In the front of the facility, an eclectic group of red and white flowers spell out the Arlington Park name. The paddock has a Keeneland-like feel to it, with the beautiful trees promoting a comfortable atmosphere.
Arlington brings you back to the glory days of horse racing, while still having a modern feel. The John Henry statue is a must see for any first time visitor. It brings you back to 1981, when the original “Gutsy Gelding” pulled victory out of the jaws of defeat, with his inch victory over The Bart in the inaugural Arlington Million.
Experiencing Arlington Million 2011 in person is something I'll never forget. As the day went by, the crowd grew by thousands. Early in the day, A beautiful blue sky with cotton like clouds greeted the fans who entered the track. But, as we got deeper into the race card, the skies opened up, and the rain poured down. Quickly fans rushed inside to stay dry.
There was a slight delay before the 3rd race, due to the inclement weather. A delay like this, on such a big day with so many people in the grandstand, could cause havoc. But Arlington Park management did a wonderful job of keeping everything on track, and giving the fans on site, and at home watching on television, a great experience.
The amazing series of turf stakes races started with the Hatoof. Under cloudy skies, and over a yielding turf course, a full field of fillies and mares broke out of the gates. Indiana Downs shipper, Notassharpasuthink took over the lead at the top of the stretch. Under the faithful hands of jockey James Graham, Notassharpasuthink seemed to be home deep in the stretch. But then came the cavalry charge. 6 horses had a chance to win in the last few yards of the race. Unlikely hero, 31-1 shot Santina Dond burst to the lead in the final yards. Making a move in the final strides was Happy Choice, but it was too late. The Gennadi Dorochenko trainee lit up the tote board and left a lot gamblers with losing tickets.
The Secretariat Stakes was up next. In the paddock, all of the colts made a strong appearance. Beforehand, it was thought that this would be the race in which us Americans would show the Europeans our strength. Banned and Willcox Inn led the charge for the stars and stripes. The European contingent was extremely strong in its own right, however. Treasure Beach came to Chicago with more accolades then any other horse to ever run in the Secretariat. While Ziyarid was another Euro who was coming in with a lot of hype.
Ziyarid would break sharp and quickly make the early lead, Treasure Beach stalked his fellow Euro down the back stretch, Banned seemed to have a good position down on the rail, sitting in 4th, with Willcox Inn, just behind. As they reached the top of the stretch, the Euro's were still 1-2, Banned was trapped down on the rail, with no room which caused the colt to check. Ziyarid Dug deep as Treasure Beach was breathing down his neck. Treasure Beach would out last his fellow European and go on to take the Secretariat Stakes by a neck. Banned finished a tough luck 3rd. This European dominance would be a sign of things to come.
The Beverly D. for fillies and mares followed, and it too was loaded with great European talent. The Americans seemed to have little, or no chance against the class of the Euros. Stacelita was the prohibitive favorite, coming off a super impressive 3rd place performance in the grade I, United Nation Stakes at Monmouth Park against the boys. South African bred River Jetez was also bet heavily, carrying odds of 7-2. Dubawi Heights, the best domestic hope, was in great form for trainer Simon Callaghan.
Dubawi Heights took the lead right from the get go. Stacelita was relaxed in 4th, while sitting a beautiful trip down on the rail. River Jetez settled in 6th, primed for a late run. Dubawi Heights dictated a slow and moderate pace on the yielding turf, with little or no pressure. She had the lead at the top of the stretch, just as soon as Dubawi Heights seemed to have shook loose, Ramon Dominguez encouraged his mare to go and just like that, Stacelita was gone. River Jetez made a late run, while Dubawi Heights dug in deep, but they were battling for second as Stacelita cruised to an easy 1 ¼ length victory, Dubawi Heights fought on to finish 2nd a head in front of River Jetez.
As the horses entered the paddock before the Arlington Million, the sky darkened again, a light but steady rain began to fall. Gio Ponti entered the paddock with class gleaming from his coat. The champion son of Tale of the Cat was looking to rebound from two tough losses. Gio's fans came from all over the country to support their champion in Chicago.
Cape Blanco was the top Euro, and he acted like it. He mirrored a prize fighter before a heavyweight bout. This was a heavyweight fight. the US vs Europe. Gio Ponti vs Cape Blanco. Let the battle begin.
Mission Approved, the projected pacesetter, was indeed prominent early. Cape Blanco broke sharply, while settling in 4th. Gio Ponti was back in the pack and tucked down on the rail. As Mission Approved led the Million runners down the back stretch, Cape Blanco would throw a stunning blow, moving into contention at the top of the stretch, Aiden O'Brien trainee made his move, while running right by Mission Approved. Gio Ponti had yet another tough trip - the latest in what seems like an endless string of them for the two time defending Eclipse Award winner - stuck down on the rail and in traffic. He finally got free, while moving 4 wide in the stretch, but it was too late. Cape Blanco had thrown a fatal blow, as he cruised to a dominant, 2 ½ length victory. Gio Ponti fought on for 2nd, beaten but not vanquished. American Dean's Kitten would rally for third.
One thing I'll take from my Million experience is the greatness of Arlington Park. The facility is just amazing, everything about the track is first class. Even the staff is first class, guys like Dave Zenner and Joe Kristufek can make a Hoosier like me, feel at home in Bear Country.
The racing is also first rate. Cape Blanco is one I'll be looking forward to seeing in the Breeders' Cup Turf. Stacelita also made huge impression on me, dominating her fellow females, she seems poised to be the favorite in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare turf. Treasure Beach looked like a man among