News and notes from around the Thoroughbred racing world, compiled by NTRA Communications.
GIO PONTI TO MEET EINSTEIN, EUROPEANS IN ARLINGTON MILLION SATURDAY
Einstein, one of Thoroughbred racing’s grass gurus of recent seasons in North America, is suddenly perceived as vulnerable and has been made only the 4-1 second choice in the morning line for Saturday’s Grade I Arlington Million at Arlington Park in Arlington Heights, Ill. This is because Gio Ponti, North America’s rapidly-rising turf superstar, appears the heir apparent to Einstein, apparently poised for his knockout punch Saturday in Arlington Million XXVII with the 5-2 favorite’s mantle on his shoulders.
But is it that simple? Doesn’t Just as Well deserve a chance for a second straight win over Arlington’s world-famous turf course? What about Presious Passion with his catch-me-if-you-can speedy style? And can any serious handicappers just throw out European-based globetrotting invaders like Cima de Triomphe, Gloria de Campeao and Stotsfold? Remember, Europeans finished first, second and third in the 2008 Arlington Million.
For that matter, the two other North American-based horses – Mr. Sidney and Recapturetheglory – were both winners in their most recent trips to the post and appear to be approaching the best turf form of their careers. Can either of them be eliminated from consideration?
These are just some of the questions that will face handicappers around the world when they watch they attend Saturday’s Arlington Million, the centerpiece event of the Chicago Thoroughbred racing season.
The 27th running of the Arlington Million, which has attracted nine of the world’s best turf horses, will go to the post late in the afternoon, preceded by the 20th anniversary edition of the Grade I Beverly D. Stakes for eight of the world’s best grass-favoring fillies and mares, including three Europeans, and the 33rd running of the Grade I Secretariat Stakes with 10 North American-based three-year-olds and one European invader named. The Arlington Million and Beverly D. Stakes will both be televised live on ESPN from 4:30-6:00 p.m. (ET) on “Emirates Airline Summer Racing Presented by the NTRA.” The winner of both races will each receive a guaranteed starting position in this year’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships under the Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” program.
Recent past performances of Arlington Million contenders are headlined by Gio Ponti’s three straight wins in Grade I competition, but Einstein has won the last two renewals of Churchill’s Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic and been compromised by a rash of troubled trips in most of his other outings. Ramon Dominguez rides Gio Ponti for trainer Christophe Clement and Julien Leparoux handles the reins aboard Einstein for conditioner Helen Pitts-Blasi.
Irish-bred Cima de Triomphe finished fourth in Great Britain’s Group I Coral-Eclipse at Sandown on July 4 but won the Group III Brigadier Gerard Stakes before that. Christophe Lemaire rides for trainer Luca Cumani.
Brazilian-bred Gloria de Campeao won the Group I Singapore Airlines International Cup for trainer Pascal Bary in his last start May 17 and was second in the Grade I Dubai World Cup last March 28. Regular jockey Tiago Josue Pereira comes to America for the mount.
Presious Passion won his second straight Grade I United Nations Stakes at Monmouth in his last start July 4 for trainer Mary Hartmann. Elvis Trujillo returns in the irons.
Mr. Sidney, conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, won Churchill’s Grade II Firecracker Handicap in his last start July 4 and gets Kent Desormeaux in the saddle.
Just as Well won the Grade III Arlington Handicap July 11 in the Chicago oval’s final local prep for Saturday’s Million. Owner Jonathan Sheppard is also the horse’s Hall of Fame trainer and Arlington-based jockey E. T. Baird gets the riding assignment.
British-bred Stotsfold won France’s Group III La Coupe Stakes at Longchamp June 18 at last asking. He will be ridden Saturday by Adam Kirby for trainer Walter Swinburn, who won the 1994 Beverly D. as a jockey aboard Hatoof.
Recapturetheglory won over the local lawn in his last start July 16. Last year, he won the Illinois Derby last year and finished fifth in the Kentucky Derby. Garrett Gomez, the Eclipse Award-winning jockey the last two years and also Arlington jockey champion in 1997, will be in the saddle.
COMMENTATOR CAN MAKE HISTORY SATURDAY IN SARATOGA’S WHITNEY HANDICAP
Even at the advanced age of eight, Tracy Farmer’s chestnut gelding Commentator remains one of the fastest and most exciting horses in racing. On Saturday he will attempt to carry his imposing speed into the history books as he seeks a record-tying third win in the Grade I, $750,000 Whitney Handicap for 3-year-olds and up at Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
If successful, the New York-bred son of Distorted Humor will join Alfred G. Vanderbilt’s Discovery (1934-36) and Bohemia Stables’ Kelso (1961, 1963, 1965) as the only three-time winners of the race in its 82-year history. Those two Hall of Fame horses are widely considered among the best thoroughbreds ever.
“The way he’s been coming up to the race, he’s going to try to give it to us,” said his Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito.
Commentator, to be ridden by John Velazquez, will go off as the co-highweight with Asiatic Boy at 121 pounds and has been installed as the 8-5 morning-line favorite in the field of seven running 1 1/8 miles over the dirt track. The race is also a Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” race, offering an automatic starting berth to the winner in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on November 7 at Oak Tree at Santa Anita.
At Wednesday’s post position draw, Zito recalled Commentator’s first victory in the Whitney in 2005. “For me, it was one of the most memorable races I ever had…to hold off Horse of the Year St. Liam. It was just a great race,” he said.
