Will a Turf King be Crowned in Arlington Million?
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. Its first running is commemorated with a statue overlooking the paddock at Arlington Park: a replica of the tight photo finish that went to John Henry over The Bart.
The victor's spoils include 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)
A field of ten, including last year's Secretariat Stakes (G1) winner Oscar Performance, will vie for their shares of a million-dollar purse. (Eleven drew into the race, but according to the Daily Racing Form, Divisidero is expected to scratch from the Million and run in the Fourstardave (G1) at Saratoga instead.)
Robert Bruce got mugged in the Manhattan (G1) last-up. The Chile-bred four-year-old, undefeated leading into that race, got squished between horses twice down the lane, and somehow managed to recover enough momentum to make up ground at the end. He crossed the wire just a length behind Spring Quality, who had far smoother sailing outside. This consistent colt has never run a bad race -- and his tenacity in the face of trouble suggests he'll be ready for another smart try. From a pace perspective he should be well set, too; he is tactically versatile enough to track closer up or set well back, so he'll be effective whether Oscar Performance, Catcho En Die, or both go to the lead. The ground should suit, as well, as he can handle ground with some wet in it. All in all, Robert Bruce is a consistent and versatile horse who should be ready with his best here.
Almanaar looked a rising star on the American turf scene last year when he won the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (G1) last year. Then, he was off for over a year. His return was strong, however: even though it was an allowance race, he won easily despite taking a while to settle down, while multiple graded stakes winner Ticonderoga was being asked. In short? He won his return with more in the tank, and now should be fitter second-up. He should be doing his best work late, but has proven he can rally well even if the pace in front of him isn't torrid. The biggest question about Almanaar is the distance, as he was well beaten in his only ten-furlong try. But, that was over a bog -- though there has been some rain this week at Arlington, the turf course was quite firm leading into the week, and the ground won't be as saturated as soft going at Deauville.
Beyond that pair, there are a lot of horses who could have a say. Morning line favorite Oscar Performance won the Secretariat Stakes over the course and distance last year, and should likely be tracking just off Catcho En Die. (Or, perhaps, he makes the running if Catcho En Die does not fire early.) But, at a likely short price, he's hard to love on top. T here's the other Chad Brown, Money Multiplier, who comes into this in good form and should handle the distance, but has been a nibbles-underneath sort at this level. There's Spring Quality, who has some pace versatility and is a last-out Grade 1 winner at the distance, but is unproven over ground with some cut.
So, we'll look abroad to the "A" Euro. No, not Deauville, who is hard to trust as anything but an underneath sort. We mean Century Dream, a horse who ran a cracking fourth in the Queen Anne (G1) at Royal Ascot two starts back -- three quarters of a length behind winner Accidental Agent, and just a nose behind next-out Sussex Stakes (G1) winner Lightning Spear. Though he wasn't quite as sharp next out for the Summer Mile (G2), perhaps he regressed after such a big effort. A question about Century Dream is the distance, as he has not yet won at a mile and a quarter against this class. But, he has won at the distance last year, and did prepare for that outing at a mile. Though his single mile and a quarter effort this year was disappointing, Century Dream has some excuses: the Prix d'Harcourt (G2) was his first outing in half a year, and his first against Group company. He has rounded into better form since then, and this pace-versatile son of Cape Cross should be well suited by ground that has gotten a drink of water this week.
#10 Robert Bruce (9/2)
#3 Almanaar (5/1)
#5 Century Dream (12/1)
As discussed above, there are plenty of short- to mid-priced horses who can get a piece of this. But, for a big bomber? There's a lot to be said for up-and-comer #7 TWENTY FOUR SEVEN (30/1). He will have to take a step forward for this, of course; his two wins this meet have come in allowances, and he was sixth in the Arlington Handicap last-up. He will have to run his best race. But, it isn't an unreasonable step forward he needs to finish in the frame.
The step forward in distance will help: Twenty Four Seven was gradually making up ground in the Arlington Handicap. He stretches out another half-furlong here, and given his breeding, the extra ground should suit.
Twenty Four Seven is by City Zip, whose progeny can be any kind, and the underside is all turf route class. His dam is a half-sister to Breeders' Cup Turf winner Chief Bearhart, Secretariat Stakes 2nd-place finisher Explosive Red, and Ruby Ransom, the dam of MG2W turf router Strut the Stage.
All in all, does Twenty Four Seven look a likely winner? Not really; he's probably not fast enough, and he doesn't quite have the turn of foot. But, does he have a better shot to invade the exotics than your average 30/1 morning line shot? Between his affinity for the course, his dogged late improvement in the Arlington Handicap, and his turf route pedigree, he does.