Race of the Week: Arlington Million, by Joe Wulffe

Race of the Week: Arlington Million

August 11, 2018

by Joe Wulffe

Saturday August 11th: Race 11 at Arlington Park. The $1,000,000 Grade 1 Arlington Million run at 1 ¼ miles on the turf for three year olds and upward. (Post Time: 7:08 EDT).

 

Joseph Wulffe

Twitter: @Whtnbourbonguy

 

Selections: 10-3-11

 

(10) Robert Bruce: One of three entrants in this year’s edition of the Arlington Million for trainer Chad Brown, this Chilean-bred son of Fast Company looks to get back to his winning ways on Saturday. Robert Bruce began his racing career in Chile, where he rattled off six straight wins as a three year old before being brought over to the United States. He managed to build upon that win streak in his first U.S. start in the nine furlong Fort Marcy Stakes (G3) at Belmont Park on May 5th. After breaking alertly from along the rail, he tracked the pace for much of the race before rallying late and splitting foes down the stretch. He hit the wire first by three quarters of a length, earning a 97 Bris Speed Rating (BSR) for his efforts. However, nearly everything came apart in his most recent start, the ten furlong Manhattan Handicap (G1) at Belmont Park on June 9th. In that race, he suffered a brutal trip down the stretch where he was bumped not once, but twice. He still managed to finish sixth, just a length behind the winner, in a near blanket finish. Despite the disappointing final placing in the race, Robert Bruce did produce a very solid effort, as he was still quite game down the stretch and was rallying all the way to the wire. The 96 BSR he earned in that race actually ranks second best amongst the entire field’s efforts at the distance this year.

Thus far in his two starts in the U.S., Robert Bruce has displayed a very versatile pace stalking running style. He possesses good tactical speed and has proven that he can close well regardless of his positioning within a race: he is just as comfortable tracking the pace from close up as well as sitting further back and rallying late. This is crucial as the TimeForm Pace Projector indicates that it is possible that he will be towards the rear of the field, at least early on, and will likely have to try and close from well back in the latter stages of the race. Additionally, the pace for the Arlington Million is expected to be moderate at best, but this should not cause any problems for Robert Bruce, as so far he has demonstrated that he can run well regardless of the early tempo. It should also be noted that while the Arlington turf course has received a fair amount of rain over the span of this week and may likely be rated as good on Saturday, this should not bother Robert Bruce in the least as he spent the bulk of his three year old campaign running over off-rated turf courses in his native Chile.

Chad Brown has had an outstanding past couple of years as a trainer, and his statistics have actually been quite exemplary. Brown has done well over the past three years with getting his runners into the winner’s circle in graded stakes races as he is currently winning 22% of those types of races. Moreover, when Brown has either shipped in his trainees to race or brought them back from layoffs of 46-90 days away, in both instances he has been winning races at a 27% rate. Brown decided to call an audible and made a jockey switch for Robert Bruce as he brings with him the leading jockey of the current Saratoga meet, Irad Ortiz, to ride on Saturday. Ortiz has done exceptionally well this year not only when racing in turf races (23% win rate from 522 starts) but also when riding pace stalking horses such as Robert Bruce (21% win rate from 590 starts). When Ortiz and Brown have hooked up over the past 60 days, Ortiz has won with 30% of his mounts for the trainer.

Robert Bruce’s most recent work over four furlongs at Saratoga earlier this month was quite sharp, and all of his works at Saratoga have been particularly crisp and shows that he is coming into this race in excellent form. He appears to have the most upside and potential to continue to improve out of all of the Brown trainees entered into this race, Not only is he the youngest of the three, but his first two U.S. starts have shown that there is still room for improvement. As demonstrated in his last outing, Robert Bruce is incredibly tenacious and does not appear to know when to quit. This could bode well for him if he somehow runs into trouble again in the Million. All in all, this very consistent four year old appears primed and ready to fire off another quality effort on Saturday and should be given much consideration here as the probable winner with a guaranteed spot in the Breeders’ Cup Turf on the line.

