If Little Mike repeats in the Arlington Million Aug. 17, breeder/owner Carlo Vaccarezza might use the Arlington Park winner's circle as a platform to challenge reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan to a match race.
That's a big if, of course, considering that no horse has won consecutive editions of the Arlington Million in 30 previous editions.
"From my mouth to God's ear, if we win the Arlington Million again on Saturday, I'm going to put up my own money to challenge Wise Dan to a match race," Vaccarezza said Aug. 16. "Little Mike is the Rodney Dangerfield of racing -- he doesn't get any respect. I won more prestigious races than [Wise Dan] did last year at more demanding distances, and I feel we deserved the Eclipse."
Both Little Mike and Wise Dan won three grade I races last year, but Wise Dan was the overwhelming choice as champion turf male and also Horse of the Year (he also won the Eclipse Award as champion older male). It's a decision that still bothers Vaccarezza.
"I'm sick of hearing about [Wise Dan]; I want to prove we're better," he said.
Little Mike will need to regain his best form to defeat a strong field that includes six European invaders. The 6-year-old Florida-bred gelding by Spanish Steps has posted three consecutive unplaced finishes this year by a combined 17 lengths. But trainer Dale Romans, last year's Eclipse Award winner, said Aug. 16 that Little Mike is ready.
"He's back to where he was last year, and we're really looking forward to [Saturday]," Romans said after Little Mike galloped 1 ½ miles on Friday following his arrival at Arlington a day earlier. "He looked as good as he could out there, and I feel better about his chances now than I did when I woke up."
Vaccarezza says Little Mike is ready for his European opposition.
"They say the Europeans are better, and that our grade I races are like their group II's, but Wise Dan beat their best at a mile last year, and we beat their horses at 1 ½ miles," Vaccarezza said, referencing Breeders' Cup wins by Wise Dan in the Mile and Little Mike in the Turf.
Vaccarezza said pace dynamics compromised Little Mike's chances in the United Nations July 6 at Monmouth Park, where he dueled with Skyring through a half in :47.95 and six furlongs in 1:12.43. Little Mike held on to the lead to mid-stretch but weakened in the final furlong to finish fourth. When Little Mike won the Million, the pace was :49.95 and 1:39.54.
Nates Mineshaft is the most likely pace threat to Little Mike off a gate-to-wire score in a turf allowance race at one mile on July 27 at Arlington.
"We're going to give our horse every chance to race on the lead, but if Nates Mineshaft wants it bad enough then we'll just pretend he's not even there," Romans said.
Little Mike has won 12 of 24 races lifetime and has earned $3,104,412.