08/06/2013 3:17PM

Arlington Park: Little Mike will seek Million repeat

Tom Keyser
Little Mike has not been as sharp this year as in 2012 but his owner expects him to regain his best form in the Arlington Million.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – After working a bullet five furlongs in 1:00.80 this past Saturday on the main track at Churchill Downs, Little Mike is on track for an attempt to do something no horse ever has done: Win the Arlington Million two years in a row.

Little Mike led from start to finish in the 2012 Million, setting a slow pace and powering to a 1 1/2-length victory over Afsare. Two starts earlier, Little Mike had won the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, and two starts later he won the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

But 2013 has not unfolded so kindly for Little Mike – not yet, at least. He, along with stablemate Dullahan, was sent by trainer Dale Romans to Dubai to start his season, and Little Mike ran two subpar races there, finishing eighth of 12 in the Maktoum Challenge Round  3, a race on an all-weather surface, and 11th of 14 when back on turf in the Group 1 Dubai Duty Free. The Duty Free performance, while disappointing, should have come as little surprise, since U.S.-based grass horses never have run well in Dubai.

Perhaps slightly more unsettling was Little Mike’s fourth-place finish as the 8-5 favorite in the July 6 United Nations, Little Mike’s first North American start this year. But that’s not how Carlo Vaccarezza, whose wife, Priscilla, owns Little Mike, sees his horse’s most recent performance. Little Mike was forced to duel on a fast pace, Vaccarezza points out. He was beaten only three lengths, and the race should move him forward.

“He’s full of himself now. I think that race really did a lot for him,” Vaccarezza said. “Dale couldn’t be any happier with the horse. He’s put his weight back on; he’s phenomenal. I think he’s at the peak of his career.”

Joel Rosario, who rode Little Mike for the first time in the United Nations, has a return call for the Million, according to Vaccarezza.

Along with Little Mike, there are five U.S.-based runners whose Million participation seems likely: Indy Point, Nates Mineshaft, Rahystrada, Real Solution, and Temeraine. The overseas contingent deemed probable shippers for the race includes Grandeur, Guest of Honour, Hunters Light, Mull of Killough, Side Glance, and The Apache. Grandeur spent about three months in California late last year, winning the Hollywood Turf Cup and the Twilight Derby, and finishing second in the Hollywood Derby. Side Glance would be making his second trip to North America, having finished fourth in the 2011 Woodbine Mile. The Apache, a South African-bred, finished a good second in the Dubai Duty Free this spring.

Beverly D.: Euros well-represented

When I’m A Dreamer won the 2012 Beverly D., it marked the first win since 2004 for an overseas shipper, but despite the formidable presence this year of U.S.-based Marketing Mix and Stephanie’s Kitten, Europeans will have a decent chance to make it two straight in the $750,000 race for females.

At least three horses are expected to ship overseas for the Beverly D.: Dank, Duntle, and Gifted Girl. Duntle, a winner in five of her nine starts and a filly who had been seriously considered for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf last fall, is the most accomplished of the group. Duntle, a 4-year-old owned by the Niarchos family, was disqualified from a first-place finish in the Group 1 Matron Stakes last season and most recently finished second to high-class Elusive Kate in the Group 1 Prix Rothschild.

Dank would be a rare Arlington runner for trainer Michael Stout. The 4-year-old filly has yet to contest a Group 1 race, but has come along nicely this season and probably ran a career-best when winning the Group 2 Kilboy Estate on July 21 at The Curragh.

Gifted Girl would be considered the lightweight among the trio, but she is not without a chance, either. Gifted Girl, trained by Paul Cole, has progressed rapidly this season and was flattered last weekend in England when Thistle Bird, who beat Gifted Girl by less than a length in a Group 3 race this past May, nearly won the Group 1 Nassau Stakes.

* Of a far less internationally significant scale is Thursday’s featured fourth race, a second-level, six-furlong Polytrack allowance race also open to $40,000 claimers. The race drew a field of six, with Sir Applesolutely, bred and owned by Arlington chairman Dick Duchossois’s Hill ’n Dale Farm, probably the one to beat.

* Jockey Jesse Lantz suffered serious injury to his back when Mein Fance fell in deep stretch of Sunday’s second race, a turf sprint. Lantz, according to agent Joe Gun, underwent surgery Sunday to fuse two vertebrae. He reportedly was released from the hospital Monday.

* Jockey Tim Thornton was named to ride Scot’s Sunnyriver in Friday’s ninth race, which would be Thornton’s first mount since he was injured in a spill at Canterbury Park on June 13. Thornton fractured his skull, broke the humerus bone in his upper arm, and suffered a mild concussion. He recently began working horses in preparation for his return.