Sir Anthony - Mitchell / Rivelli's Stable

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Illinois – If Sir Anthony can win the Hanshin Cup on Saturday at Arlington (and yes, on paper and on talent he can) it will be like old times for owner-breeder Richard Otto and trainer Tony Mitchell.

Starting in the early 2000s, Otto and Mitchell campaigned several Illinois-breds good enough to win open stakes races. The best of them, and first real name-maker, was Summer Mis, a fast, substantive, high-quality sprinter-miler who won 11 of 23 starts, six of them stakes, and captured the Grade 3 Thoroughbred Club of America at Keeneland while at the height of her powers. Summer Mis, a foal of 1999, quickly was followed by Julie’s Prize, more of a true route horse whose seven wins included five stakes.

Sir Anthony comes from another branch of Otto’s small group of broodmares, though he, like Summer Mis, is an Illinois-bred who can run with open stakes company. Sir Anthony is the first foal to race produced by Mourette, one of four six-figure career-earners who raced for Otto after being foaled by the mare, Amourette.

Sir Anthony came within a neck of winning the 2017 Futurity at Hawthorne late in his 2-year-old season, but it wasn’t until Mitchell began racing Sir Anthony without blinkers last summer that the horse really found himself. That happened on Arlington Million day, when Sir Anythony scored a 39-1 upset in the $100,000 Bruce D Memorial, like the Hanshin a one-turn main-track mile.

And that performance was no fluke. Sir Anthony won twice last fall at Hawthorne, then went south to Gulfstream Park, where he upset the high-level performer Audible in the Grade 3 Harlan’s Holiday Stakes on Dec. 15. Sir Anthony was no match for the sharp Todd Pletcher-trained Prince Lucky in the Grade 3 Hal’s Hope but came back March 29 to finish second, beaten just a half-length, in the $100,000 Skip Away Stakes. That race’s winner, Marconi, returned to capture the Flat Out Stakes on Thursday at Belmont Park.

“Taking the blinkers off did make a big difference, but that race in the Bruce D also was just when the light went on,” said Mitchell, a native of England who had his first Arlington starter in 2000. “After that, he was training more forwardly and with more maturity. He stopped his clowning-around stuff and started focusing.”

Mitchell and Otto, who is president of the American Academy of Art in Chicago, declined a chance to ship to Dubai for a start in the $1.5 million Godolphin Mile on March 30, Mitchell said, but it’s always nice to be invited to the party even if you don’t plan to attend.

“We got invited to the Pegasus [World Cup], too, but those hills were just too high to climb at the time,” said Mitchell. “We’ve been patient all along with this horse, didn’t break his heart, and as a 4-year-old he’s really come around and become a nice, fun horse.”

Saturday will be even more fun if Mitchell and Otto, just like in their glory days at Arlington, are hoisting a stakes trophy.

Rivelli's Stable

Richiesinthehouse is one of 11 entrants in the Grade 3, $100,000 Hanshin Cup on Saturday, first stakes of the Arlington season. Richiesinthehouse has three wins from four starts over the Arlington Polytrack and is one of several horses who look like they could win the Hanshin, but his presence in the race is only part of a larger story – Larry is in the house.

The Hanshin is merely one of six Arlington races Saturday in which trainer Larry Rivelli entered horses. Don’t expect that to be an aberration. Rivelli as of May 8 had 72 horses stabled on the Arlington backstretch and enough stalls to house 80. His stable does not simply run a lot of horses every summer at Arlington; they win a lot of races.

To be more precise, since 2014, Rivelli’s first breakout season, his barn has 344 Arlington victories, that from a total of 3,261 races run during the period. A lot of trainers run horses at this meet, but Rivelli has somehow managed to win nearly 11-percent of all those races. That’s dominance, and Rivelli wasted little time making his presence felt this season: On Day 2, May 4, he won four races.

Rivelli said his cornerstone owners – Vince Foglia’s Patricia’s Hope LLC, Richard Ravin, and Carolyn Wilson – remain intact this summer and that he expects to have a long, strong string of 2-year-olds in Chicago.

“I’ve got a bunch of babies coming in. We’ll have 20 to 30 two-year-olds this year, probably 10 more than we had before,” Rivelli said. “People see us winning early and maybe they can make it to the Breeders’ Cup like we have the last few years.”

Rivelli has run a horse in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile or Juvenile Turf each of the last three years. One of his best 2-year-olds last year, Dugout, didn’t start in the Breeders’ Cup but made hay racing in New York-bred competition. Dugout hasn’t raced since October and had autumn surgery to remove a bone chip, but Rivelli said he’s training at an Ocala farm and soon will arrive in Chicago. Rivelli’s also excited about the prospects of 3-year-old Strong Will, who showed considerable raw ability last summer.

Something Rivelli’s not especially excited about? The generally precarious state of Chicago racing. Arlington is both butter and jam on Rivelli’s bread and his operation would surely have leaner times without it. Rivelli was raised in the area and now is raising two kids of his own, both high schoolers. If forced, he said he’d make the move to Kentucky during the spring, summer, and autumn, but that’s not what he wants.

“That’s why I’ve dug in and crossed my fingers,” said Rivelli, who might win more races here than any other horseman yet still, like every other Illinois horseman, finds himself looking over the same bleak landscape.

***  The unpleasantly unseasonable cold temperatures are doing nothing to dry out and Arlington grass course that took a lot of rain in recent weeks. Turf racing was abandoned Friday and Arlington took no grass entries for this weekend’s races. But despair not. Sunshine is forecast for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and with the mercury predicted to approach 70 degrees on Wednesday and Thursday, Arlington’s world-class grass course might be ready for use Friday.