Will Robert Bruce Rebound in the Arlington Million?

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

The $1,000,000 Arlington Million (gr. I) at Arlington Park has long been among the most prestigious turf races in North America, and while you can argue that competition from other rich races has caused the Million to lose a bit of its luster in recent years, you wouldn't really know it from examining the field for Saturday's renewal of the 1 ¼-mile event.

Eleven horses have been entered, and while #4 Divisidero is expected to scratch, the remaining ten starters represent a mix of high-quality North America runners plus a handful of accomplished raiders from Europe. Suffice to say, there are plenty of talented horses to choose from.

Yet despite the depth of the field, I never seriously considered picking anyone except #10 Robert Bruce, because I think this Chilean-bred four-year-old is going to be very tough to beat. In his native country, the son of Fast Company was a superstar, going unchallenged in six starts at Santiago racecourse while rattling off four consecutive Group 1 wins by an average margin of nearly six lengths. Furthermore, those victories came over a wide range of distances (from a mile to 1 ½ miles), and arguably his most impressive score came going 1 ¼ miles in the Nacional Ricardo Lyon.

Of course, there was no guarantee that Robert Bruce could replicate that level of form against tougher competition in North America, but any doubts about his ability to hold his own in the U.S. were put to rest when he won the May 5th Fort Marcy Stakes (gr. III) at Belmont Park. Making his first start for trainer Chad Brown, Robert Bruce tucked in along the rail early on while tracking a slow pace, then unleashed a simply terrific turn-of-foot in the final three furlongs, running the distance in :32.81 seconds (and the final furlong in :10.85 seconds!) to win going away by three-quarters of a length.

Unfortunately, Robert Bruce never had a serious chance to show his talent in the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Stakes (gr. I) two months ago, his most recent start. From start to finish, Robert Bruce's trip was a disaster; breaking from the rail, he got buried in traffic early on and never got a clear run, remaining boxed in around the far turn and down the homestretch. Despite this tough trip, Robert Bruce did rally through a small seam late in the race to finish sixth, beaten just a length for victory.

Notably, the winner of the Manhattan-#2 Spring Quality, who will be back again in the Arlington Million-had finished second behind Robert Bruce in the Fort Marcy, so we already know that Robert Bruce has the talent to turn the tables with a clean trip. It's also worth noting that Robert Bruce was bred in the southern hemisphere and doesn't actually turn four years old until October 26th, so the fact that he's already held his own against older North American runners is quite eye-catching.

Furthermore, if you're a fan of the race ratings produced by RacingFlow.com, then Robert Bruce's form looks even better. His late-rallying win in the Fort Marcy was achieved despite a race flow that strongly favored speed horses, while the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Stakes was almost as favorable for deep closers, which is significant since Robert Bruce raced several lengths closer to the early pace than the eventual winner.

As a final positive in Robert Bruce's favor, he'll pick up the services of top jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., who won last year's Beverly D. Stakes (gr. I) at Arlington aboard the Chad Brown-trained Dacita. Taking all of this together, I have to side with Robert Bruce as my clear choice in the Arlington Million, and if he starts at his morning line odds of 9-2, I think that would be terrific value.

As for the rest? Well, since I like Robert Bruce, I have to respect Spring Quality by extension, though from a Racing Flow perspective he received more favorable setups than Robert Bruce in both the Fort Marcy and the Manhattan, so I wouldn't be surprised if he comes up short with a less favorable setup in the Arlington Million.

I'm more intrigued by #3 Almanaar and #11 Oscar Performance. The former defeated last year's Arlington Million winner Beach Patrol in the 2017 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (gr. I), a sharp performance that suggested the two-time French Group 3 winner had the talent to be a major factor in North America.

Unfortunately, Almanaar went to the sidelines following that race and did not return to action until June 8th at Belmont Park. On the bright side, Almanaar looked as good as ever in his comeback run, unleashing a terrific late rally to prevail by a neck in an 8.5-furlong allowance race, rocketing the final five-sixteenths of a mile in well under :28 seconds to record a fast final time of 1:39.45. Notably, the runner-up-the graded stakes winner Ticonderoga-came right back to win a similar allowance race at Saratoga.

Like Robert Bruce, Almanaar is trained by Chad Brown, and if this talented six-year-old is ready to pick up where he left off last year, he could be a serious player in the Arlington Million.

As for Oscar Performance, this speedy three-time Grade 1 winner dominated the Secretariat Stakes (gr. I) over this course and distance last summer and looms as the main danger on the front end. Even if for some reason he isn't able to shake loose on an easy lead, he's shown that he can be just as effective tracking the pace. Just look at what happened when he rallied from mid-pack in the Poker Stakes (gr. III), his 2018 debut-he won with authority and stopped the clock in 1:31.23, which equaled the North American record for a mile.

#9 Deauville, third in the 2017 Arlington Million, will make the trip from Ireland once again for trainer Aidan O'Brien. But while he was beaten just a neck in the Meld Stakes (Ire-III) at Leopardstown last time out, Deauville's overall form this year is lacking when compared to his 2017 campaign, and his Racing Post Ratings have likewise declined. Perhaps he can get involved for a spot in the superfecta, but I suspect Deauville could be vulnerable on Saturday.

Lastly, if you're looking for a major longshot, why not consider #6 Catcho En Die? Claimed for $40,000 in April, this six-year-old gelding has stepped up his game a bit since stretching out in distance, finishing just 2 ½ lengths behind Spring Quality in the Manhattan Stakes before posting a gate-to-wire win in the Stars and Stripes Stakes (gr. III) going 1 ½ miles at Arlington last month. Granted, he received a pretty easy trip with a modest pace. But he also flew home the final quarter-mile in a blazing :22.83 seconds, and he's clearly improved with leaps and bounds this year. At 20-1 on the morning line, he could be worth including in the exotics.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Arlington Million?


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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.

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