08/14/2014 2:55PM

Hovdey: Beverly D. has royal family of winners


Imagine spending a quarter of a century living in the shadow of a dominating companion who sucks all the air out of the room and rarely let’s you get a word in edgewise. Okay, so maybe it’s not that hard to imagine.

Since 1987, the Beverly D. Stakes has been the silent, stately partner of the Arlington Million, offered on the same enticing program that will be presented once again at Arlington Park on Saturday. Their offspring – the Secretariat Stakes and the American St. Leger – complete the family portrait.

It’s the Million, though, that gets all the attention, still feeding off a colorful history decorated with names like John Henry, Manila, Golden Pheasant, Paradise Creek, The Tin Man, and Gio Ponti. The Million gets to call itself the Million because the purse is a million dollars, which in 1981 was a smart piece of marketing, since it was the first Thoroughbred race with a seven-figure purse anywhere on the planet. The closest U.S. number that year was the $715,100 Hollywood Futurity.

Three decades later, the name still rings comfortably in the ear, even though the idea of a million-dollar purse is slightly shopworn. (Think Dr. Evil in the original “Austin Powers,” unfrozen after years in hibernation, asking for a laughably underpriced “one million dollars” not to blow up the world.) In 2013, there were 33 North American races worth a million dollars or more, five of them open to all comers at a mile or more on grass.

There has been a certain amount of unnecessary hand-wringing over the fact that only seven runners entered this year’s Million. After all, there have been fields of seven before, just as there have been fields of seven run in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (2009 and 2010), a field of six in the 2012 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, and only eight going after England’s prestigious King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes this summer, with its purse of $1.7 million. Welcome to the modern reality.

By contrast, a field of 11 has entered the Beverly D., going 1 3/16 miles after a $750,000 purse that maintains its status as the richest North American grass race for fillies and mares outside of the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf. More importantly, Saturday’s field is as good as any ever assembled for the race, with no less than five North American Grade 1 stakes winners challenged by three salty Europeans very much in form.

This should be no surprise. North American opportunities for fillies and mares on grass have provided the most reliably deep and satisfying competition for decades, and the big money is out there – in races like the Flower Bowl, the Diana, and the Beverly D. – keeping tough mares like Beverly D. runners Tannery (23 starts) and Somali Lemonade (22 starts) going strong.

However, there was no Beverly D. Stakes in 1981, when the 3-year-old filly Madam Gay came from England to finish third in the Million behind John Henry and The Bart. There was no Beverly D. in 1984, when Royal Heroine beat all the boys in the Million save John Henry. And there was still no Beverly D. available to the best turf females in 1986, when such tough guys as Theatrical, Flying Pidgeon, Teleprompter, and Crème Fraiche assembled for the Million and were humbled by the 6-year-old mare Estrapade.

The Beverly D. came on the scene in 1987 as a modest race named in tribute to the late wife of Arlington owner Richard Duchossois. Two years later, with the unveiling of the spectacular new Arlington facility raised from the ashes of the 1985 fire, the Beverly D. reappeared with its own makeover as a half-million-dollar event courting the best mares available.

Since then, six Beverly D. winners have gone on to be champions of their division – Dank, Stacelita, Golden Apples, Possibly Perfect, Hatoof, and Flawlessly – and several others have came close.

One of them was Kostroma, the Irish mare who defeated a 1992 Beverly D. field that included Canadian champion Dance Smartly. Kostroma’s American record played a healthy part in the Hall of Fame credentials of trainer Gary Jones, who was inducted last week in ceremonies at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

“That was probably her best race,” Jones said, bearing in mind that Kostroma once set a world record for nine furlongs on turf. “She was perfect that week, and the race set up just right for the way she wanted to run.”

Kostroma came from 10th in the field of 13 to win going away by 1 1/2 lengths.

“I’ll never forget when I saw her the first time in Ireland,” Jones said. “Tommy Stack trained her, and we were in his car driving alongside while she was galloping, the rider bent doubled. ‘Look,’ said Tommy, pointing to the speedometer, ‘she’s going 35 miles an hour.’ That was enough for me.

“Then when she got to California, she pulled a shoe getting off the van and then stepped on it,” Jones said. “Put a hole in the bottom of her foot. I didn’t get her back until the following summer at Del Mar.”

That was 1991. A year later, Kostroma stood in the Arlington winner’s circle.

“It was worth the wait,” Jones said. “I think the only place I enjoyed more than at the Hall of Fame was Arlington for the Beverly D.”