Photo: Eclipse Sportswire
Now in its eighth year, the Breeder’s Cup Challenge Series, 2014 edition, is beginning to heat up. Due to its global presence and support
from premiere racetracks around the world the term 'Win and You're In' is what makes
the challenge so exciting.
Every summer in Chicago, the series
makes its way to Arlington International Racecourse for a weekend that’s worth
a million. For two top notch challenge
contenders this stop along the way is what led them and their connections to
the ultimate prize; a win in their respective Breeders' Cup division.
Arlington Million - In 1981 the $1 Million turf race gained
immediate authority when John Henry helped put it on the map. He returned to
finish runner-up in 1983 before coming back the following year to win his
second Arlington Million. Since that accomplishment, no other horse has ever won
the legendary summer turf classic twice.
Since, the race has reached its initial goal of
attracting the top turf horses from around the world. Although many of the
races recent winners traveled far and wide to make it to the city of broad shoulders,
a Florida-bred trained by Dale Romans made his first ever trip to Arlington
Park a special one in 2012.
Foaled in 2007 by Spanish Steps – Hey Jude, Little Mike
waited until he reached a nice round number to begin settling his score with
Grade 1 races. A winner of zero graded stakes races as Juvenile or at 3, Little
Mike notched three graded stakes wins in his 4-yr-old season. However, once he turned 5 is when he proved that he was ready to
compete against top class, and he won the G1 Woodford Reserve at
He took a slight step back next time out with a 3rd
place finish in the G1 Shoemaker Mile Stakes but here’s what happened next.
He missed again next time out when he finished 5th
in G1 Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont Park but after that, it was back to
business. He may have been a 17-1 winner but it was clear that
Little Mike, and his right hand man, Ramon Dominguez, were the best in the 2012
Breeders' Cup Turf.
Little Mike is a personal favorite of mine being that I was there to see him wire the field in the 2012 Arlington Million. It was a pretty bold move but the other 10 horses in the field had no chance at catching him. He wasn’t able to repeat what John Henry did in the early 80’s last year (7th) but it was very fun to see if he could pull off the improbable.
He also shed more light on the fact that the turf at Arlington is as
good a place as any to prep for the Breeders' Cup. The grass course here is
pretty solid, so if any of the 2014 starters are ready, maybe they can become
the next Million/Breeders' Cup winner. If not, an Eclipse Award always has pretty
good odds. Since 1981, a total of 21 Arlington Million starters won an Eclipse
award that same year in one of the following divisions: Male Turf Horse, Older
Male, Female Turf Horse and Horse of the Year (John Henry 1981 and
The undercard on Million Day is loaded with four stakes
races, including the G1 Secretariat Stakes, but the one that gets the most
attention is the G1 Beverly D. Stakes.
Racing since 1987 the Beverly D. has continued to feature
some of the world’s top Filly and Mares. In 1993, Flawlessly became the first
winner to be honored with the Eclipse Award for Female Turf Horse of the year.
The feat was later accomplished three times – Golden Apples 2002, Stacelita (FR)
2011 and Dank (GB) 2013.
And that last one was extra special. Dank, trained by Sir
Michael R. Stoute and ridden by Ryan Moore, made her first trip across the
Atlantic last summer. Even with consideration towards that the Mare was well respected by the betting public for her
two stakes wins earlier in the season. She was sent off as the second choice but at the end of race she all but buried the favorite,
Marketing Mix, and the rest of the field down the stretch.
Similar to Little Mike the win scored Dank and her connections an automatic berth into the
Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita Park. However, the biggest difference between them
is that Dank waited for California until she would race again.
If the layoff caused any problems it could only be found in
the margin of victory. With Ryan More back in the irons Dank took the lead at
the top of lane and fought off a hard charge from her Great Britain equivalent Romantica.
The best day of racing in Chicago these last two summers
has had serious Breeders' Cup implications. What the horses did after is what
made the Arlington Million and Beverly D. such a pivotal stepping stone towards
a win in the illustrious Breeders' Cup.
It may be rare that these two races have had such an impact on
the big event in November but the grass at Arlington Park is now certainly a
premiere turf course to consider. Much the same, the Arlington Million is a
very exceptional day for racing as a fan.