If the question is who will train the winners Saturday in the Arlington Million and Beverly D., historic chalk says the answer is Chad Brown.
But the two Grade 1 turf races that were woven into the fabric of Chicago racing have been uprooted and brought to Churchill Downs, where the new grass course has not exactly, well, downrooted.
If a change of scenery and uncertain footing are in the mix, could there be a changing of the answer to the question? With two live chances in Santin and Family Way, perhaps Brendan Walsh could upstage the Chad show.
“Chad has a fantastic record in these type of races,” Walsh said Thursday in his barn office at Churchill Downs. “Any turf races, really. He’s always a huge threat.”
Brown won four Millions at Arlington, including a 2017-19 three-peat. He also won six runnings of the Beverly D., pulling off a 2015-19 five-peat. Brown will try to add to that success Saturday with Sacred Life in the Million, which is for open company, and morning-line favorite Rougir in the Beverly D., which is for fillies and mares.
If Walsh were not so modest, he might say not so fast. Family Way came within a half-length of a 10-1 victory June 10 when she was caught by Brown’s roan filly Bleecker Street in the New York (G1).
“We nearly pulled off an upset,” he said. “If she’s in her top form, she can run with the very best.”
And Santin already has a Grade 1 victory to his name this year at Churchill Downs, finishing a neck ahead in the Turf Classic on the Kentucky Derby undercard – on the turf that became dodgy this spring. Among the defeated horses that day was Adhamo, the 2-1 favorite trained by, yep, Chad Brown.
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“(Santin) ran great here in the spring,” Walsh said on Horse Racing Nation’s Ron Flatter Racing Pod. “He loved this track on Derby weekend. If he can reproduce that race, then it should make him very dangerous.”
Bettors will pause before wagering on Santin because of his sixth-place finish last out in the 1 1/4-mile Manhattan (G1) at Belmont Park. That June 11 afternoon began for the 4-year-old Godolphin homebred with a shoe repair in the paddock and ended with a weakening finish.
“I don’t think it was that bad a performance,” Walsh said. “It was a little bit of a weird race in that the winner (Brown’s gelding Tribhuvan) got out on the lead on his own and got the jump on everybody. We made a run at him, but it was kind of too late.”
Coming back to the scene of his biggest triumph, Walsh’s Distorted Humor colt also cuts back to 1 1/8 miles, the distance of that spring victory. Santin’s history at nine furlongs is formidable. He also finished second twice, and in his one time out of the money, he lost by only a half-length.
“We would probably prefer the distance here,” said Walsh, 49, a native of Shanagarry on the south coast of Ireland. “The mile-and-an-eighth probably suits us a little better than the mile-and-a-quarter. He’s still only a seven-times-raced horse. He’s still got plenty of room for improvement. Hopefully he can show some more on Saturday.”
Drawing post 6 in the nine-horse field, Santin was given morning-line odds of 3-1, making the stalking colt the second choice. The favorite is not Brown’s closer Sacred Life; he was 9-2. Instead, it is Smooth Like Strait at 5-2. Trained by Michael McCarthy, the 5-year-old millionaire is expected to set the pace as he did when he finished second May 30 in the Shoemaker Mile (G1) at Santa Anita.
“There should be pace in the race. Smooth Like Strait likes to be up there,” Walsh said. “We’re probably not going to be too far away. We weren’t too far away the last time. My horse likes to be engaged.”
Tyler Gaffalione, who has ridden Santin in all four of his races this year, got the assignment again as he also did with Family Way, the 3-1 co-third choice in the Beverly D. that drew only five entrants. This time it was a horse from Brown’s barn, Rougir, who was made the 2-1 favorite.
In her four starts this year, Walsh’s 5-year-old Uncle Mo mare won the Orchid (G3) on April 2 at Gulfstream Park. She sandwiched that with close, second-place finishes in a pair of Grade 3 races before her near miss at 10-1 in the New York.
“She hasn’t done anything wrong all year,” Walsh said. “She’s had a great year, really. She seems to be improving, so if she improves a little bit here, it should give her a live chance.”
With Family Way stalking the pace and Rougir offering closing speed, the pace in the 1 1/8-mile Beverly D. looks likely to be set by four-time graded-stakes winner Princess Grace.
“Hopefully one of the other fillies will go right in behind her,” Walsh said. “We probably won’t be too far away. She’ll likely be in a position where she can cover all the bases. She seems to be very adaptable now. A good pace would probably help her, if anything at all.”
So might the cutback to nine furlongs. Family Way’s eight races since last summer were longer than that. The only time she went 1 1/8 miles, she won an allowance race last May on Churchill’s old turf course.
“The Beverly D. was always on the cards for her,” Walsh said. “We never really considered Saratoga. Obviously, you consider everything with a horse like her, but the main aim was always to possibly come here. That it was going to suit her best.”
Consigned by Godolphin, Family Way was bought at auction in France for $181,818 nearly two years ago by Ireland natives Fergus Galvin, Tony Hegarty, Adrian Regan and John Wade. Their Hunter Valley Farm leads a partnership that includes Debbie O’Connor, whose husband came from Ireland to work for Coolmore America, and Marc Detampel, a Chicago executive who has the majority share of Walsh’s Grade 2-winning filly New Year’s Eve.
If he were to score what would be mild upsets in Saturday’s Grade 1 races, Walsh could hang some new signs on the wall outside his office at barn 9. Maxfield, who went into retirement on the heels of a win last year in the Clark (G1), has one of the plaques of honor. For his victory in the Turf Classic, Santin has the other.
“Just as many signs as possible, it’s nice to have them,” Walsh said with a subtle but proud smile. “It would be nice to add another one. ... That’s what it’s all about. Plenty of plaques.”