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The world famous Arlington Million has been America's most important turf race this side of the Breeders' Cup for more than a quarter-century. It was preceded in the 1950s by the Washington D.C. International at Laurel Racecourse, a race no longer run, and by the United Nations Handicap at Atlantic City Racecourse, now run at Monmouth Park.
The central idea behind all three of these historically significant turf races always has been to match some of America's top grass horses against solid turf performers from Europe and other foreign ports of call.
In the recent past, the Breeders' Cup Turf, the Breeders' Cup Mile, and the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf have taken over as richer and more internationally appealing events. But that has not diminished the annual appeal of Arlington's big day, especially for turf-minded horseplayers who now attack the Million and the track's two other Grade 1 turf stakes that day - the Secretariat for 3-year-olds and the Beverly D. for fillies and mares - as gilt-edged opportunities to make serious scores.
As I've experienced it, the key has been to use an aggressive wagering approach anchored by one European-based horse in one of the three events - preferably not an obvious favorite. While high-class Europeans are respected in these events, they often are overlays vs. top-rated American horses.
For a relatively recent example, one of several I could cite, the key horse in 2005 was the British-based Powerscourt, who defeated the 9-10 American-based favorite Kitten's Joy one year after Powerscourt had been disqualified from first to fourth in the 2004 Arlington Million.
The reason for using Powerscourt: He was a proven world-class performer, had run well over the course despite weak handling by his rider Jamie Spencer the prior year, and now was going to be somewhat undervalued at 4-1 or 5-1 seeking redemption with highly rated international jockey Kieren Fallon. Powerscourt won easily and proved to be a valued key to a winning trifecta and a lucrative pick three score.
While there are other possible approaches that could have been used, each of the profitable wagers outlined below focused on Powerscourt with minimal handicapping and wagering complexity. Some equally simple variations that included additional units on other preferred contenders would of course have been worth consideration.
Trifectas with Powerscourt in the win position in a 10-horse Million field:
* $1 ticket A: Powerscourt; with all nine other horses in the field; with these same nine other horses in the field (72 combos/$72).
* $1 ticket B: Powerscourt; with the top seven betting choices in the field other than Powerscourt; with the other nine horses in the field (56 combos/$56).
* $1 ticket C: Powerscourt; with the five top betting choices other than Powerscourt; with the other nine horses in the field (40 combos/$40).
* $2 ticket D: Powerscourt; with three top betting choices other than Powerscourt; with the other nine horses in the field (24 combos/$48).
Trifectas with Powerscourt in the second position:
* $1 ticket E: All nine other horses in the field; with Powerscourt; with the nine other horses in the field (72 combos/$72).
* $1 ticket F: Top seven betting choices other than Powerscourt; with Powerscourt; with the nine other horses (56 combos/$56).
* $1 ticket G: Top five betting choices other than Powerscourt; with Powerscourt; with the other nine horses in the field (40 combos/$40).
* $2 ticket H: Top three betting choices other than Powerscourt; with Powerscourt; with the other nine horses in the field (24 combos/$48).
Total trifecta investment for the above eight tickets was $432.
Result: Powerscourt won, odds-on favorite Kitten's Joy finished second, and Fourty Niner's Son, the sixth betting choice other than Powerscourt, finished third to produce a $2 trifecta payoff of $281.
Thus $1 trifecta tickets A, B and C, plus $2 ticket D all won, while trifecta tickets E, F,G, and H all lost.
Total return was $703.50 for a modest profit of $271.50 for a result that hardly was optimal, considering that the odds-on favorite did finish second. Fact is a $216 win and $216 place bet on Powerscourt would have returned well over $2,116.80 for the investment with a victory and $518.40 if he had only finished second to Kitten's Joy. But, had Kitten's Joy not finished second or even third, the possible trifecta payoffs would have reached several thousands of dollars, so it is not always fair to compare win price results with actual trifecta payoffs, considering the prerace possibilities.
Please note that I did elect to use $2 units for tickets D and H because I had no real opinion on the race other than Powerscourt's standing as a formidable contender. The $2 unit offered some price protection if it turned out that the obvious betting favorites were to figure in the trifecta result. Had I chosen to increase the units involving Kitten's Joy in the second and third finishing positions, the net returns would have been considerably greater.
Similar, easy to manage pick three tickets were structured as follows:
* $1 ticket A: All nine horses in the Beverly D; with Powerscourt in the Million; with all eight horses in the Secretariat (72 combos/$72).
* $1 ticket B: Top seven choices in the Beverly D.; with Powerscourt; with the top seven in the Secretariat ($49).
* $1 ticket C: Top six; with Powerscourt; with top six ($36).
* $1 ticket D: Top five; with Powerscourt; with top five ($25).
* $2 ticket E: Top four; with Powerscourt; with top four ($32).
* $2 ticket F: Top three; with Powerscourt; with top three ($18).
* $2 ticket G: Top two; with Powerscourt; with top two ($8)
* $2 ticket H: The betting favorite; with Powerscourt; with the betting favorite ($2).
Total cost of above pick three combinations - $242.
Results: The Beverly D. winner Angara was the sixth betting choice and paid $14.80; Powerscourt, won the Million by three lengths in a dominating performance and paid $12.80; Gun Salute, winner of the Secretariat as the fourth betting choice, paid $14.80.
Even with less-than-optimal results and only $3 in winning pick three tickets (A, B and C), the Arlington Million Day pick three paid $1,026.20 for $2, which resulted in a gross return of $1,539.30 and a net profit of $1,297.30.
Combined, the net profit on the Million trifecta and Million Day pick three was $1,568.80 on the total $674 investment.
This year, there is a $250,000-guaranteed pick three pool, and the fields for the races contain several candidates for a similarly focused approach. Pending weather, post positions, morning-line odds and other important last-minute details, I will choose either one of Aidan O'Brien's prominent contenders for the Secretariat or Million as my key horse for a similar array of plays.
In the Secretariat, I am leaning toward O'Brien's improving Plan, a Grade 3 winner over older horses at the Curragh on July 12. In the Million, O'Brien's Mount Nelson is equally appealing, especially if the probable odds suggest that he might not be favored over more familiar American-based horses such as Einstein.
Mount Nelson comes to the Million already having won the Group 1 Eclipse Stakes at the 1 1/4-mile Million distance on July 5 and has established his world-class potential winning the one-mile Group 1 Criterium International at Saint-Cloud as a 2-year-old.