ARLINGTON MILLION | PURSE: $1 MILLION | 3-YEAR-OLD & UP | GRADE 1 | 1 1/4 MILES (TURF)
European invaders swept the first three events at Arlington Park's International Festival of Racing on Saturday, but the marquee race, the Grade 1, $1 million Arlington Million, was reclaimed for America by Priscilla Vaccarezza's front-running Little Mike. Previously untested at this 1 1/4-mile trip, the Dale Romans charge got away with a leisurely pace for Ramon Dominguez and stormed 1 1/2 lengths clear of English invader Afsare.
Dominguez had also ridden the last American-based winner of the Arlington Million, Gio Ponti, in 2009. Europe had dominated the past two years, courtesy of Debussy and Cape Blanco, and the trend was widely expected to continue Saturday. Crackerjack King, half-brother and stablemate of Saturday's American St. Leger hero Jakkalberry, was dispatched as the 7-2 favorite.
Little Mike ranked as the co-second choice, also at 7-2. The lone speed in this spot, he had posted a wire-to-wire victory in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic two starts back on Derby Day at Churchill Downs. Little Mike posted a similar performance here, except that he was allowed to dictate through even softer fractions at Arlington.
Gliding to the lead through an opening quarter in :25, Little Mike bowled along merrily through splits of :49 4/5, 1:15 and 1:39 2/5. Willcox Inn and Colombian tracked early, while Crackerjack King raced farther back. Afsare, who pitched a protracted fit when the starting crew tried to load him, showed a better demeanor when rating for Kieren Fallon, but was leaving himself plenty to do in the latter stages.
Little Mike galloped with gusto into the stretch and delivered the coup de grace. Quickening impressively off his slow early tempo, he opened up by 4 1/2 lengths in midstretch. Afsare picked up strongly himself and soon emerged as the only challenger.
But Little Mike was well and truly gone. Although Afsare cut into his margin, Little Mike was never seriously threatened as he completed 1 1/4 miles on the good turf in 2:02 2/5 and paid $9.80, $5.60 and $4.40.
Another 1 1/2 lengths adrift came Rahystrada and Colombian, who dead-heated for third. Crackerjack King missed sharing in the dead-heat by a nose. Treasure Beach, last year's Grade 1 Secretariat winner, crossed the wire sixth, followed by Wigmore Hall , Willcox Inn, co-second choice Boisterous, Cherokee Lord and Vertiformer.
Little Mike is now a millionaire with a bankroll of $1,436,412 from a record of 19-11-2-1. The Florida homebred was branded as a Gulfstream Park specialist for some time, in light of his scores in the Grade 3 Ft. Lauderdale, Grade 3 Canadian Turf and Grade 3 Appleton in 2011.
Sidelined for more than eight months by a condylar fracture, Little Mike picked up right where he left off with an allowance win last December, and extended his winning streak to four in the January 28 Florida Sunshine Millions Turf. Little Mike's skein ended with a fourth in the March 3 renewal of the Canadian Turf, surrendering to the victorious Doubles Partner and third Data Link, but he turned the tables on both in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic. He shipped to Hollywood Park for the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile on June 30, where he was embroiled in a speed duel and tired to third.
Sired by Spanish Steps, the five-year-old bay gelding is out of the winning Wavering Monarch mare Hay Jude. He is a half-brother to Grade 3-placed multiple stakes hero Little Nick, who was also in the news Saturday, albeit for all the wrong reasons. Little Nick is the errant horse who collided with Jackson Bend during training hours at Saratoga.
The only other prominent family members in recent years are multiple Grade 3-placed stakes scorer Linear and Gold Pleasure, a Group 1 victor in his native Brazil.