For those of you who can recall the 1987 NFL season you will remember that for three games the league used replacement players or “scabs.” The play was sloppy, the names of the players were virtually unrecognizable, and I just don’t recall any of THOSE players’ cards being in my extensve card collection.
Such was not the case in the 1987 Arlington Million though which featured the likes of Manila and Theatrical, household names and not “replacement” horses (though it would be interesting to see if the horses ever went on strike for more money.) For this race East coast turf machine and even-money post time favorite Manila shipped into Arlington Park and ended his career with a 1 ½ length victory in the Million with the great Angel Cordero Jr. aboard.
Previous to this Million race Manila had won nine (nine times, Ferris?) straight races until suffering defeat with a second place finish in the Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga to seven year old Talakeno. The winning streak was quite impressive considering the races he had won such as the Lexington, United Nations, Turf Classic, Breeders’ Cup Turf, and the United Nations (again.) Coming into the Arlington Million we all knew that Manila would rate. However, he would have to again contend with Theatrical.
Theatrical was coming into the Million with his own impressive winning streak by winning four races in a row including the Hialeah Turf Handicap, the Bowling Green, and the Sword Dancer. Actually, Theatrical went on to win the last three races of his career after the Million: the Turf Classic, Man O’War, and the Breeder’s Cup Turf. Two very impressive horses colliding in what would end up being a thrilling 7th Arlington Million.
22-1 shot Forlitano grabbed the early lead and set some decently quick turf fractions of :23.3, :48.2, and 1:13.3 while both Manila and Theatrical stalked the leader just off the pace. With a quarter-mile to go Theatrical grabbed the lead passing by Forlitano and 10-1 shot Rivlia while Manila was just starting his move. Coming down the stretch Manila kicked into another gear taking a three length lead on the field overtaking the great Theatrical. Finally Manila crosses the finish line with the victory over a hard charging 4-1 shot Sharrood (also coming off a pair of impressive victories in the Stars and Stripes and Eddie Read.)
This particular race stands out in my mind as one where two quality turf horses squared off in a battle of champions on the great and massive Arlington turf course! I have a feeling we may be subject to another great race with Gio Ponti and Cape Blanco this year!