08/12/2013 3:53PM

Arlington Park: Million days quite different

Reed Palmer Photography
Nates Mineshaft has been the first-call leader in eight of his last nine starts.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – On Arlington Million Day 2012, Anne Smith was galloping horses and working as an assistant to trainer Austin Smith. Armando de la Cerda was employed as an assistant to trainer Brian Williamson. One year later, Smith and de la Cerda not only have become head trainers, but both have horses pre-entered in Million Day races: De la Cerda runs La Tia in the Beverly D., while Smith will saddle Nates Mineshaft in the Million itself.

De la Cerda and Smith are Arlington barnmates. De la Cerda’s string is stabled on the east side of Barn 23, Smith’s on the west side. Their stable stars, too, have a common trait: Both are confirmed front-runners who will play a major part in their respective races, even if they prove not to be competitive in the end.

Nates Mineshaft has been the first-call leader in eight of his last nine starts. His jockey in the Million, E.T. Baird, is known for hustling horses out of the gate and onto the lead. Little Mike won the 2012 Million loping along by himself. He is likely to have company this time.

“I’m not going to try and change what E.T. and the horse are comfortable doing,” said Smith.

Nates Mineshaft is three races into a 2013 campaign that began with a thud. Making his first start in more than 11 months, Nates Mineshaft set the early pace in the May 25 Hanshin Cup but dropped back sharply and finished last, beaten almost 20 lengths. The showing stood in stark contrast to the horse Nates Mineshaft had become in winter and spring 2012, when he won three graded stakes – including a track-record-setting performance in the New Orleans Handicap – and came within a length of victory in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster. Nates Mineshaft has long been a horse with physical issues, and he bled through Lasix in the Hanshin, said Smith, who trains Nates Mineshaft for the Windy Hill Farm of Pete and Peter Reiman.

“There was talk of retiring him,” Smith said. “The question was how much farther do you want to go with this? But he wants to be here, doing this.”

Nates Mineshaft improved drastically in his second start this summer and earned his spot in the Million winning a high-level turf allowance race July 27. That start was only Nates Mineshaft’s second on grass. It came over a yielding course, and Smith, who has begun working Nates Mineshaft exclusively on turf, hopes firmer conditions now prevailing hold through the Million.

Nates Mineshaft’s peak form is higher than La Tia’s, but La Tia is a more straightforward animal, lacking Nates Mineshaft’s myriad problems. An Illinois-bred, La Tia won the Grade 3 Arlington Oaks on Polytrack last summer, and finished a close fourth on turf in a division of the Hatoof Stakes on Million Day while trained by Williamson. Turned over to de la Cerda by owner-breeder Salvador Hernandez this year, La Tia has been kept strictly to grass races, easily winning a third-level allowance and an Illinois-bred stakes before setting the pace and finishing third in the Modesty Handicap last month.

“That was her first time going a mile and three-sixteenths, and I feel better about running her that distance for the second time in the Beverly D.,” said de la Cerda, who has had a very productive first Arlington meet, winning 13 races through Aug. 11. “She got a little tired, but she was still fighting the final sixteenth.”

While de la Cerda remains fairly new to his job, Hernandez, La Tia’s owner/breeder, has been at the game for a couple decades. La Tia, a daughter of City Place, is the best horse he has campaigned.

“The owner, he wants to run. He hasn’t had many opportunities like this,” said de la Cerda, who, just months into his training career, has one already.

Dream Peace staying home

Dream Peace, one of the top American pre-entrants in the Beverly D., won’t ship for the race, trainer Chad Brown said Monday.

Five-year-old Dream Peace, Irish-bred and imported from France last summer, finished second by a head in the Grade 1 Diana Stakes on July 27. Dream Peace worked a snappy half-mile on turf in 47.80 seconds Sunday, but Brown said he preferred awaiting the $600,000 Flower Bowl Invitational on Sept. 28 at Belmont to a three-week turnaround in the Beverly D.

“Just wanted a little more time with her. With the forecast looking dry, the three weeks, and observing her workout yesterday, it all added up to her needing more time,” Brown said.

Nine other pre-entrants remain in the Beverly D., headed by Marketing Mix and three Europeans: Duntle, Dank, and Gifted Girl.

Joel Rosario had been named to ride Dream Peace when pre-entries were taken, but now has picked up the mount on Woodbine shipper Solid Appeal, who arrived at Arlington early Monday morning.

Brown still is on track to have his first Million starter, in Real Solution, a Ken and Sarah Ramsey homebred who was sent to Italy for his 2- and 3-year-old campaigns, and has made two starts in the U.S. for Brown this year. Fourth in his North American debut, Real Solution was an improved third behind Point of Entry and Optimizer in the June 8 Manhattan Handicap.

“Since he hit American soil, he has always trained well and looked well for me,” Brown said. “He ran really well in the Manhattan. He was third best that day, but he proved he belongs at the Group 1 level.”

Quarantine almost over

The 14 European shippers here for the Million Day races remained in quarantine through training hours Monday, but most – if not all – were to be permitted to train Tuesday. The 11 horses who arrived Saturday will easily clear quarantine before training Tuesday, though it will be tight for the three horses who came from France. Once the international shippers clear quarantine, they will be moved from Arlington’s quarantine facility into Barn 28 on the backstretch.

The flights from the East and West Coasts carrying Million Day participants both are due into Chicago on Thursday. Horses vanning here from Kentucky will arrive Thursday or Friday.