The Grade 1 Alabama
Saratoga / August 16 / Race 10 / 6:20 EDT
by TimeformUS Analyst Mike Beer
With Untapable once again absent for a major race in the division she so clearly dominates right now, Stopchargingmaria (#8, 2-1), an under-appreciated performer, will get a chance to take down a second Grade 1 prize at this Saratoga meet. Stopchargingmaria has been a very good horse from day one, winning first time out, getting Grade 1-placed in both her second and third starts, and then becoming a multiple graded stakes winner by the end of her 2yo season. The only knock on her was that she wasn't a particularly fast horse. After running TFUS Speed Figures of 95 in each of her first three starts, Stopchargingmaria won the Grade 3 Tempted with a 90, and then took the Grade 2 Demoiselle with an 87.
As she began her 3yo campaign with a couple of flat losses at Gulfstream and Oaklawn, it seemed fair to wonder if some of her contemporaries hadn't rather quickly caught up with her. She seemed to return to form when winning the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan, but once again the speed figure came back a little light, at 88. Still, given what was left of the division in the wake of Untapable's Haskell attempt, Stopchargingmaria was sent off at 6/5 in the Grade 1 CCA Oaks, and she finally broke through. Given a perfect trip and ride by Javier Castellano, who kept her right up with the pace on the outside, Stopchargingmaria drew out to a convincing win in the stretch and earned a TimeformUS Speed Figure of 102. With her graded stakes credentials unmatched in this Alabama field, and with a fast race finally on her card, there is no doubt about who the horse to beat is, even as more distance is added to the equation.
At least we have some new shooters to consider, since the horses who were so well beaten by Stopchargingmaria last time, Unbridled Forever (#1, 4-1), Miss Besilu (#2, 15-1), and America (#3, 15-1), are difficult to endorse, unless you believe that one of them is going to relish the 1 1/4 miles. One of the interesting new shooters, and perhaps the one set to take the most money in the face of the favorite, is Size (#9, 5-1). With only four career starts to this point, and three victories, Size is still lightly raced enough to remain unclassified. She was able to stretch out effectively last time in the Grade 3 Iowa Oaks, and did so while catching a sloppy track for the first time. She had speed in that race but was able to let another horse go to the lead as she herself sat comfortably back off the pace before coming with a run through the stretch. And she has the pedigree to handle distance racing, while being conditioned by one of the very best trainers in the game. Clearly, there is plenty to like about Size, but the hurdles for her are not insignificant, and she isn't likely to offer much value.
The other alternative, and the one we find ourselves most interested in, is Stopchargingmaria's stablemate, Got Lucky (#5, 5-1). Got Lucky finished just a neck behind Stopchargingmaria while still a maiden in last year's Demoiselle, and when she blew away maidens in her next start with a 95 TFUS Speed Figure, it seemed she was set to move on to bigger and better things. That hasn't necessarily been the case for Got Lucky, so far, but in her defense, she did run into Untapable a couple of times, and she had little chance to close into a loose-on-the-lead My Miss Sophia in the Grade 2 Gazelle. Got Lucky wasn't so impressive in defeating allowance foes up here in her prep race for the Alabama, but she was able to close late for the win after racing wide. Viewed purely as a prep, there is nothing to knock about her performance that day.
More than anything else, it seems that the 1 1/4 miles of the Alabama could make all the difference for these horses, and it may simply come down to who handles it best. We think there's a good chance that that horse may be Got Lucky, and we will play her as our alternative to the favorite.
The Grade 1 Arlington Million
Arlington Park / August 16 / Race 10 / 5:36 CDT
by TimeformUS Analyst Justin Finch
With only seven horses entered, we clearly do not have a vintage running of the Grade 1 Arlington Million on tap for Saturday. On the other hand, we do have a nice mix of foreign shippers, accomplished United States-based runners, and less-established up-and-comers, which, when combined with a morning line favorite who appears to be vulnerable on a couple of different fronts, makes for an appealing race to wager on.
