08/15/2013 1:17PM

Weekend Warrior for Aug. 17: Picks for Arlington Million, Sword Dancer, Del Mar Oaks

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Barbara D. Livingston
Big Blue Kitten looks capable of turning the tables on Boisterous when they meet for the second time this summer in the Sword Dancer Invitational.

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There are six graded stakes events on the national stakes schedule Saturday, which itself is not unique. What makes this sextet special is every one is a Grade 1 race.

Arlington owns half of Saturday’s Grade 1’s – the $1 million Arlington Million, the $750,000 Beverly D., and the $500,000 Secretariat. Saratoga has two, the co-featured $600,000 Alabama and the $600,000 Sword Dancer Invitational. And Del Mar offers the remaining one, the $300,000 Del Mar Oaks.

Arlington Million

It’s impossible to have a strong opinion in this race. You might like one or two horses. But with six of the 13 entered being international shippers, and with so many having at least some chance of winning (10 by my count), this isn’t the sort of race where you take the rubber band off the bankroll.

So, it would be fair to ask: Why put this event in this space’s featured spot if I lack a strong opinion? I’m doing so for the same reason many climbers take on Mt. Everest – because it’s there. This is such a wide-open, wild betting race, I just could not resist.

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Grandeur, Indy Point, and Little Mike, last year’s Million winner, are the first three favorites on the morning line, and each is certainly capable of winning. But beyond wondering why anyone would want to take comparatively low odds in a spot like this, this trio has their imperfections. Grandeur ran very well in his three U.S. starts late last year, but he faces a better group Saturday, and he’s marooned in post 13. Indy Point looked good winning the restricted Wickerr Stakes in his recent U.S. debut, and any horse who can finish in front of 20 opponents like he did when second in the Carlos Pellegrini last December is okay in my book. But like Grandeur, he is also taking on tougher company now. I think Little Mike is poised for a peak performance off a strong-paced fourth in the United Nations, but the presence of the speedy Nates Mineshaft does not help him.

I’m going with Mull of Killough. Considering how well he ran going nine to 10 furlongs in his five prior outings, I sense that Mull of Killough’s most recent start going a mile at Ascot was designed as a prep for a longer event such as this. And the fact that he finished a sharp second in that Ascot race in what was also his first start back from a trip to Singapore illustrates how sharp this veteran is these days. Mull of Killough figures to only be more effective with the added ground he gets Saturday, and he should be a nice price.

The Apache is also dangerous. Like Mull of Killough, I take The Apache’s last start, his first in four months, as something of a tightener, and he certainly classes up off his fine second in the Dubai Duty Free two starts back.

As for Arlington’s two other Grade 1’s, Marketing Mix, Duntle, and Dank are the first three favorites in the Beverly D., and they look like the right three. Marketing Mix is absolutely top class. I loved her two wins this year, and she probably should have won this race last year. But I’m concerned about her cutting back in distance from 12 to 9 1/2 furlongs. Duntle is Group 1 class, but I’m not sure she wants to go this far. I like Dank, who has blossomed this year at 4 while running perhaps her two best races yet when given the chance to go as far as nine furlongs.

In the Secretariat, Jack Milton was best when a narrowly beaten third most recently in the Virginia Derby after traffic trouble in the stretch. Jack Milton will take a lot of beating, but his price won’t be great. I will take First Cornerstone, who was a classy 2-year-old last year in Ireland, and will find the opposition Saturday much easier after competing in the French Derby and Irish 2000 Guineas in his two starts this year.

Sword Dancer Invitational

I liked Big Blue Kitten in the United Nations last time out because he was finally getting the opportunity to do what he seemed cut out to do, which is go an extended distance of ground on turf. Big Blue Kitten delivered, albeit with a favorable pace setup, and I like him right back here in his rematch with Boisterous.

Boisterous, who was very impressive when winning the Man o’ War Stakes in his most recent start, and Big Blue Kitten met up two starts back in the Monmouth Stakes. Boisterous won that race by a little more than a length over Big Blue Kitten, but Big Blue Kitten was the better horse. As Boisterous sat a perfect rail trip in close contact to a slow pace before tipping out in the stretch, Big Blue Kitten trailed in the early running, meaning he was more compromised by the slow fractions. Nevertheless, Big Blue Kitten made a three-wide run on the far turn and went five wide into the stretch, only to be blocked at that point for a bit behind opponents. After he managed to get clear, Big Blue Kitten gained steadily and was getting to Boisterous.

Del Mar Oaks

With the presence of Discreet Marq, Unusual Way, and perhaps Doinghardtimeagain, the pace here should be strong. The most fancied closers here figure to be Kitten’s Dumplings and Wishing Gate, and I prefer Kitten’s Dumplings.

Kitten’s Dumplings was impressive winning the Lake George, Regret, and Edgewood in her past three starts, but so was Wishing Gate when she won the San Clemente last time out over the course. What separates them for me is Kitten’s Dumplings is already proven at Saturday’s nine-furlong distance. Her Regret score was especially good, and that was at this distance. And while it is true that Wishing Gate has made only two starts beyond a mile, the fact remains she has yet to win beyond eight furlongs.