When the Arlington Million was instituted in 1981 it was a really big event, being the world’s first million-dollar race. It got off to the perfect start with the mighty Charlie Whittingham-trained gelding John Henry winning the inaugural running (and then taking it again three years later at the age of nine) and it was given international credibility thanks two victories by English-trained horses (Tolomeo and Teleprompter) in the race’s first five years.
As extremely valuable races became more commonplace around the world, the Arlington Million inevitably declined in prestige, particularly once the Breeders’ Cup was up and running. Furthermore, the fact that there is now a 10-million dollar race (in Dubai) puts most other big pots slightly in the shade. However, the passion for racing of Arlington proprietor Richard Duchossois has not diminished and he is currently doing a great job in re-bolstering the fixture’s position as one of the big days on the international calendar.
This year’s Arlington Million card featured four races which can be regarded as international events. The relative strength of European turf racing compared to its American counterpart was shown by the fact that three of these races were won by European-trained contenders – and the one that got away, the Arlington Million, was arguably only won by a member of the home team thanks to the tactical acumen of the winning jockey Ramon Dominguez.
Two of the four big races were won by runners from Britain, with the victories of Jakkalberry and I’m A Dreamer in the American St Leger and Beverly D Stakes respectively highlighted the skills of two of Newmarket’s up-and-coming young trainers, Marco Botti and David Simcock.
A further auspicious aspect of I’m A Dreamer’s victory came in the form of her jockey Hayley Turner, who continues to push back the boundaries of the possible for British female jockeys, who have historically found it hard to break through what could be termed as a glass ceiling. Last year Hayley became the first British female jockey to win two Group 1 races in one season (and only the second to win one – and the first to win one outright) and her achievement in winning a US Grade 1 has taken her career – and the profile of British female jockeys generally – to a new level.
Interestingly, her first Grade 1 victory came the same way as her first Group 1 victory: on a David Simcock-trained horse the ride on whom had been turned down by another jockey. She won the July Cup last year on Dream Ahead because the colt’s regular jockey William Buick was obliged to ride at York the same day, while she only got the ride on I’m A Dreamer after both Buick and Ryan Moore had turned it down.
The third European-trained victory came in the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes, which was won by the Aga Khan’s progressive home-bred three-year-old Bayrir, a son of Medicean who was ridden by Christophe Lemaire for the Aga’s principal trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre. Bayrir, who did not race as a two-year-old, has now won four of his five races and, while the level of competition in the Secretariat Stakes is not on a par with that in most European Group Ones, he is clearly a very good colt who could turn out to be one of Europe’s best.
The day’s feature race, the Arlington Million, provided a mighty relief for the home defence, courtesy of the victory of the Dale Romans-trained Little Mike. Raced by his breeders Mr and Mrs Vaccarezza, Little Mike is better than ever this year, with three victories (including two at Grade One level) to his credit from five starts in 2012.
However, Little Mike could be regarded as a fortunate winner as the runner-up Afsare, aiming to give Luca Cumani his second victory in the race following the success of Tolomeo in 1983, did not enjoy the run of the race at all. The blame for this luckless run should not be handed to Kieren Fallon: the horse made his own trouble by playing up in the stalls and consequently missing the start, which meant that he was always badly placed through a slowly run race. It is greatly to his credit that he was able to stay so well to finish second, but Little Mike’s lead was just too great, meaning that Afsare was still one and a half lengths adrift at the line. There seemed to be nothing in Afsare’s run to dissuade Cumani with his plans to send Afsare to Australia in search of a first British-trained Cox Plate victory.
While Afsare was clearly an unlucky loser, it would be wrong not to give Little Mike plenty of credit – and one should also highlight the achievement of Little Mike’s sire Spanish Steps (no relation to the top steeplechaser of the ’70s) who ranks as a very rare example of an unraced stallion who has sired a Group/Grade 1 winner. Such achievements by unraced sires have become increasingly rare in the modern world as fashion has come to dominate the breeding game ever more, with few enough top-class racehorses being given any sort of chance at stud, never mind horses who had never even raced.
Spanish Steps was given his chance because of his pedigree: he is a full-brother to Unbridled’s Song, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in 1995 and the following year’s Florida Derby and Wood Memorial. Unbridled’s Song has made a good go of his stud career having sired 13 Grade One winners, but otherwise it is not a family particularly notable for churning out decent sires (although one of Little Mike’s relatives Seattle Song, a son of Seattle Slew who won the Prix de la Salamandre in 1983, sired a few good horses headed by the 1991 Prix Lupin winner Cudas). This makes the achievement of Spanish Steps in coming up with a horse of the class of Little Mike all the more creditable.