Beginning with what may be the first hurdle for ML favorite Magician to overcome, there just isn't that much speed signed on to the Million this year, and Pace Projector lays out the scenario that Magician may find himself up against. The "good" Magician may well be able to overcome such a scenario, but whether we'll see the "good" Magician just so happens to be one of the major handicapping questions we have to answer leading up to this race.
Let's take a look at the field in post position order.
#1 is the longest shot on the board, Hardest Core. A lightly raced 4yo who will be making just his third start back from a layoff and his third start for his current connections, Hardest Core may be an up-and-comer in this division, but he is facing his toughest test today, by far. He has never run a bad race on grass, and he comes here directly off of a pair of much-the-best wins to begin his 4yo campaign. He has handled this distance (and farther) without issue and projects for a perfect trip sitting up close to what is expected to be a moderate pace. But he has never run a race fast enough to be truly competitive with the horses he will be racing against today. If he gets a perfect trip and can pair that with a couple of no-shows from others in this race, he can get a piece.
#2 is Smoking Sun, who rates to be a major player in this race. A lightly raced 5yo from the best of connections, Smoking Sun has been keeping strong company overseas and has posted two wins and a very good second-place finish recently, when able to avoid a horse of the calibre of Cirrus des Aigles.
His three starts since returning as a 5yo have earned him progressively better Timeform ratings, each of them a new top for this horse. We liked his most recent effort, in the $2.4 million Singapore Cup, though he did get a very good trip in there and was second-best at the end without being a threat to the winner. Assuming he can work out the right trip (he hasn't exactly been a plodder overseas), we view him as a major player.
#3 is the morning line favorite, Magician. It's fair to say that if the good Magician shows up on Saturday, this field will be in major trouble. Perhaps best known as the winner of last year's Breeders' Cup Turf, Magician was also a Group 1 winner prior to that win, and he has placed in a pair of major races since returned to Europe for Aiden O'Brien. He also made a stop in Dubai and ran very well despite getting into traffic trouble, losing by just over two lengths in a stellar edition of the Sheema Classic in March.
The drawbacks to a horse like Magician in this race are the expected pace, which we touched upon earlier, and the fact that he will come to Arlington directly off of a terrible performance at Ascot just three weeks ago. Magician has bounced back from poor performances before, and perhaps he will do so again as he adds lasix, as was the case in the Breeders' Cup, but there are enough questions surrounding him in this race to avoid taking the short price.
#4 Finnegans Wake won the local prep for the Million with the benefit of a perfect trip, and while he has run well over this turf course in the past, he is up against it vs. competition like this.
#5 Up With the Birds is another improving 4yo who will step up in class on the heels of a new top TimeformUS Speed Figure win. We've always liked this horse. We think he may have some bigger and better things in front of him, especially now that he seemed to finally break through in his third start back from the layoff. He earned that last win with the aid of a fast, contested pace in front of him, which is an unlikely scenario this time, and he may be a horse better followed going forward.
#6 is the defending Million champion, Real Solution, who was (justly) promoted to first last year via disqualification. Real Solution has (somewhat unjustly) earned a reputation as a faint-hearted competitor who has some hang in him, and that opinion seemingly was bolstered by last year's Million result, despite his being placed first after taking a late bump. We think Real Solution's ability to finish has little to do with his will, and everything to do with distance. He doesn't appear to be a horse who wants to go on and on, but the 1 1/4 miles of this race suits him perfectly. Real Solution was a convincing winner of the Grade 1 Manhattan at this distance in his last start, and we think he has a very big chance to repeat in this race.
#7 Side Glance is a true globetrotter who has raced in Australia, Hong Kong, Dubai, Singapore, Great Britain, and the United States, all since running a very good 3rd in this race last year. He appears to have lost a step or two recently, but he is a very good horse who can use his early speed to his advantage in this race. We did think he was given an excellent ride in last month's Grade 1 United Nations, as he was sent along to the lead and appeared to be able to get comfortable up there, but he just didn't have enough when the challengers came for him in the stretch.
We have enough questions about Magician to want to try to beat him at a short price in this race, though we have to use him in multi-race wagers. Real Solution is the horse that interests us most as an alternative, and we also want to use Smoking Sun in our play, as he may wind up being the most interesting price of the contenders come post time.