The Chicago Handicap / Hit the Road / International Connections

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Illinois -- Babybluesbdancing and One Liz carry the Illinois-bred banner into the Grade 3, $100,000 Chicago Handicap on Saturday at Arlington.

The Chicago is back where it belongs this year after being moved in 2017 to Churchill Downs, which, like Arlington, operates under the umbrella of parent company Churchill Downs Inc.

The Chicago, a seven-furlong Polytrack race for older fillies and mares, drew 13 entrants, including Grade 1 winner Union Strike, who is trained by California-based Mick Ruis but shipped from Keeneland for Saturday’s start. But Union Strike’s top-level win came two summers ago at Del Mar and she has barely raced in the last year: At this point her name and reputation exceeds her chance to win the Chicago.

The race looks wide open and the Illinois-breds both have hope. Babybluesbdancing, just a 4-year-old, is a daughter of Sky Mesa and the good race-mare Bluesbdancing. She was bred by RNB Racing, is trained by Terry Gore for owner Lizbeth Gore, and has won half her eight races on Arlington’s synthetic surface.

Babybluesbdancing needs a career-best performance to win, but One Liz just needs one of her best previous performances over Arlington’s Polytrack, over which she’s put together an excellent 7-5-1-0 record. A 7-year-old, One Liz is in her final year of racing for owners Joe and Don Cochonour, trainer Wayne Catalano said, and that is part of the reason she was entered in the Chicago.

“A Grade 3 win in her last year, that’d be pretty nice,” Catalano said. “She’s run pretty hard, but she performs well over the track, so we’re taking a shot.”

Catalano wonders if One Liz will produce her best after a busy Arlington meet. The mare made her season’s debut May 18 in an allowance race, then came back to finish second, chasing loose-on-the-lead Dreamofjean E, June 9 in the Mike Spellman Memorial Stakes.

“That race was really the goal,” said Catalano. But sometimes one will hit a target without even aiming especially hard.

Illinois-breds hit the road

Devileye and Puntsville swept a pair of Illinois-bred stakes races June 2 at Arlington, but the two horses headed north on Friday, traveling by van to Canterbury Park in Minnesota. They were accompanied by Illinois-bred Lovely Loyree as all three Michele Boyce-trained horses are set to race Saturday night, Devileye in the $50,000 Dark Star Cup Stakes, Puntsville in the $50,000 Hoist Her Flag Stakes -- a race she won last year – and Lovely Loyree in the $100,000 Lady Canterbury Stakes.

Boyce obviously would have preferred to stay home with her horses but racing often is little more than a series of difficult choices, and the right spot for these three involved traveling this weekend.

Lovely Loyree starts for the first time since March 10 at Tampa Bay Downs – but not by choice. Lovely Loyree has been entered and scratched – most recent from the Mike Spellman Memorial on June 10 – when wet weather forced turf races to be moved to dirt. Boyce wonders if her 7-year-old mare is totally set for this start, but if you talk to Boyce enough, you’ll often hear her lamenting being a work short with a horse coming back from a layoff, and those horses often do just fine. Lovely Loyree, for instance, won the 2017 Spellman making her first start in 11 months.

“It’s a tough race and I think she might need a race. She’s been in a holding pattern,” Boyce said.

Lovely Loyree is by Cactus Ridge out of Lil Cora Tee, is owned by a partnership, and has gone 7-4-5 from a 21-start career. Her races have been judiciously spaced, and the mare has rewarded her connections. She can do so again Saturday night if jockey Carlos Marquez Jr. can get her to rate just behind a couple speedy horses drawn to her outside.

“She’ll run from slightly off the pace,” Boyce said. “You just can’t fight her.”

Puntsville and Devileye, the sister-brother team owned by the S D Brilie LLC of Steve and Diane Holland, both should make their presence felt in their respective dirt-sprint starts. Puntsville breaks from the rail under Marquez and figures to make a beeline from the lead. In last year’s Hoist the Flag she led from start to finish without ever being threatened.

Devileye is a different sort of horse, plying his trade from off the pace. The 4-year-old was brilliant winning the Addison Cammack Memorial, earning a graded-stakes-class 101 Beyer Speed Figure, but even running fast didn’t appear to take the starch out of Devileye.

“He didn’t even take a deep breath afterward, cleaned up his dinner that night,” said Boyce.

And maybe the Illinois-breds will feast on open stakes competition Saturday night in Minnesota.

International connections in Sunday maiden-claimer

Wertheimer et Frere are Alain and Gerard Wertheimer, well known Swiss breeders and owners whose best horse was Goldikova, a three-time winner of the Breeders’ Cup Mile.

Flaxman Holdings LTD is one nom de course of the prominent Niarchos family of France. The Niarchos’s in fact scored a plum win Friday at Royal Ascot when their homebred Alpha Centauri set a course record winning the Group 1 Coronation Stakes.

These powerhouse stables tend to meet in races at the highest levels, often overseas, and it is frankly just weird that both owners have a runner in Sunday’s first race, a mere $22,500 maiden-claimer on Polytrack. The Wertheimer et Frere homebred Solo Cup starts for trainer Jeff Engler, while trainer Andrew McKeever sends out homebred Yourdecisionormine for Flaxman Holdings.

An epic showdown.