Who Will Win These Grade 1 Turf Stakes?

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

Get ready, everyone! The second Saturday in August is stacked with stakes, including a quartet of Grade 1 events on grass.

Arlington Million Day at Arlington Park is the highlight with three top-level prizes on the agenda. But Saratoga will also join in on the action with the Fourstardave Handicap (G1), a "Win and You're In" qualifier to the Breeders' Cup Mile (G1).

Without further ado, let's dig in!

Beverly D. Stakes (G1) at Arlington Park

At first glance, it's tempting to favor #2 Mean Mary (9-5), a pure front-runner fresh off gate-to-wire victories in the Gallorette S. (G3) and New York S. (G2) to kick off 2021. The latter effort saw Mean Mary beat next-out Pretty Polly S. (G1) winner Thundering Nights by a nose, even while racing over a yielding turf course possibly softer than Mean Mary prefers.

But I have to side with the exciting three-year-old #4 Santa Barbara (2-1), who will carry six pounds fewer than Mean Mary. After losing the Pretty Polly by just a neck to Thundering Nights, Santa Barbara shipped to New York and nabbed the Belmont Oaks (G1) in an eye-catching performance. After rating in fifth place behind pedestrian fractions of :24.71, :51.31, and 1:16.40, Santa Barbara became almost hopelessly buried in traffic and was shuffled back to seventh place with a furlong remaining. But once she found room between rivals, Santa Barbara exploded to beat next-out Saratoga Oaks (G3) winner Con Lima by half a length.

With an unencumbered journey in the Beverly D., Santa Barbara can rally to spring a (very slight) upset.

Mr. D. Stakes (G1) at Arlington Park

There are a couple of talented international shippers entered in the Mr. D., a race formerly known as the Arlington Million. #9 Armory (9-2) ran a huge race when third in the Princes of Wales's S. (G1) at Royal Ascot two starts back, beaten just 1 1/2 lengths by acclaimed Epsom Oaks (G1) winner Love and Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) champion Audarya. And #7 Space Traveller (20-1), though only eighth in the 2019 Breeders' Cup Mile (G1), has won a couple of times at the group stakes level and might outrun expectations while stretching out over 1 1/4 miles.

But the raiders may need career-best efforts to beat #3 Domestic Spending (6-5), who is seeking to give trainer Chad Brown a fourth straight win in the Mr. D./Arlington Million. The impressive four-year-old gelding enters off three straight Grade 1 wins, including a powerful romp in the 1 1/4-mile Manhattan S. (G1) at Belmont Park two months ago. In the Manhattan, Domestic Spending came exploding from behind a fast pace to beat future United Nations S. (G1) winner Tribhuvan by 2 3/4 lengths.

Domestic Spending continues to train forwardly and will be difficult (or impossible?) to defeat if he brings his A-game to Arlington. He's in hot form, the distance is perfect, and he's the most accomplished runner in the field. What's not to like?

Fourstardave Handicap (G1) at Saratoga

There are plenty of logical contenders in this prestigious turf mile, which has produced five of the last nine winners of the Breeders' Cup Mile (G1). You could favor the accomplished mare #6 Got Stormy (10-1), who clocked a course-record 1:32.00 when dominating this race in 2019. Or you could play #1 Raging Bull (9-5), the 2019 Fourstardave runner-up who blazed to a two-length score in Keeneland's Maker's Mark Mile S. (G1) to kick off 2021.

Or, you could take a shot with the exciting #5 Set Piece (5-2), who has rattled off three straight stakes wins for ultra-hot trainer Brad Cox. Although Set Piece has yet to square off against Grade 1 company, there's plenty to like about the Juddmonte Farms homebred, who might still have upside compared to the established form of Got Stormy and Raging Bull.

Certainly Set Piece looked like a star in the making in the 1 1/16-mile Wise Dan S. (G2) at Churchill Downs last time out. After dropping back to last place through unremarkable early fractions, Set Piece produced a simply wicked turn-of-foot, rocketing the fourth quarter mile in :22.16 and the final sixteenth in :05.63 to beat multiple graded stakes winner Somelikeithotbrown by half a length. Even more impressively, Set Piece did all this under a hand ride, and while threading his way through traffic.

This deceptively strong showing stamps Set Piece as a major player in the Fourstardave. There should be enough pace in the mix to enhance his late rally, and regular rider Florent Geroux stays aboard, so I'm inclined to view Set Piece as the horse to beat.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Grade 1 races this week?


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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, 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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