It’s not two, not three, but an actual four-day race week this, spanning Friday through Monday (Memorial Day, this week at Arlington International. The meet began with two two-day weeks and a three-day week in May, and this, for racing fans and horsemen alike, feels more like a regular racing season, too. Let’s take a look at what lies directly ahead of us at Arlington.
The late-afternoon, early-evening (first post 3:15) eight-race card feels a little like an old-timers day, especially in race 2. This nine-horse Polytrack sprint for $14,000 claimers or $6,250 starter-allowance types features a pair of 9-year-olds, Four Left Feet and Nagys Piggy Bank, both Illinois-breds. Between them the pair has made 105 starts, and Nagys Piggy Bank in particular barely has shown his age.
Bred and owned by William Stiritz, and trained by Scott Becker, Nagy’s Piggy Bank has made 39 starts and won 17 of them, and he enters Friday’s competition on a two-race winning streak. In his most recent race, on April 27 at Hawthorne, Nagys Piggy Bank scoffed at the supposed ravages of time’s passage, taking an early lead and winning a Hawthorne dirt-sprint claimer by more than six lengths. The 9-year-old stopped the timer in 1:09.
Four Left Feet, now trained by Mark Cristel, has gone to the post 66 times. The last two starts he made this spring at Oaklawn Park went from moderate to concerning, but before anyone declares Four Left Feet over the hill, let’s give the old gelding a look on the Arlington synthetic surface over which he has done much of his best work.
If you’re not partial to either of the 9-year-olds, keep an eye on Liquor Cabinet, a 7-year-old in good enough shape that wily veteran horseman Mike Reavis claimed him for $10,000 out of a win earlier this month.
Favored in the Friday card’s nightcap, a turf race for $5,000 starter-allowance horses? An 8-year-old named He’s Dann Good. And good on all of these aging wonders for their continued desire to compete well into the twilight of their racing careers.
The Friday feature, race 3, is a good one, as well, and brings out the 2015 Arlington-Washington Lassie winner Marquee Miss. Set to oppose her are a pair of capable Illinois-bred fillies from the Michele Boyce stable, My Mertie and Puntsville. My Mertie is solid in her own right, but Puntsville has proven one of the better Illinois-bred older-female sprinters of the last couple seasons.
The Kentucky Derby, in a sense, is coming to town for the second graded stakes race of the Arlington meet, the Grade 3, $100,000 Arlington Classic.
The Classic is the first leg of Arlington’s loosely linked series of 3-year-old grass stakes continuing with the American Derby and culminating in the Grade 1 Secretariat on the Arlington Million card.
The Arlington Classic originally was called the Classic Stakes and was contested on dirt until 1994, and through a great part of the 20th century it attracted some of the most famous Thoroughbreds in American racing history. This year, it has attracted a runner who last started in the Kentucky Derby, Fast and Accurate.
Fast and Accurate was 41/1 in the Derby and on the merits probably should have been twice that price. He wound up 17th, but is not to be treated lightly on Saturday. Fast and Accurate is a much better horse on synthetic surfaces and turf than on dirt, and on paper he appears to be the lone confirmed front-runner in the Arlington Classic.
Fast and Accurate is one of three entrants along with Gorgeous Kitten and Prize Fight trained by Mike Maker.
While they have no runner in the Classic, the barn of trainer Ignacio Correas IV, who is running an Arlington string for the first time this year, is in for a busy Saturday. Correas already has started eight horses at this meet, and he has entrants in five Saturday races, among them a promising once-started turf sprinter named Malraux. Correas’s best horse, Kasaqui, finished second by a neck in the 2016 Million and is being pointed toward a return start in the race.
There are few cooler horses in the region than the 6-year-old gelding Voodoo Spell, who is set to see action for just the second time since February 2016 when he starts in race 6, a turf-sprint allowance race with a $35,000 claiming option.
Owned and trained by Hugh Robertson, Voodoo Spell has compiled an excellent record of 14-8-2 from 30 starts. Those numbers are hard to imagine when one considers Voodoo Spell’s origins.
In his first five races, in 2013 and 2014, Voodoo Spell never finished better than fifth and lost by 50 combined lengths. He quickly made his way to the lowest rung of the class ladder, and after getting crushed in a $12,500 maiden-claimer at Hawthorne, finally won his first race when entered for an $8,000 claiming price at Hawthorne. Voodoo Spell’s victory did not exactly bowl over Mr. Robertson, who ran him right back in a $5,000 non-winners-of-two claimer.
Voodoo Spell won that race, too, and proceeded to develop into one of the toughest, most reliable horses in the Midwest. Since those five bad losses to start his career, Voodoo Spell has never finished worse than third in 25 starts, and he has been first or second in 22 of them. He has run true on turf, synthetic, and dirt, and win or lose, he is bound to come back trying as hard as ever on Sunday.
First post 1:25 p.m., and do not expect to arrive late and find a lot of room. Arlington remains one of the few racetracks in the country that still reliably packs in race fans by the tens of thousands on warm-weather holidays like Memorial Day.