(3) Almanaar: Once regarded as an up-and-coming horse within the American turf community, this six year old son of Dubawi looks to continue to try and resurrect his career in just his second start of 2018 following a 16 month layoff. Almanaar returned to competition after just five recorded works in an 1 1/16 mile Allowance Optional Claiming race at Belmont Park on June 8th. In that race, Almanaar broke alertly, but was taken under a firm hold by Joel Rosario and guided towards the rear of the field. He patiently tracked his rivals for much of the race before turning for home. Rosario began to coax him into moving up in that final turn, and after swinging six wide coming into the stretch, Almanaar commenced his drive opening up with a good kick. He seized command of the lead and was just able to hold off a late surging rival at the wire. Almanaar earned a 96 BSR for that visually impressive effort. Furthermore, his performance in that race has been recently validated. On Thursday at Saratoga, the two rivals that Almanaar finished ahead of, Ticonderoga and Aquaphobia, ran 1-2 in an eight and a half furlong $95k Allowance Optional Claiming race. Although Saturday’s Arlington Million marks a significant step up in class for Almanaar, if he is somehow able to return to the form he previously displayed in 2017, then he will be more than up to the task.

Almanaar’s preferred running style is that of a closer with a very good driving kick. The Pace Projector has suggested that Almanaar will likely be positioned at the very rear of the field at least early on, which is a familiar spot for him and one that he is quite comfortable with. Additionally, the Arlington turf course is expected to have at least some give in the ground due to the amount of rain it received during the course of this week. Yet, this should not be any cause for concern for Almanaar as he has a good deal of prior experience racing in France over off-rated turf courses. There is one issue that could be Almanaar’s downfall on Saturday: distance. Not only does it appear that perhaps Almanaar’s kick may be better suited to shorter route distances (i.e. anything less than ten furlongs) but in his only try over ten furlongs at Saint-Cloud in France, he finished fifth of eight runners and was 4 1/2 lengths back of the winner. It should be noted that particular race was run over very soft ground (essentially a bog), which in the United States would likely cause the race to be taken off the grass. Whatever the case may be, Almanaar’s connections are hoping that the distance will not prove to be too much for him and that he will still be in contention late with the opportunity to unleash that closing kick of his.

As Almanaar is also trained by the estimable Chad Brown, all of the same trainer statistics that were previously mentioned for his stablemate, Robert Bruce, hold true for him as well. When it comes to jockeys, Almanaar may have the upper hand here over his stablemate, as not only will he be reunited with Joel Rosario (with whom he has finished either first or second in all three starts thus far,) but Rosario was aboard 2017 Arlington Million winner Beach Patrol and is familiar with the turf course here. Although Rosario is not among the ranks of the best U.S. turf jockeys this year, he has been winning his starts on grass at a respectable 13% rate. Additionally, Rosario does well when riding closer type horses such as Almanaar as he boasts a 17% win rate from 350 starts this year.

Almanaar’s three most recent works over the lawn at Saratoga were all quite solid and suggest that he is in good form coming into this race. While the Million marks a significant step up in class from Almanaar’s previous start, if he can return to the form that he previously displayed whilst racing against graded stakes company in 2017 and prove that he belongs in this race, then he will be a formidable contender. Additionally, with his late running style and good closing kick, he fits well here as he is the only closer entered and will likely find himself with clear running lanes at least in the early stages of the race. If Almanaar can handle the stretchout in distance on Saturday and somehow adapt his kick to the longer distance, then he should be considered a legitimate threat to hit the board in this year’s edition of the Arlington Million.

 

(11) Oscar Performance: The barn of trainer Brian Lynch sends out this four year old son of Kitten’s Joy hoping to pull off a feat that only four other horses have previously achieved: a Secretariat Stakes-Arlington Million double. While Oscar Performance had a busy schedule last year for his three year old campaign in which he raced seven times, culminating in a well beaten ninth place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, he has raced just once this year. His most recent effort came back on June 17th in the one mile Poker Stakes (G3) at Belmont Park and was incredibly impressive. With jockey Jose Ortiz, Oscar Performance sat off the pace early on, began his pursuit of the leaders in the turn, moved up to challenge for the lead with two furlongs to go and then commenced his drive after settling in the upper stretch. He then initiated a flat out sprint down the lane to remain comfortably in the clear before crossing the wire one and a half furlongs in front of his closest rival. Oscar Performance earned a 106 BSR for his efforts in that race which ranks as not only the highest last out speed figure amongst the entire field but also is the fastest speed figure at any distance in 2018 for the entire field. While the ten furlongs of the Arlington Million does represent a significant stretchout in distance for Oscar Performance, this should be no issue for him as he has won both of his tries at the distance and boasts the highest BSR amongst the entire field for the distance as well.

