Surgical Strike wins Arlington Classic with blinkers

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill -- The favored Surgical Strike nipped game One Mean Man by a head to win the Grade 3, $100,000 Arlington Classic over a yielding turf course Saturday.

Third three weeks ago in the Grade 2 American Turf, Surgical Strike raced with blinkers added in hopes, trainer Ben Colebrook said earlier this week, of keeping him from falling so far behind early in the race. That worked, as Surgical Strike settled into a perfect pocket trip under James Graham racing closer to the lead than he had in nine months and nine starts.

"It was kind of where James had to be with the pace being that slow," Colebrook said. "I was definitely pleased, but I think being a little closer he might not have kicked as much as he usually does."

The slow-early, fast-race race shape of the Classic favored those forwardly placed, as the first four into the first turn filled out the first four placings at the finish, as Swagger Jagger, who pressed the leaders, three-quarters of a length behind One Mean Man and 1-3/4 lengths in front of pacesetting Two Step Time. Splits over a course that was in great shape but quite wet were 25.64 seconds, 51.31, and 1:17.21, and 1:41.51 for a final 1-1/16-mile clocking of 1:47.51. The second half-mile went more than one second faster than the first, and the final half-furlong in six seconds was the fastest part of the race.

One Mean Man sat second under E.T. Baird much of the trip, got the better of Two Step Time at the top of the stretch, raced head and head with Swagger Jagger just to his outside most of the homestretch, and then surged again after Graham guided Surgical Strike off the fence at the top of the stretch and came with his typical long run.

"He dug in about three times down the lane," Baird said. "The winner just out-footed me."

Surgical Strike ($5.40), a homebred colt by Red Giant owned by Edward Seltzer and Beverly Anderson, won for the third time in 11 starts while capturing his first graded race, his first stakes win having come in the listed John Battaglia over Turfway's Polytrack.

"He's a solid horse," said Graham. "I think a little bit more pace would have helped us. I just had to make a little bit more of a run on them. He's normally lazy early, and I think he'd be better a little farther back, too, but he's a gritty tough horse."

Plans aren't yet set for Surgical Strike, who could come back to Arlington for the American Derby or ship from Colebrook's base in Kentucky for the $1 million Belmont Derby later this summer. The Secretariat on Arlington Million Day also could be in play.

"The further the better for him," Colebreook said. "A mile and an eighth, mile and a quarter is what he really wants to do. I think stamina is his greatest asset."

Tequila Joe ran easily the best race of the closers, coming from 10th to just miss fourth while rallying up the rail.

"He was flying at the end, and I'm looking forward to the next one," said jockey Jose Valdivia.

Sixth-place Itsnoteasybeinbreezy also ran creditably for a horse still a maiden and making just his second start.