Friday, September 9, 2016

Handicapper's Corner: Arlington-Washington Futurity (GIII)

2016 Arlington-Washington Futurity Wellabled Stars

By: Nicolle Neulist,

Race 8: Arlington-Washington Futurity (GIII), seven furlongs on the polytrack, post time 4:56 CDT

The Arlington-Washington Futurity began its life as the American National Futurity in 1927 and 1928.  Reborn in 1932 and rechristened the Arlington Futurity, its name added the nod to Washington Park in 1962.  A Grade I from when races were first assigned grades in 1973 through 1989, it has held its current GIII designations since 2002.  Run at distances between six furlongs and a mile, it has been run at its current seven-furlong distance since 2014.  

The most recent winner of the Arlington-Washington Futurity to win the race en route to a championship was Gilded Time (1992): already a winner of the Sapling (GII) before coming to Arlington, and winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) in his next start.  Earlier in its history, the race’s winners list is rich with eventual champion juveniles: Honest Pleasure (1975), Silent Screen (1969), Vitriolic (1967), Buckpasser (1965), Ridan (1961), Hasty Road (1953), and Ladysman (1932).

Though this year's rendition of the Arlington-Washington Futurity drew just one Illinois-bred (MAXUS), horses from the Land of Lincoln have seen success in this race.  The last two winners, Shogood (2015) and Recount (2014), were bred here; both continued to be successful in stakes company at age three.  Durable state-bred Polar Expedition (1993), a millionaire who won graded stakes through age seven, annexed his first graded score in the Futurity as well.  All Fired Up (1983) also carried the mantle for Illinois, following up a win in the Ak-Sar-Ben Juvenile Stakes (GIII) two weeks before with a victory back home.  Though Run Dusty Run (1976) was not himself Illinois-bred, he did his Illinois-bred sire (Kentucky Derby winner Dust Commander) proud by winning this race, and then hitting the board in all three Triple Crown races that year.

ROMEO O ROMEO debuted on August 21 over the Arlington polytrack.  He was right on a heavily contested pace, looked passed, and yet kicked back on to win by a length and a quarter.  This race, of course, will be tougher than that group.  But, it showed that he has the ability to manage a fight on the front: useful, given that most of this field has made its impression on or near the lead.  ROMEO O ROMEO also has every right to stretch out: he is by Macho Uno out of Romance Is Diane.  Romance Is Diane won the Grade I Hollywood Starlet at age two, going two turns over the synthetic at Hollywood.  ROMEO O ROMEO may get a bit ignored in the betting behind a few other horses, as well, making him the value of the race.

The two real standouts in the field are WELLABLED and STAR EMPIRE.  Between the two, STAR EMPIRE appeals a bit more.  The Wesley Ward trainee debuted at Belmont in May and won in a romp.  But, he showed a different side when he returned at Presque Isle last month.  He stretch out to six and a half furlongs, say off the pace instead of running right on it, and rallied gamely to win.  The Arlington-Washington Futurity is a seven-furlong race, and STAR EMPIRE is the only one who brings an extended one-turn victory in with him.  He also comes in second off a break, giving him a chance to step forward off an already solid last time out.

WELLABLED posted a blazing wire-to-wire debut win at Arlington earlier in the meet, proving he can handle the polytrack beautifully.  He then shipped up to Saratoga and switched to the grass for the Skidmore Stakes.  He went perhaps a bit too fast early there, and just got nailed by Harlan's Harmony at the wire.  The stretch to seven furlongs along with all the speed in the race raise some questions.  but, he looks like the speed of the speed, gets a switch back to E. T. Baird, and may well like the polytrack more than the grass.  In short, WELLABLED is a defensive use.

One to take a shot against here is SEVEN FORTY SEVEN.  After being so live on the board at Saratoga, he stands to take some money here on the drop to a softer circuit, despite being a maiden still.  But, that outing at the Spa seemed to suggest that he needs to be on the lead, at least for now.  And, the odds of him outgunning the likes of WELLABLED seem slim.

#3 ROMEO O ROMEO (6/1)
#9 STAR EMPIRE (5/1)
#7 WELLABLED (5/2)

Longshot:  #11 MAXUS (30/1) gets a class test here -- this field will be a lot tougher than the $35,000 maiden claimers he faced on debut.  But, it would not be unprecedented for trainer Wayne Catalano to take a juvenile from a win in the maiden claiming ranks at Arlington to stakes level: that's the same thing he did with 2009 Lassie winner and eventual divisional champion She Be Wild.  MAXUS is one of only two in this field who is cutting back from a route to a sprint here, so the distance is no question.  He also came from off the pace in his maiden victory, a positive sign since so many in this field have shown blazing early speed.  Finally, MAXUS should handle the polytrack just fine: he has some solid works over it, and he is a full brother to Fire Tricks, a stakes-winning polytrack sprinter.  At a price, there's enough to like about MAXUS on the class rise to include him on tickets here.


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