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
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
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?
Want to test your handicapping skills against fellow Unlocking Winners readers? Check out the Unlocking Winners contests page—there's a new challenge every week!
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.