Backstretch Buzz

Coming of the Arlington Million; Mother-son Sunday Showdown

Coming of the Arlington Million

Saturday, Aug. 12 is Arlington Million Day, which means Friday, Aug. 4 is when pre-entries for the three Grade 1 races plus the American St. Leger on the Million program are due. And if the prospective fields are any indication, Arlington’s day in the national spotlight should not be a disappointment.

Thirteen horses were pre-entered in the Million, and while the race has no bona fide stars, it’s a super-competitive group that should prove very attractive to bettors across North America and spur strong handle figures.

Moreover, the baker’s dozen set to start in the Million includes two Illinois-breds, The Pizza Man and Oak Brook.

The Pizza Man, well known by all, won the Million in 2015 and was a close sixth in the race last summer. The homebred owned by Rich and Karen Papiese’s Midwest Thoroughbreds, by English Channel out of I Can Fan Fan, has earned more than $2.14 million during an excellent career. 

Oak Brook actually beat The Pizza Man when they squared off earlier this meet in the Black Tie Affair Handicap for Illinois-breds, and while obviously a far less accomplished horse than The Pizza Man, he came right back with a fine second-place finish in the Arlington Handicap, the local prep for the Million.

Also pre-entered were Kasaqui, who finished third in the Arlington Handicap and was second in the 2016 Million, and Beach Patrol, who won the Grade 1 Secretariat for 3-year-olds on the Million card last year.  Grade 1 winners Ascend and Divisidero  add even more depth on the domestic group.

Deauville, who was third in the 2016 Million as a 3-year-old for All World trainer Aidan O’Brien, heads a strong international contingent that also includes two other legitimate contenders in Mekhtaal and Scottish, as well as longshot Fanciful Angel.

The Beverly D. has fewer pre-entrants but is a really, really strong race, headed by Modesty Handicap winner Dona Bruja. Also among is another Illinois-bred, Prado’s Sweet Ride, who finished a fine second to Dona Bruja in the Modesty last out for trainer Chris Block. Prado’s Sweet Ride, by Fort Prado out of Excellent Idea, was bred and is owned by Darrell and Sadie Brommer.

Top American trainer Chad Brown, who has Beach Patrol for the Million, plans to run three in the Beverly D – Grand Jete, Dacita, and Rainha Da Bataria. Hawksmoor has won two New York graded turf stakes in a row, and Rain Goddess is an emerging 3-year-old who ships from Ireland for O’Brien. It’s an excellent field.

The Secretariat attracted the pro tem leader of the 3-year-old turf division, Oscar Performance, who won the Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational in his last start. Also entered is Arlington’s American Derby winner Sonic Boom, as well as the good New York-based colt Frostmourne. The overseas shippers Permian, Taj Mahal, and Afandem look formidable.

Mother-son Sunday Showdown

The 28-year-old first-year trainer Chris Davis has run a handful of horses at Arlington this summer, but there’s a new wrinkle when he sends out, appropriately enough, a first-time-starting 2-year-old named Mountain Momma in the seventh race on Sunday, Aug. 6 at Arlington.

Also in the race is Lemon Drop Twist, a first-time starter trained by Liane Davis, the longtime Chicago trainer and former Arlington paddock host who also happens to be Chris’s mother.

“You know what, I said, ‘Good luck’ to her. I don’t know if she can beat me,” Chris Davis said.

Chris will keep the trash talk to a minimum since he is relying on stalls in Liane’s barn to house his Arlington runners. Davis himself is based at Ellis Park this summer, where he has 20 horses, a robust number for a trainer who had two when he went out on his own last October. 

“The barn’s growing. Business is going good. I don’t have that many wins, but I’m winning for the right people and they keep sending me horses. I’m on point for the goal I set myself of having 20 horses by summer,” Davis said.

Davis, who also has two runners in Sunday’s fifth race, trains a very promising 3-year-old filly named Student Body who could make her next start in the Prioress Stakes at Saratoga. He runs three horses at Ellis Park on Saturday, drives that night to Arlington, and after his Sunday runners here flies to San Diego to watch an unraced 2-year-old filly he trains breeze at Del Mar, where she is to make her debut in late August of early September.

It’s a busy weekend – and that’s a good thing for a young trainer.

***Also in that maiden race with the mother-son Davis duo – a Chris Block-trained starter named Cubs Win. The Mt. Joy Stables homebred by English Channel is out of the mare Cubs Fan, and when the filly was foaled in 2015, her name probably had not yet been contemplated.

***Give a thought for the longtime jockey agent Joe Gunn, who is recovering after having surgery to relieve bleeding on his brain a few weeks ago. Gunn said he is in physical therapy and hopes to return to work in about four months.