miles on the turf, post time 6:19pm CDT
The Pizza Man will face eleven other foes in Saturday's attempt. (Thirteen horses entered, but Scottish came up injured out of a workout on Thursday morning.) The field will run for the biggest share of a million-dollar purse, as well as a Win and You're In berth to the Breeders' Cup Turf (G1). To date, one horse has swept that Arlington Million - Breeders' Cup Turf double: Little Mike, in 2014. However, one other horse won a Breeders' Cup race after his Million triumph; Steinlen (1989) ended his championship campaign that year with a victory in the Breeders' Cup Mile (G1).
I'll come right out and say it: I'm glad Kasaqui didn't win the Arlington Handicap, but I'm glad he ran in it. Had he won, or had he come straight into the Arlington Million off his score in the Wise Dan (G2) in June, his price would not be quite as good as it will be now, coming off a loss to Ghost Hunter and Oak Brook. But? The Arlington Handicap wasn't the goal. Ignacio Correas had one horse he was dead serious throughout about running on Million Preview Day -- and it was Dona Bruja, not Kasaqui. Here, Kasaqui comes to his goal, and gets a distance he proved last year that he could handle. He gets rider James Graham back from his last two starts. He has solid pace versatility, though that midpack trip that has worked pretty well for him in his last two starts should work out well here. And, Kasaqui looked strong, built, and ready when coming out in the morning. This is the goal, he is ready to do his runner-up finish last year one better, and if he goes off anywhere near his 10/1 on the morning line? All day, bet this grey.
Deauville returns to American shores for the first time since his third-place finish last year in the Arlington Million. Just a sophomore last year, he has had a strong season if you're willing to toss the two starts over less-than-good going. It makes sense to toss them -- Deauville has always been a firmer-the-better type. And, the course he gets Saturday in the Arlington Million should be just the sort that brings out the best in this son of Galileo. Deauville should be a forward presence in the Arlington Million, though he does not need to be right on the front end. And, he gets a return to Ryan Moore in the saddle. Moore has done much good work on Deauville, and though he didn't ride in Chicago last year, that was due to injury -- and he has enough back form on Million Day to suggest he is ready to give Deauville a good ride. Deauville will be the favorite, but a deserving one, and it would be no surprise to see him bring the Million to Ballydoyle.
Beach Patrol is one of those horses who, at least, always puts in a good try. The big question is the fact that he hasn't won in a year. But, that last win of his came right here at Arlington Park in the 2016 Secretariat, proving he has some affinity for the Arlington course. He does have some tables to turn here, on Divisidero and Ascend. The distance should give him the edge over the former: Divisidero (who beat him in the Turf Classic (G1) at Churchill three back) is a nine-furlong horse, and has yet to show his best going ten. Ascend is marooned out even wider than Beach Patrol is, and he just raced two weeks back in the Bowling Green. Beach Patrol last raced about a month and a half ago -- that was in the United Nations (G1), where he was third, but Beach Patrol should appreciate the cut back from eleven furlongs to ten. The one big question is the jockey, as Florent Geroux defects to Oscar Nominated. But -- he gets Joel Rosario in the irons, a rider who has been on fire lately with trainer Chad Brown, and perhaps Brown decided a jockey change would help remind Beach Patrol how to win.
#1 Kasaqui (10/1)
#5 Deauville (7/2)
#10 Beach Patrol (5/1)
Longshot: #2 Oscar Nominated (15/1) has class to prove against this set, and tables to turn against several in this field: Divisidero, Beach Patrol, Enterprising, and Kasaqui, from his last four starts alone. Even so? His races earlier this year when Divisidero, Enterprising, and Kasaqui all beat him were just a mile and an eighth. He is about as well-bred as any American could be for this mile and a quarter distance, and he finished a closer fifth behind Beach Patrol in the Secretariat last year, his only try at this distance. The switch back to Florent Geroux (who did not ride him in the Secretariat last year, but who has had the call in five out of eight starts since) is a positive at Arlington, as is his ultimate tactical versatility. Oscar Nominated can run well from close to the pace, well off it, or anywhere in between. Expect him to be a bit off the pace, as Oak Brook, Deauville, and MEKHTAAL all should be forward, and Beach Patrol won't be too far off them as well.