Commentator won the Whitney again last year, devastating 10 others with a front-running, 4¾-length victory.
ZENYATTA WILL TRY TO STRETCH UNBEATEN RECORD TO 12 IN HIRSCH
In spite of an unblemished record of 11 victories in the same number of starts, it appears Zenyatta hasn’t chased away many potential foes as she prepares for Sunday’s running of the historic Clement L. Hirsch Stakes. The undefeated 5-year-old daughter of Street Cry, owned by Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Moss and trained by John Shirreffs, may face as many as eight contestants in the 1 1/16-mile Hirsch on the main track. She won the race last year on the way to winning the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic and an Eclipse Award as the nation’s No. 1 older filly or mare. Committed to line up against Zenyatta are Champagne Eyes, trained by Doug O’Neill; John Sadler’s Dawn After Dawn; Lethal Heat, trained by Barry Abrams; Tidal Dance, from the Peter Eurton barn, and Patricia’s Gem, trained by Richard Mandella. Also interested in the race are Anabaa’s Creation, trained by Julio Canani; Briecat, conditioned by Vladimir Cerin; and Zenyatta stablemate Life Is Sweet, also trained by Shirreffs. In addition, Abrams has said he might even run Hot n’ Dusty, who just finished second in a Del Mar turf race this past Sunday.
CHURCHILL DOWNS REPAIRS TRACK, BARNS FOLLOWING TUESDAY’S FLOOD
Life at Churchill Downs is not yet back to normal, but it’s heading in that direction as repairs to the dirt track, several barns and track offices are underway following a slow-moving storm packing torrential rains flooded the track on Tuesday and left several vehicles either partially or completely submerged in parking lots and on streets around the track.
Horses evacuated from the track because of rising water remained at a nearby training center on Wednesday and might not return to their stalls at the famed home of the Kentucky Derby for another day or two. But repair work on the track’s one-mile dirt course went well and veteran Track Superintendent Butch Lehr said regular training over the track would resume on Thursday.
Lehr estimated that 25 dump truck loads of track materials were dumped on the track’s soggy racing surface during Wednesday’s repair work. Members of the track maintenance crew worked throughout the day to repair the track and restore more seriously-damaged sections of the racing surface.
“It was washed-out in places where the water came across the track,” Lehr said. “We had to use shovels to dig out all that [dirt and mud] from around the drains and pull it out where we could get it with the grader.”
Horses were moved from three structures – barns 46, 47 and 48 – as water rose as high as two and a half to three feet in those buildings. More than 40 horses were moved from those barns because of the rising water, with 22 being evacuated to the nearby Trackside training center and the rest moved to empty stalls in barns that were unaffected by the high water.
Efforts to clean and repair the three barns affected by the flood were hampered when those structures lost electrical power. Power was restored late Wednesday morning, which allowed the placement of fans and blowers in those barns to aid in the drying of the stalls and tack rooms under those shedrows.
“It looks like the horses at Trackside will spend at least a couple of days over there,” said Ben Huffman, racing secretary of Churchill Downs. “Those horses are training over that track.”
Customers streamed in to Churchill Downs’ Trackside simulcast wagering facility, which opened on schedule at midday Tuesday, and most of the track’s business operations and offices opened on schedule. Some offices throughout the sprawling facility sustained water damage and repairs were underway in those areas on Wednesday. No injuries were reported to either horses or humans during Tuesday’s flood.
PRODUCERS SEEKING HORSES FOR TITLE ROLE OF DISNEY MOVIE “SECRETARIAT”
In preparation for the shooting later this year of the upcoming Walt Disney Pictures’ movie “Secretariat”, Mayhem Pictures, the producers of the film, will conduct an open, online “casting call” for horses to portray the legendary 1973 Triple Crown winner.
Interested horse owners may email photographs of their equine, big-screen hopeful to firstname.lastname@example.org. Applicants must also complete an online Secretariat casting form at www.secretariat.com, where additional information about the casting call can also be found. All photographs will be personally reviewed by the lead wrangler for “Secretariat”, Rusty Hendrickson, who was also in charge of horse selection for such recent major motion pictures as “Seabiscuit” and “Dreamer”.
“The three main qualities I’m looking for in a horse to portray Secretariat are looks, temperament and soundness,” said Hendrickson. “A big flashy chestnut would obviously have an inherent advantage, but I’m going to need at least two main Secretariats and perhaps four stand-ins. I know that he was one of a kind, but we’ll do the best we can. A calm temperament is particularly key, especially when multiple takes are involved. But applicants need not feel that they must have an identical looking horse to be considered. We can do wonders with equine makeup for the white facial markings and the three white socks. Our horses need to be sound–but racing experience is not a necessity. And Secretariat’s short back and round hip are somewhat reminiscent of American Quarter Horses, so owners of that breed should also feel free to make submissions.”
“We feel we have a compelling story to tell in our movie, and we want the imagery to be as accurate as possible,” said Mark Ciardi, producer for Mayhem Pictures. “This Secretariat casting call will help us to find the very best Secretariats possible to portray the iconic chestnut champion.”
“The selection of the horses to portray Secretariat is a matter of great interest to me,” said Penny Chenery, Secretariat’s owner. “I am delighted Disney is embracing the challenge of finding the best representative for my handsome colt.”