By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman")
It’s hard to beat August as a month for spectacular horse racing! After two great weekends to start the month, the third weekend of August brings nine graded stakes races across the U.S. and Canada, including five at Arlington Park. Leading the way is the $1 million Arlington Million (gr. I), one of the most prestigious turf races in the United States. The race has drawn a very deep and intriguing field with plenty of value to be found in the wagering, so without further ado, let’s start handicapping!
Arlington Million (gr. I)
||Up With the Bird
||Drayden Van Dyke
||3rd Arlington Handicap (gr. III) (VIDEO)|
||Irad Ortiz, Jr.
||2nd United Nations Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO)|
||3rd Prix Messidor (Eng-III)|
||Big Blue Kitten
||1st United Nations Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO)|
||1st Hamburg Trophy (Ger-III)|
||3rd Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap (gr. III) (VIDEO)|
||The Pizza Man
||1st Stars and Stripes Handicap (gr. III) (VIDEO)|
||1st Arlington Handicap (gr. III) (VIDEO)|
||4th United Nations Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO)|
||1st Monmouth Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)|
||1st Betfair Huxley Stakes (Eng-III)|
||2nd Meld Stakes (Ire-III)|
||2nd Betfred Mile|
A huge field of thirteen will contest this ten-furlong turf race, with Chad Brown’s Big Blue Kitten the morning line favorite to win at 3-1. After a bit of a disappointing 2014, the son of Kitten’s Joy has rebounded sharply this year with two wins and a second from three starts, most recently winning the United Nations Stakes (gr. I) at Monmouth Park. He always brings his late run and has gained ground from the eighth pole to the wire in every one of his last twelve starts, and with pacemaker Shining Copper in the race to ensure a good pace, expect to see him closing strongly in the homestretch.
But that said, I have the feeling that Big Blue Kitten’s Brown-trained stablemate Slumber could turn the tables on Big Blue Kitten today. Two starts back, Slumber unleashed a decisive burst of speed to defeat Big Blue Kitten by 2 ¾ lengths in the ten-furlong Manahattan Handicap (gr. I) at Belmont Park, but last time out, he was beaten 1 ½ lengths by Big Blue Kitten when second in the United Nations. But watching the replay of the race, it’s very important to note that while Big Blue Kitten got a clean trip racing outside of horses—enabling him to accelerate sharply and get the jump on his key rivals—Slumber was at the rear of the field steadying behind horses and looking for racing room. The fact that Slumber was able to get up and finish second is pretty remarkable, as is the fact that he ran his final furlong in about :11 flat. If he gets a better trip on Saturday, I think he is the most likely winner of the Arlington Million.
The European contingent is a large one this year, comprised of Bookrunner, Wake Forest, Maverick Wave, Elleval, and Belgian Bill. Of those five, the John Gosden-trained Maverick Wave is probably the best, having won the Betfair Huxley Stakes (Eng-III) at Chester last time out. He’s thoroughly proven at the distance of the Arligton Million, has lots of experience over left-handed courses, adds Lasix for the first time, and possesses an American pedigree (by Elusive Quality out of a Stormy Atlantic mare) that suggests he might be a good fit for the U.S. style of racing. But on the whole, I believe the European runners might be in a bit deep on Saturday, and that the American horses will have the advantage.
Two U.S.-based longshots that could have a strong chance to hit the board are Triple Threat and Shining Copper. The former won’t be a giant price—he’s 6-1 on the morning line—but he showcased a strong late rally to win the nine-furlong Monmouth Stakes (gr. II) in his U.S. debut, running the final furlong in about :11 2/5 to get up and edge Middleburg by a nose. Middleburg came back to finish a strong second in the 9.5-furlong Arlington Handicap (gr. III) at Arlington last month, and Triple Threat’s strong French form at ten furlongs should mean that distance of the Million will be no trouble. Drawing wide in post ten could be a bit of an obstacle, but if he can avoid losing too much ground, he could be a factor in the homestretch.
As for Shining Copper, he has most likely been entered to serve as a pacemaker for Big Blue Kitten, a role that Shining Copper played successfully in the United Nations. But it’s important to note that after opening up a huge early lead in the United Nations, Shining Copper didn’t stop, leading through ten furlongs in 1:59.91 before tiring late to finish fourth, beaten a neck for second at almost 130-1. His odds won’t be that high on Saturday, but he could still be overlooked at 20-1 or more, and as one of very few front-runners in a race full of closers, I have the feeling that he could lead this field a long way on the front. Just look at what happened in the Diana Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga last month, when Stephanie’s Kitten’s pacemaker Kitten’s Queen got out in front, set a fast pace, and was beaten a neck in track-record time.
To be perfectly honest, I have thought long and hard about making Shining Copper my selection to win. The slight cutback in distance to ten furlongs should help his chances, and as a pacemaker, he’s likely to get left alone on the lead. And with Slumber and Big Blue Kitten having drawn posts two and four, respectively, there is a chance that they could get bottled up in traffic, which won’t be a concern for Shining Copper. I feel crazy even thinking about picking a pacemaker to win a grade I race, but if he goes off at 30-1 or higher, I’ll be betting him to win and including him in all exotics.
Now it’s your turn! Who do you like in the Arlington Million?
To help keep track of all the Breeders' Cup prep races, here is the link to Bloodhorse.com's Breeders' Cup news page. To keep track of all the races for two-year-olds at Saratoga and Del Mar, here is the link to my "Diamonds in the Rough" column on The Turf Board. Also, here is the link to the currrent standings, entries, rules, and schedule for our "Road to the Breeders' Cup Classic" Handicapping Challenge. Enjoy the racing, everyone!
J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.