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