Arlinton Million, Race 11, Saturday, August 18
$1-million, 1 1/4 miles on Turf
1 Rahystrada (8-1) finished finished 5th, beaten 3 3/4 lengths, in last year's Million, which had a better field than this year with the likes of multiple Group 1 winners Cape Blanco and U.S. champion grass horse Gio Ponti. An eight-year-old gelding, Rahystrada won the local prep the Arlington Handicap (G3) here on July 14. He was cleverly sent to the front that day by jockey Joel Rosario and set slow fractions. He came home in 23-4 to hold off Boisterous by a neck. The rail post, the presence of real speed (Little Mike), plus the rider switch to Julien Leparoux probably means Rahystrada will be coming from a bit off the pace on Saturday. I don't envision him landing anything more than a minor award.
2 Boisterous (4-1) probably was best in the local prep but he did not get a very urgent ride from Alan Garcia, who was too far back of a slow pace, moved too late and got caught wide. Garcia gets replaced here by Jose Lezcano (upgrade). I like the local prep, eventhough that race does not historically produce Million winners. His final quarter in 22-4 is the type of late run it takes to win this race, but his lack of positional speed does not make things easy for him. Contender, but has to prove himself at this level.
3 Afsare (6-1) is consistent with 4 wins and 4 seconds in 13 starts in Europe, where he is a multiple stakes winner and multiple group placed. He shows a good combination of tracking speed and a steady late move. In the SkyBet Yorke Stakes (Eng-G2), run on a left-handed course going slightly longer than the Million distance, Afsare ran a very good one. First covered up, he then burst to the lead and was taken to the near side of the course to head off rivals, then back to the middle of the course to match strides with Sri Putra (G2/G3 type), who outfinished him by a neck out in the middle of the track.
Afsare met today's rival Crackerjack King on that one's home turf in Italy back on May 13. Afsare got first run and hit the lead a tad early that day (about 3f out). Crackerjack ran him down, showing an extra gear late. Regular rider K. Fallon knows this horse well and rides him confidently. Could get a nice stalking trip from this post. Contender.
4 Little Mike (6-1) could be lone speed in here, depending on what the runner to his outside does. Speed always has to be respected on this course. He is a Grade 1 winner courtesy of the lone front-runner trip going 1 1/8 miles at Churchill Downs in the Turf Classic on May 5, where he ran his final 3/8 in 36 flat. That won't cut it against this group, and he is trying 1 1/4 miles for the first time. Looks up against it despite possible favorable pace outlook.
5 Colombian (Ire) (8-1) bears some resemblance to 2010 Arlington Million winner Debussy, who sported the same owner (Her Highness Princess Haya of Jordan) and trainer (John Gosden). Following the Debussy formula, Gosden is taking a shot with a sharp horse with some early speed, who could find American racing more to his liking. Colombian most recently finished 8th in the Prince of Wales (Eng-G1), a race in which he stalked the pace setters and got swallowed up by the later runners. Debussy finished 7th in the Prince of Wales in 2010, but he was a bit sharper than this one. He should be double digit odds.
6 Treasure Beach (6-1) was a very good three-year-old. He was second in the Epsom Derby (Eng-G1), won the Irish Derby (Ire-G1), and won the Secretariat Stakes (G1) here at Arlington. Despite those credentials, it looked like he was used as a pacsetter in the Arc. Nothing wrong with subsequent 3rd in the Canadian International or his 4th in Dubai Sheeme Classic (UAE-G1), but his travel schedule did not let up, and his form seems to be slipping. Bet to even money, he couldn't close into a slow early/fast late race-shape and finished 5th in the Man O War Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park. He curiously prepped in a Group 3 going 1 1/2 miles in Ireland just nine days ago, finishing fourth. His best fits, but it sure looks like he is headed the wrong direction. He shouldn't get bet too hard in here, so watch the board for additional clues.
7 Willcox Inn (12-1) finished 4th behind Treasure Beach in the Secretariat last year and hasn't improved on that form. He likes Arlington and should improve second off the layoff, but he is a big longshot in here.
8 Wigmore Hall (12-1) also has run well on this course. He finished second to Paddy O'Prado in the 2010 Secretariat Stakes (G1) and a troubled 4th in the Million last year, when he got shuffled badly and came with a nice run to finish as highly as he did. After last year's Million he won a Group 1 at Woodbine, but his form has been slipping since. Fits on his best, but he deserves to be a longshot to win.
9 Crackerjack King (Ire) (5-1) has won seven of nine lifetime starts, with both of his losses coming away from his home base in Italy. He was 15th over soft ground in the French Derby (Fr-G1) last year and 5th in his most recent start on good-soft in the Coral Eclipse Stakes (Eng-G1) at Sandown Park. Crackerjack is undefeated on good ground, and that streak includes a win in the Italian Derby (G1), where he defeated Danedream, the excellent German filly who went on to win last year's Arc de Triomphe (Fr-G1). He also has a 2 1/2-length win over Afsare, one of today's main rivals, in a Group 1 in Italy. Crackerjack made a mid-race advance and showed off a nice late gear to run away late from Afsare that day.
Note he was bet to 5.50-to-1 in his last race in England, and although he faded late to finish fifth, he was prominent matching strides with some very good ones, including top-class Nathaniel, on ground that was softer than he is accustomed. Two questions: he has never raced left-handed, and Italian form generally does not travel that well. But watching his races, he looks like a legitimate Group 1 horse to me. He would have been the morning line favorite had I set the line.
10 Cherokee Lord (30-1) looks like the local no-hoper. Pace presence at best.
11 Vertiformer (20-1) broke slowly and was too far back of a slow pace in the Arlington Handicap. He rallied well up the inside to finish fourth. There could be a little more upside here, but he hasn't quite shown the punch he will need to win this race. Note he is cross-entered in the American St. Leger. Longshot to hit the board.
Please post your picks and comments, and join Tom LaMarra and me tomorrow at noon for a live chat, when we'll give out our picks and break down the Saturday action at Arlington: http://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/articles/72075/live-blog---friday-august-17-at-noon-et