The running style Oscar Performance that will display on Saturday is somewhat up in the air. On numerous occasions, he has broken alertly from the gates, gone straight to the lead, and then dared his rivals to come and catch him. However, in other races, he has adopted a more tactical approach, sitting several lengths back or even just off the pace and stalking the leaders before moving up to challenge in the latter stages of the race. So far in his career, he has been able to employ both of these strategies to varying degrees of success. The TimeForm Pace Projector has suggested that it is very likely that Oscar Performance will be forwardly placed after breaking from the gates and will take up a stalking role sitting just off of the potential pacesetter, Deauville. However, there is an additional scenario in which Oscar Performance will be forced to send as well if another runner in the field, Catcho En Die, goes to the front early on. Although either scenario should not bother him that much, it may be that he would prefer the former to occur rather than the latter. This would allow his rivals to do all the heavy lifting of setting the pace and thus permit him to be in an excellent position to strike for the front when the leaders begin to falter. There is one point of concern for Oscar Performance, and that deals with the likely turf conditions on Saturday. As mentioned previously it is entirely possible that Oscar Performance could encounter a good or worse rated turf course. This may cause some issues for him as last year both of his efforts over good rated courses resulted in off the board finishes. This is something then to keep in mind when the track conditions are posted on Saturday morning.

Trainer Brian Lynch has been doing fairly well over the past three years not only with getting his runners back into the winner’s circle after layoffs of 46-90 days away (16% win rate from 147 starts) but also when shipping in his horses to run (17% win rate from 308 starts). Additionally, Lynch has found success when competing at the graded stakes level with his trainees as he has been winning 22% of his races at that level of competition. On Saturday Oscar Performance will once again have Jose Ortiz onboard. Ortiz has ridden Oscar Performance in his last eleven starts and has either won or hit the board in eight of those races. Ortiz has been doing fairly well this year when racing on the turf as he has been winning at an 18% rate from 497 starts so far. Moreover, Ortiz does well when riding E/P type horses such as Oscar Performance as he currently boasts a 19% win rate from 599 starts.

Oscar Performance is one of the top rated horses in the field for this year’s edition of the Arlington Million. His five furlong work over the Saratoga grass on July 30th was incredibly sharp and should serve notice to his rivals that he is coming into this race in excellent shape. With his versatile running style, experience over not only the Arlington turf course but also the ten furlong distance, and his blazingly fast recent speed figures, Oscar Performance is likely the horse to beat here and this race is almost certainly his to lose. Thus while he could very well win on Saturday, given his issues with handling turf courses with some give in them and his likely very low post time odds, it may be more valuable (financially speaking) to try and play him underneath and use the other two selections previously mentioned on top in any exotic wagering.

 

Of the three European invaders entered into the field of ten for the Arlington Million, it is the four year old son of Cape Cross, (5) Century Dream, that is the most intriguing. Trained by Simon Crisford and ridden by 2010 Arlington Million winning jockey, William Buick, Century Dream is definitely worth a look as not only a possible underneath play for all exotic wagering but also as a possible long shot to win the Million. Over the course of Century Dream’s fifteen race career, Buick has been onboard for five of those races and has managed to win three of them, most recently in the eight and half furlong Group 3 Investec Diomed Stakes at Epsom on June 2nd. Although he failed to hit the board in either of his two most recent races (the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes at Ascot and the Group 2 Memorial Summer Mile Stakes at Ascot) those races have come back incredibly strong and only serve to further enhance the notion of how competitive each of those fields was at the time. Century Dream does have experience racing at ten furlongs and although his three most recent efforts were at shorter, it appears that he should not have any trouble stretching out again to the longer distance. Century Dream’s preferred running style is that of a mid-pack stalker which should work well against this field. Additionally, Century Dream will receive the wonder drug, Lasix, for the first time and may wake up a bit and be ready to produce a huge effort on Saturday. Overall Century Dream appears to have a legitimate opportunity to hit the board in the Arlington Million and perhaps even score an upset and win; thus do not neglect to include him in any exotic wagering.

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