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HRN Original Blog:
First Time Turf

Recapping the Arlington Million and a huge Turf weekend in the States

 

The biggest weekend of summer American turf racing absolutely did not disappoint this past weekend. Between Saturday’s stacked card in Arlington Heights, Illinois as well as the incredible grass events on both coasts, it was truly one of the better recent days I can remember over U.S. lawns. The mid-August graded stakes races provided tremendous drama and began to pave the path towards what should be an amazing 2014 Breeders’ Cup at beautiful Santa Anita Park. 

 

While it is impossible to narrow down the star-studded weekend to one horse, the story of Hardest Core capturing the Arlington Million was one for the ages. Amongst many of racing’s top international trainers and owners, it was the low profile connections of conditioner Edward Graham and jockey Eriluis Vaz who took the highly coveted Grade I Million. The four-year old son of Hard Spun entered Saturday on a three-race win streak and a career record of five wins in ten starts, but did not receive much respect based on defeating less classy groups. In the end, the gelding and his supporters at the windows got the last laugh as Hardest Core once again showed a tremendous turn of foot to put away 2013 Breeders’ Cup Turf champion Magician in the final furlong.  Magician, the four-year old runner up, went off the 9-5 favorite and according to his connections had no excuses. Hardest Core, who won his first graded stakes race, paid a juicy $25 to win.

 

Before the Million, European runners turned in two equally brilliant performances over the Arlington Park lawn. First, Irish-bred Adelaide coming off a narrow defeat in July’s inaugural Belmont Derby ran down Bill Mott’s game pacesetter Tourist. The Aidan O’Brien trainee was the favorite in the $500,000 Grade I Secretariat Stakes run at a mile and a quarter and failed to disappoint. Following the graded stakes event for three-year olds was the $750,000 Grade I Beverly D. Stakes run at a mile and three-sixteenths. This full field of fillies and mares was loaded from top to bottom providing quite the opportunity for horseplayers. In the end, it was Team Valor and conditioner Marco Botti who defeated the older ladies with an incredibly impressive trip mapped out by European rider Ryan Moore. Moore gave a “text book” ride saving ground the entire race before angling out when they turned for home. This allowed his filly to hold off the late running Stephanie’s Kitten to take down her biggest lifetime victory. The daughter of Irish-bred Myboycharlie finished the race in 1:55.52 and paid $23.60 to win.

 

Lastly the performance by The Pizza Man in the American St. Leger Stakes was one I will not soon forget. The five-year old son of English Channel did Roger Brueggemann and the Midwest Thoroughbreds proud in an all heart win versus a very tough field of older turf runners. He held off last year’s champion Dandino to take over $250,000 for his Illinois based connections. 

 

While Chicago stole the majority of the attention this past weekend, Saratoga and Del Mar had their usual star-studded weekend cards as well. This included Grade I events over the grass at both venues. Saratoga’s Sunday feature was the $500,000 Grade I Sword Dancer Invitational run at a mile and a half over the New York Racing Association’s inner turf course. United Nations Handicap winner Main Sequence and runner up Twilight Eclipse led the seven-horse field to the gate and once again it was trainer Graham Motion and the five-year old son of Aldebaran that crossed the wire first despite a less than ideal start. The red-hot Motion is almost certain to target the Breeders’ Cup Turf in the fall, but his talented gelding will not be able to afford another poor break against that group. 

 

In addition to the Sword Dancer was Saturday’s Grade II Lake Placid Stakes for three-year old fillies, which saw another extremely impressive effort for Besilu Stables’ Crown Queen. This pricey filly won her third straight and first stakes race under John Velazquez who rode the daughter of Smart Strike for the first time with normal rider Joel Rosario in Chicago for the Arlington Million card. The sky appears to be the limit for this $1.6 million dollar Keeneland 2011 purchase.

 

Finally, I cannot forget Del Mar’s Grade I stakes event over the turf this past weekend. The Del Mar Oaks  featured its usual solid cast of three-year old fillies including shipper Sea Queen for Christophe Clement and Stonetower Stable.  Sea Queen, who went off a relatively heavy favorite considering her long voyage to San Diego, finished off the board while Personal Diary and the red-hot Vicki Oliver swept by the field with relative ease under Corey Nakatani to take down the mile and an eighth race at over 9-1.  Stellaris finished second and My Conquestadory closed out the trifecta. 

 

This week will see the turf courses taking a “backseat” to two of the headliners’ on the midsummer schedule. The Travers Stakes and the Pacific Classic should help clear up both the three-year old and the horse of the year discussion a bit, but the turf picture remains quite hazy as move towards the fall.

 

 

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 MEET SCOTT SHAPIRO

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Scott has been a fan of handicapping and following thoroughbred racing since Garden State Park was rebuilt in Cherry Hill, NJ in 1985.  His first memories of the racetrack include the 1985 Jersey Derby won by Spend a Buck and the 1990 Met Mile clash between Easy Goer, Criminal Type and Housebuster, but it was not until his mid to late twenties that Scott became confident he had a knack for choosing winners. Scott points to the summer of 2007 in San Diego while working on a masters degree in American History near Del Mar Race Course as the time where he took his handicapping, his communication skills and attention to detail to the next level.  It was at this time where he had his first real big score.   He had four of only five winning combinations in the now extinct “Place Pick All” on a $8 ticket netting himself $40,000. 

 

Since his time spent in San Diego, Scott has lived in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Colorado, but has found a way to make racing a big part of his life no matter his place of residence.  A few months after hitting a monster pick five at Santa Anita Park in February of 2013, Scott started his website, shapperdacapper.com showcasing his selections, analysis and commentary on North American racing. Scott loves playing tournaments on Derby Wars and constructing pick four and pick five tickets when there are vulnerable favorites.  His favorite all-time horses are Captain Bodgit, A.P. Indy, and Charismatic and his favorite jockey is Joel Rosario.  Scott is also a die-hard fan of University of Wisconsin athletics and is in several fantasy football leagues.

 

Scott is planning a move back to the San Diego area in 2015 so he can be closer to the horses on a daily basis. He managed musicians for several years and continues to do so in a part time role when not focused on his writing and research.

 

He can be found on twitter at @shapperdacapper or on his Facebook Fan page at www.facebook.com/shapperdacapperhorsesandsports. He also releases daily selections and analysis of NYRA and Southern California racing on his website www.shapperdacapper.com.