Updated on 08/21/2012 2:56PM

Arlington Park: Little Mike leads every step to take the Million at 7-2

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Little Mike, under Ramon Dominguez, set a slow pace on his way to a gate-to-wire victory in the Grade 1 Arlington Million.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – Turns out Little Mike can go 1 1/4 miles – at least when he gets away with murder on the lead. 

Setting a glacial pace in the Arlington Million, Little Mike opened up an insurmountable lead coming into the homestretch and had plenty left to hold clear a late challenge from Afsare, denying European invaders a sweep of the four major stakes here at Arlington on Saturday and providing trainer Dale Romans with the first Arlington Million of his career.

The story of the Million was pace, or the lack of it. Little Mike bounced straight to the front and set fractions of 25.10 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, 49.95 for the first half, and a sleepy 1:15.03 for his first six furlongs.

“I thought he’d make an easy lead – maybe not that easy,” Romans said. “Three-quarters in 1:15, he was going to be going to be tough to beat.”

Ahead by 4 1/2 lengths at the stretch call, Little Mike won by 1 1/2  lengths, with Afsare bridging the gap late after rallying three wide into the stretch.

Ramon Dominguez won the second Arlington Million of his career, piloting Little Mike only after his regular jockey, Joe Bravo, elected to ride Turbo Compressor in the Sword Dancer on Saturday at Saratoga, a race in which he finished last. Dominguez said that because Little Mike raced on the bridle he couldn’t tell quite how slow he was going, but noting the pricked ears of his mount, Dominguez felt confident.

“At the three-eighths pole I thought we’d done as much as we could to slow them down,” Dominguez said. “He really accelerated, and he galloped out like a freight train.”

Little Mike was timed in 2:02.44 for 1 1/4 miles on good turf. Heavily bet from the start of wagering, he paid $9.80 to win as the co-7-2 second choice with Boisterous. Afsare was 1 1/2 lengths better than Colombian and Rahystrada, who finished in a dead heat for third. They were followed by the slight favorite Crackerjack King, Treasure Beach, Wigmore Hall, Willcox Inn, Boisterous, Cherokee Lord, and Vertiformer. Europeans held down the second through sixth spots after winning the American St. Leger, Secretariat, and Beverly D. earlier Saturday.

Little Mike, a son of Spanish Steps and out of the Illinois-bred mare Hay Jude, was bred by Carlo Vaccarezza and is owned by Priscilla Vaccarezza. He won for the 11th time in 19 starts, and despite looking more like a miler for much of his career, now is 3 for 3 (with two Grade 1 wins) in races at 1 1/8 miles or greater. Romans said he would have to think about whether to continue to race Little Mike in longer-distance races. The Arlington Million is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge race for the Breeders’ Cup Turf, earning Little Mike an automatic, fees-paid berth into that race.

“The next step would have to be a mile and a half,” Romans said. “We’ll have to sit down and think about it.”

Afsare performed best of the Europeans despite throwing a fit behind the gate, delaying the start of the Million for several minutes.

“We went to the gate with him yesterday and he wasn’t fully straightforward, but he wasn’t straightforward at all today,” said trainer Luca Cumani’s wife, Sara Cumani, who oversaw Afsare’s preparations here. “This was the worst he’s ever been, but he’s a tough customer. We had a perfect draw to be galloping right behind the leader, but for some reason we were too gar back. He ran a great race.”

Colombian showed decent speed and was close enough to the pace to make an impact, but he could not quicken with the winner. Rahystrada continued his run of good Million performances, his tie for third bettering fourth and fifth-place finishes the last two years. Crackerjack King’s connections traveled here looking for firmer going than they found, though the Million favorite was beaten just a nose for third.

Meanwhile, on a picture perfect August afternoon, a crowd of 34,002 cheered like crazy as Dominguez and Little Mike put the 30th Arlington Million to sleep.