MY KIND OF TOWN
By John Piesen
Where has the summer gone?
To Chicago of course.
No, we are not talking White Sox and Cubbies here. We're talking the Arlington Million card Saturday afternoon at Arlington Park, located in suburban Arlington Heights.
For one day each year, Arlington Park is the center of the racing universe. And that day is this Saturday. The 12-race program features seven
consecutive stakes races (four thru 11), capped by three Grade Ones, the 500K Secretariat, the 750K Beverly D, and the Arlington Million.
When the Arlingon Million was inaugurated in 1981, it was the only million-dollar race in the land. The race produced one of the greatest finishes in racing history as racing legend John Henry got up in the last jump to beat 40-1 shot The Bart by a nose.
If you don't believe me, google the race, and see if you think John Henry won it. Even the late Pete Axthelm, who did the color, called The Bart the winner. And NBC posted The Bart the winner in big letters.
Fast forward to 2014. The Million is still worth one mill…but so will 40 other races this year. NBC has other things to do with its sport budget, but it's still The Arlington Million—or The Million as it's called in racing circles— and it still has a certain cache.
The Europeans tend to do well in these three Grade Ones over the years, and their chances will spike if the predicted rain produces soft turf.
But Chad Brown has other ideas.
I first met Chad Brown, and his wife Terrill, who worked in publicity, at Oaklawn Park in 2008. At the time, Chad was just going out on his own after assisting the late Bobby Frankel.
At the midpoint of the Oaklawn meet, Chad was 0-for-20 and counting. So one morning he picked up his bags (and his wife) and drove back to his native New York, a small town just north of Saratoga.
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Who wouldda thunk it?
Six years later, Chad Brown is the second leading trainer in New York (to Todd Pletcher), wins races at a 27 per clip, and has become a major player on the national scene.
If there has been a bigger overnight sensation in the game, tell me about it.
Exhibit A is Saturday. Chad (no relation to Bruce) has runners in the two biggest races at Arlington as well as the two biggest at Saratoga. And all have major shots.
Stephanie's Kitten and Alterite, the first two choices, in the Beverly D. Real Solution, the second choice, in the Million.
Minorette and Xcellence, the first two choices, in the 300K Lake Placid. (The Toddster's My Miss Sophia is main-track-only, and would be odds-on, but
there's zero chance that the race will come off the grass).
The unbeaten Catch My Drift in the 600K Alabama.
Not saying that Chad Brown will hit a home run. He may draw the collar for that matter. But for a guy who couldn't make it to April just six years back in Hot
Springs, Ark., the kid's come a long way and fast.
Let's look at these four races.
Five of the 11 horses, including one-two finishers Somali Lemonade and Stephanie's Kitten, come out of the Diana for the Beverly D., which traditionally produces the filly grass champion.
Somali Lemonade enjoyed a perfect stalking trip in the Diana, while Stephanie's Kitten, was wide throughout at half the price. Luiz Saez
and Frankie Dettori ride 'em back, respectively.
The Diana was Frankie's introduction to Stephanie's Kitten.
Alterite, coming off an eight-month layoff, was the favorite in the Diana, but faded to eighth in the lane. She figures to improve under Javier Castellano, the nation's leading whippersnapper, and the favorite for the Mike Venezia Award.
Happy to say that Wayne Catalano, 24-for-83 at the Arlington meet before a hospital stay for pneumonia, was released this week, and will be on hand to saddle I'm Already Sexy, a winner over the course.
There is some dangerous speed here.
That would be La Tia, who is 20-1 on the morning line after being favored in her last five starts (2-1-2). Eddie Baird, who like his father does his best work on the front end, has the call from trainer Armando De la Corda, one of the great names in racing.
Despite the seven-figure purse and the 33 years of prestige, the Million attracted only seven horses, topped by the odds-on Magician, who was 12-1 when he beat The Fugue last November in the Breeders' Cup Turf.
Michael Tabor, most remembered for making his score with Thunder Gulch in the 1995 Kentucky Derby, is the primary owner of Magician, who, at age four,
already has banked $2.4 million.
Trainer Aidan O'Brien, the Chad Brown of Great Britain, is batting .500 (three-for-six) in the Million.
Real Solution won The Million last year via a questionable DQ, and exits a victory in the Manhattan Handicap on the Belmont Stakes undercard. Kigun and Seek Again, second and third behind Real Solution that day, came back to win graded stakes.
Castellano has the return call.
Smoking Sun exits some troubled trips in Europe, may shake loose in a race devoid of speed.
First-time Lasix, first-time Joe Bravo and first-time Chad Brown for Xcellence, a French filly who closed fastest and widest for fourth to Minorette in her U.S. debut. Going last to first in a paceless race is not an easy assignment.
Joel Rosario gives up the mount on the favored Minorette to ride in Chicago, but the filly gets a worthy replacement in turf specialist Jose Lezcano.
We're looking at a Chad Brown exacta which can go either way.
With division leader Untapable passing the Alabama, Stopchargingmaria, who beat most of these decisively over the track in the Coaching Club, will be a short price for Pletcher-Velazquez in the 134th running of the Alabama.
But, hey, Davona Dale got beat at 1-5 in this race, one reason why the Spa will forever be known as the Graveyard of Favorites.
Catch My Drift is two-for-two for Brown, and gets the acid test here. She should like the mile and a quarter.
Bill Mott runs a dangerous trio in Miss Besilu, America and Size, who was scratched from the Monmouth Oaks for this. And just how good is Monmouth Oaks winner Cassett?
Pletcher puts the blinkers on Got Lucky. And how many times have we seen The Toddster score with the "weaker" half of an uncoupled entry?
Joint Return, a closing fourth to Stopchargingmaria in the shorter Black-Eyed Susan is a stretch threat from John Servis.
Rosie replaces Rosario on Unbridled Forever, the speed from the rail.
Finally, congrats to Larry Colmus for getting the NYRA gig. I would imagine that John Dooley was a close second.
Thanks for tuning in. Check out my selections online at www.johnpiesen.com and on the John Piesen Hot Line 1-888-612-2283, go Marlins, and see you back here next Friday for a Travers preview.