After breaking in full stride to take immediate control of the 30th anniversary edition of the Arlington Million, Priscilla Vaccarezza’s Kentucky-based Little Mike made the pace throughout and withstood a late surge by Darley Stud Management’s European-based Afsare to save the day for the America’s equine team in the last of the four races that now make up Arlington’s International Festival of Racing.
European-based horses won the $750,000 Beverly D., $500,000 Secretariat Stakes and $400,000 American St. Leger earlier in the afternoon.
Ridden by Eclipse Award-winning jockey Ramon Dominguez, who won the 2009 Million aboard Castleton Lyons’ Gio Ponti, Dominguez accomplished early splits of 25.10, 49.95, 1:15.03, and 1:39.54 before getting the Million’s mile and a quarter distance in 2:02.44 over a turf course listed as “good.” Little Mike’s margin of victory was a length and a half.
“He was running very comfortable,” said Dominguez after the race. “Turning for home when I decided to let him run, he beautifully started opening up. I wasn’t sure how slow we were going. I got him to the three-eighths pole and he started to open it up. I tried to slow him down (early), but (for the rest of the way) I was going to let him spring home. He galloped home like a freight train.”
As the co-second choice in the wagering, the Dale Romans-trained Little Mike paid mutuels of $9.80, $5.60 and $4.40. He increased his earnings to $1,436,412.
In his last trip to the post before the Million, Little Mike traveled to the west coast to finish third in Hollywood’s Grade I Shoemaker Mile, but before that he won Churchill’s Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on Kentucky Derby Day – traditionally the first prep race on the road to the Arlington Million. Other Turf Classic-Million doubles came in 2002 with Beat Hollow, 1996 with Mecke, 1994 with Paradise Creek and 1987 with Manila.
With his Arlington Million win, Little Mike and his connections are able to take advantage of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships’ “Win and You’re In” format, receiving an automatic starting berth in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita Nov. 3
British-bred Afsare, who was his reported usual fractious self before between loaded in the gate for the Million, was far back early, rallied boldly in the late stages and got up to be clearly second best in the final furlong, finishing a length and a half in front of Robert Courtney Jr.’s Rahystrada and Darley Stud Management’s Irish-bred Colombian, who dead-heated for third.
Afsare returned $6.60 and $4.80 as the runner up, and Rahystrada and Colombian returned $4.40 and $3.80 respectively for finishing on even terms for the show spot. Crackerjack King, Treasure Beach, Wigmore Hall, Willcox Inn, Boisterous, Cherokee Lord and Vertiformer completed the order of finish.
“I knew what was happening (with eventual winner Little Mike setting a slow pace). But there was nothing I could do about it,” said Afsare’s rider Kieren Fallon. “I had to ride my horse to win, and there was nothing I could do. I had to ride my horse to win, and there was no pace. His antics (rearing before the start) didn’t cost him. He just acts like a spoiled child sometimes and didn’t want the gate.”