07/21/2011 3:18PM

Arlington Park: Winchester the top gun in Stars and Stripes

Barbara D. Livingston
Winchester won the Manhattan and the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic in 2010.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – There is but one star in the Stars and Stripes Stakes on Saturday at Arlington, and Winchester will be bet accordingly. Favored at 1-2 on the morning line, Winchester faces six apparently overmatched foes while making his first start of 2011 for trainer Christophe Clement.

Winchester has come to Arlington before, traveling from Ireland for the 2008 Secretariat Stakes, his first race in the United States. Trained then by Dermot Weld, Winchester won the Grade 1 Secretariat by seven lengths, a performance suggesting he could be the best grass horse in the country.

But things didn’t work out that way. Winchester, perhaps still bouncing from his tremendous Secretariat performance, finished sixth and seventh in his two other races at age 3, didn’t race for seven months, and wound up losing all four of his starts in 2009. It was only in the middle of last year that Winchester began to look like the horse seen at Arlington. He won a pair of Grade 1’s, the Manhattan and the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, while finishing third in the United Nations and a respectable fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. A season-ending trip to the Far East for the Hong Kong Vase produced a meek 11th-place finish, and Winchester has not raced since.

Now, it is back to Arlington for the Grade 3, $100,000 Stars and Stripes, which, at 1 1/2 miles, suits Winchester’s distance preference. The trip here this time is much shorter, with Winchester traveling overnight by van from Belmont Park, his arrival set for early Friday morning. Winchester has been posting steady turf drills at Belmont and is ready to run, but he will probably not be at his best for this comeback race.

“He’s not ready to give his best yet,” Clement said. “The race will set him up perfectly for him to give his best next time.”

But Winchester at slightly less than top form will probably be good enough to win the Stars and Stripes, though very firm turf conditions here aren’t ideal for him. Of his six opponents, Proceed Bee might have the best chance at an upset. Proceed Bee finished sixth last out in the Arlington Handicap, but for some reason abandoned his typical stalking tactics and fell back to last behind a slow pace in the race’s early stages. He finished well to lose by less than three lengths, and though Proceed Bee has not raced this far before, he has won over one and one-quarter miles on dirt.

Jockeys to ride in fund-raiser

Arlington has added a new component to its second annual Dining with the Dynasty charity event on Arlington Million weekend, with five famous retired jockeys to compete in a jockey challenge race against five current Arlington riders.

A large group of former jockeys will participate in the event, but the five who have signed on to race are Jean Cruguet, Patti Cooksey, Earlie Fires, Mark Guidry, and Chris McCarron.

Tickets for the event can be purchased online or at Arlington, and ticket-holders will spend an afternoon with the former riders in Mr. D’s Sports Bar at the track.