Friday, June 22, 2018

Handicapper's Corner: Chicago Handicap (G3)

Competitive Chicago 'Cap Draws 13 

By: Nicolle Neulist, Blinkers-Off 

After a year's diversion to Churchill Downs, the Chicago Handicap is back where it belongs this year: Arlington Park.  This year marks the 29th running of the race.  Last year's edition was at Churchill Downs, though it was run at Arlington for all its editions before that.

Though the surfaces differ, the Chicago Handicap does cover the same trip as the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint: seven furlongs.  One horse, Informed Decision, has swept the Chicago Handicap-Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Spring double.  She did so in 2009 on the way to an Eclipse for Champion Female Sprinter, then came back to win another edition of the Chicago Handicap in 2010.  One other mare has won both this race and a Breeders' Cup race.  Hall of Fame inductee Safely Kept (1991) beat males in the Breeders' Cup Sprint and was also named Champion Sprinter the previous year.  Though Meafara (1993) never won a Breeders' Cup race, she came close twice, as she was Breeders' Cup Sprint runner-up in both 1992 and 1993.

In recent years at Arlington, local horses and connections have made good account of themselves. Ingrid Mason trainee Sarah Sis claimed the 2016 running of the Chicago Handicap.  In 2014 a Chris Block charge, My Option, ran down Flower Spell, another standard-bearer for the Mason barn.

Arlington Park - Saturday, June 23

Race 8: Chicago Handicap (G3), fillies and mares, three-year-olds and up, seven furlongs on the polytrack, post time 5:11pm CST

This year's Chicago Handicap drew a field of thirteen fillies and mares to vie for a $100,000 purse.  It's a competitive affair: a mix of proven Arlington runners and those trying the local Polytrack for the first time, a mix of proven seven-furlong runners and horses who are dabbling at the distance to see if it suits.

The race looks uncommon from a pace perspective.  For a one-turn race with thirteen entrants, it didn't draw a whole lot of speed. Several of the entrants have route speed – Princess La Quinta, Babybluesbdancing, One Liz, Full of Zip – but few have sharp sprint speed.

That makes Marquee Miss on the rail interesting.  The daughter of Cowboy Cal lost her last race at the break: she came out of the gate poorly, and never recovered.  But, with a better break she could jump from the rail and set the fractions.  Other than that last race, her form over the Polytrack is good: she won the Arlington-Washington Lassie (a seven-furlong Polytrack sprint) on debut, and also has a second-place finish over the course. 

And, if Marquee Miss doesn't strike the front immediately?  As long as she gets out of the gate cleanly, she also has a rate-and-rally gear, and has successfully rated and rallied from inside draws.  Finally, the barn bodes well.  The last two times the Chicago Handicap was run in Chicago, Ingrid Mason had something to say: her Sarah Sis won in 2016, and her Flower Spell led a long way and held on for second in 2014.  At a reasonable price in a wide-open race, Marquee Miss gets top billing.

Hotshot Anna tries graded company for the first time, and found a good spot at which to do it.  She comes off a sharp victory at Canterbury, done in stalk-and-pounce style, going six and a half furlongs.  Now she stretches to seven for the first time: but between her sharp six and a half furlong score and the fact that she has been able to stretch her form out to a mile, seven should suit Hotshot Anna well.  Though she is an off-pace type, she shouldn't need to rally from the clouds, and she doesn't need a pace collapse to find her rally.  The biggest question about Hotshot Anna is the Polytrack.  But, since her only start came in her debut, her inexperience may do more to explain her off-board finish than the surface.  Hotshot Anna has a couple of local works, suggesting she has settled in.  If she can run as fast here as she can on the dirt at Canterbury and Oaklawn, she looms a threat.

Grade 1 winner Union Strike brings class to this affair.  Her current form is a question, as she has been out of the starting gate since a fifth-place finish in the Grade 2 La Canada Stakes at Santa Anita.  The Polytrack is also a question, as she has only ever run on dirt.  But, the most consistent thing about Union Strike's form is her ability at extended sprint distances. She won the Del Mar Debutante (G1) at seven furlongs, won the six-and-a-half-furlong Santa Paula, and finished second beaten only a head in the seven-furlong Eight Belles (G2).  This race has Union Strike right back in that distance sweet spot.  On pace, she should be fine; though she's an off-pace type, she rallied well even if the pace in front of her is not torrid.  Union Strike has also shown the ability to fire fresh; she won the Santa Paula first off a four-month lay.  Trainer Mick Ruis has found a reasonable spot to bring Union Strike back, and she figures strongly if she takes to the Polytrack.


#1 Marquee Miss

#7 Hotshot Anna

#2 Union Strike

Longshot:  It's almost a surprise that Illinois-bred #11 One Liz hasn't run seven furlongs before.  After all, over the course of her twenty-six race career, it seems the seven-year-old grey has tried just about every surface and distance under the sun and been able to excel at all of them.  She can sprint, and she can route.  She can sit near the lead, or she can rally from well off the going.  And, she has been excellent on the Arlington polytrack.   

One Liz finished off the board on debut – but in six starts since, she has five wins and a second-place finish.  That second-place finish came last out, but she faced the futile task of chasing a loose-on-the-lead Dreamofjean E. all the way around.   

Though Julio Felix, her rider for her last two, he defects to Babybluesbdancing?That doesn't look like an indictment of One Liz's form, as Felix has been riding Babybluesbdancing since she was a juvenile.Instead top rider Jose Valdivia takes the reins on One Liz; Valdivia booted One Liz home to a sprint stakes victory at Arlington last year. If she brings her best form, he could guide her to another one at a price.

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