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Arlington: Strong but not stellar cast of Euros on Million Day
ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – Either the Euros are getting sharper about the horses they bring to Arlington’s International Festival of Racing, or the Americans against whom they are competing are getting slower.
Cape Blanco’s 2011 win made it two straight years that a trans-Atlantic voyager took top honors in the Million, the first time in the race’s 29-year history that happened. European shippers also have won three of the last four Millions, four of the last seven, and five of the last nine, strike rates that significantly exceed their 10-for-29 mark throughout the Million’s history.
Treasure Beach won the Secretariat last year, but overseas ship-ins have tried less and won less in the 3-year-old race and in the Beverly D.
That a record 14 Euros travelled to Chicago this year owes to the presence of a new race, the $400,000 American St. Leger. The group is solid but unspectacular, with no horses who look as formidable as Cape Blanco or Treasure Beach, which is a little odd since Treasure Beach himself is back for the Million (more on that shortly).
The European likely to receive the most wagering attention is Jakkalberry, the 9-5 morning-line favorite for the American St. Leger, so we might as well begin a comprehensive look at the 2012 overseas team there.
AMERICAN ST. LEGER
At 1 11/16 miles, the St. Leger qualifies as a marathon here. English trainer John Gosden, who has sent Zuider Zee for the race, emphasized that across the pond, the race would be classified as middle distance, not long distance.
German-bred Zuider Zee, for instance, comes out of a real marathon, the Queen Alexandra Stakes at Royal Ascot, contested over a trip a full mile farther than Saturday’s. Zuider Zee (energetic training week at Arlington) was fourth of 18 in that race, not quite seeing out the 2 11/16 miles. The shorter distance Saturday helps, but Gosden says Jakkalberry “has it a little bit over us on form.”
Indeed, while Zuider Zee’s big win came over 22 foes last fall in the November Handicap, Jakkalberry, a millionaire, managed a third behind Cirrus des Aigles and St Nicholas Abbey in the Group 1 Sheema Classic going an American-style left-handed 1 1/2 miles in Dubai this spring. Cirrus des Aigles was the top older middle-distance horse in Europe last year, while St. Nich won the Breeders’ Cup Turf, making Jakkalberry’s top performance lengths better than anything else in the American St. Leger. Jakkalberry’s connections say he needs firm turf for his best run. Heavy rain late this week could open a chink in his armor.
Bridge of Gold, who spiked a temperature upon arrival, is a 6-year-old with a year-plus layoff whose high-water mark was a third of 20 in the Ebor Handicap two summers ago at York. He deserves to be 25-1.
Lake Drop has been in the U.S. with trainer Graham Motion since earlier in the summer, but makes his first start outside Italy. His most recent race, a Group 3 win over 1 1/2 miles, was his best among 16, and Lake Drop can handle the claiming-class Americans. But among the Europeans he ranks well beneath Jakkalberry and below Zuider Zee.
Daddy Long Legs’s third trip to the U.S. scarcely could go worse than his first two: He was 12th of 13 in the BC Juvenile and eased in the Kentucky Derby. Daddy Long Legs’s top performance came winning the UAE Derby on Tapeta, but he is far better on turf than dirt. He appeared no more than a pacemaker for winning stablemate Power, however, in his most recent start, the Irish 2000 Guineas, though the strong pace he set that day suggests he could keep favored Silver Max from backing up fractions.
France-based Bayrir is more appealing. Unraced at 2, he has won three of four starts this year, including the Group 2 Eugene Adam over the Secretariat’s 1 1/4-mile trip. Bayrir ran flat in his second start after getting buried behind horses much of the journey, but he had no trouble rallying from behind and splitting in the Eugene Adam. His win in the lesser Prix Ridgeway might be just as meaningful. That race was on the left-handed (U.S. style) Saint-Cloud course, and in it Bayrir showed useful tracking speed. He’s a handy, smallish horse with a nice burst, and has faced solid opposition, and he might outfinish Silver Max if he can keep the front-runner in range.
In a vintage edition of the Beverly D., the four Euros could be excised from the top of tickets. But with Aruna and Marketing Mix – both good, neither a standout – as the top U.S. runners, the Euros have a chance.
Four-year-old Joviality, another Gosden charge, has but two wins, though both came in group stakes. At 3, she won a Group 3 over Barefoot Lady and Whey Sauce, and in June she scored a minor upset in the Group 2 Windsor Forest, beating Chachamaidee, who is better than Barefoot Lady and Whey Sauce, but hardly mighty. Joviality has mainly been kept to one-mile races but should see out the 1 3/16 miles. She wants the going neither very firm nor very soft, Gosden said, and therefore might well get her course.
In her three recent starts I'm a Dreamer has been in races won by highly rated 4-year-old colt Carlton House and a better Gosden filly, Izzi Top. She shipped to finish a close second last fall at Woodbine in the E.P. Taylor, beating Dream Peace, the Grade 1 Diana runner-up last month, by a nose. A bulky mare with no apparently strong turf preference, I’m A Dreamer lacks great acceleration and is more likely to stalk the pace and stay on for a share than win the Beverly D.
Aidan O’Brien’s 3-year-old UP is not far from the same class as Joviality and I’m A Dreamer, and finished fourth behind the latter in the four-horse Pretty Polly, a soft Group 1 on July 1 in Ireland. She could do no better than fourth in the 2011 BC Juvenile Fillies Turf, and something similar seems a reasonable expectation.
German filly Kapitale comes from a formidable trainer, Andreas Wohler, but has not been out since October. She narrowly won a German Group 3 last fall but could not keep pace late in the Lydia Tesio, a soft Italian Group 1, finishing third behind two horses who rate below the other three Euros in the Beverly D.
Gosden told English press that Colombian is his best chance to win on Million Day, but Colombian needs give in the ground; his last two wins came on courses called soft and heavy. Colombian’s other victory was a sharp score at Chester, the tight-turning left-handed English track over which Debussy, Gosden’s 2010 Million winner, also excelled. Colombian was no match for the likes of So You Think, Carlton House, and Farhh in the top-class Prince of Wales’s Stakes, his most recent start, but he might prove a match for this Million.
The connections of Crackerjack King want dry weather. This 4-year-old prefers his turf fast and firm. He probably was the best horse in Italy earlier this year, which is why he left the Italian yard of trainer Stefano Botti and went to Botti’s brother Marco at Newmarket in England. Crackerjack King won all seven of his Italian races, including the 2011 Italian Derby, where he beat the excellent filly Danedream. He shipped poorly and ran into soft going when 15th last year in the French Derby, and again caught turf much softer than he wants when fifth behind high-class Nathaniel and Farhh in the July 7 Eclipse, his first start in England. A serious threat on a dry-enough course.
Afsare has a touch of speed, can go left-handed, and likes 1 1/4 miles, but Crackerjack King blew his doors off when the two met in May in Italy. He’s in good form, however, and can be fooled with in exotics.
Treasure Beach began his season with a fourth in the Sheema Classic but has since disappointed in trips to Hong Kong and New York, finishing fifth as the odds-on favorite at Belmont in the Man o’ War last month. It’s possible Treasure Beach’s fourth-place finish just last week in an Irish Group 3 was merely a Million prep, but it would be hard to play him with any confidence right now.
Wigmore Hall was second in the 2010 Secretariat and a troubled fourth in the 2011 Million, but has only a third-place finish to show from six starts this year. While his bare recent form looks poor, he did finish head and head with Colombian in the Prince of Wales and was badly bothered when sixth behind runner-up Afsare at York. Wigmore Hall can outrun long odds but probably cannot win.
Top notch reporting and analysis. Thanks Marcus!