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Little Mike faces tough task to steal another Million
|Little Mike saved plenty for the finish
as the lone speed last year but may have to change tactics for
his Million title defense
(Four Footed Fotos)
Arlington Million, the Thoroughbred world's first $1 million race when it
was inaugurated in 1981, officially has never been won by the same horse in
consecutive years, though the legendary John Henry won two of the first four
runnings and Powerscourt was disqualified in 2004 before coming back the
following year to win without controversy. On Saturday, Little Mike will be the
latest horse to attempt a successful title defense of the 1 1/4-mile grass
fixture when he faces 12 others, half of which are based in Europe.
Despite having engineered an upset in the nine-furlong Woodford Reserve Turf
Classic three months previously, there was some doubt a year ago in Little
Mike's ability to get the Million's 10 furlongs as the Dale Romans-trained
gelding had earned a reputation as a speedy miler. However, under smart handling
by the now-retired Ramon Dominguez, Little Mike, much like he did in the
Churchill Downs feature, seized the lead in a paceless race and left his rivals
for dead with a quick burst in the stretch that resulted in his building an
Little Mike later showed versatility, upsetting the 1 1/2-mile Breeders' Cup
Turf coming from slightly off the pace. Since that victory at Santa Anita,
however, Little Mike has struggled. An extensive recovery from a trip to Dubai,
where he faltered in stakes on Tapeta and grass, kept the 2012 Eclipse Award
finalist out of some important U.S. stakes this spring. He only returned to
action in last month's 1 3/8-mile United Nations at Atlantic City, where he
weakened to fourth after leading most of the way.
On paper, there appears to be only one other speed horse who might disrupt
Little Mike's attempt at another wire job. Nates Mineshaft, a Grade 2 winner on
dirt, led throughout in taking a local turf allowance on July 27, but has never
faced this quality of competition on the surface.
Two of the other major American-based contenders, Indy Point and Real
Solution, began their careers overseas. Indy Point, a multiple Group 1 winner in
Argentina and a strong second in that country's premier event, the Gran Premio
Carlos Pellegrini, had a successful U.S. debut on July 24 when he prevailed by 1
1/4 lengths in the restricted Wickerr over a mile at Del Mar. Real Solution, a
stakes winner in Italy last season, finished fourth in the May 4 Fort Marcy at
Belmont before posting a solid third-place effort behind Point of Entry in the
Manhattan Handicap over the same course in early June.
The remainder of the domestic candidates have form to find. The nine-year-old
Rahystrada, a three-time winner of the Arlington Handicap, has finished fourth,
fifth and third in three previous Million attempts, and neither Temeraine or
Finnegans Wake have won a stakes of any kind.
|Grandeur displayed a dynamic
late kick when competing in the states last fall
The European contingent is led by Grandeur, who made a successful excursion
to the U.S. last fall when taking the Hollywood Turf Cup and the Twilight Derby
and placing second in the Hollywood Derby. The gray four-year-old has worked his
way back into shape over the past month, finishing fourth in the Princess of
Wales's at Newmarket and a close second in the York Stakes three weeks ago.
Another who should move forward off a recent outing is Hunter's Light, a
Godolphin colorbearer who captured Group 1 events in Italy and Dubai over the
past year. He enters off a third in the Bayerisches Zuchtrennen, a Group 1 event
over 1 1/4 miles in Munich.
The Apache, a Group 1-winning native of South Africa, enjoyed a successful
winter in Dubai, winning the Al Rashidiya and finishing second in the Jebel
Hatta and the Dubai Duty Free. He, too, should move forward off his latest
outing, a fourth-place effort in the York Stakes following a four-month break.
The remainder of the foreign invaders include Mull of Killough and Guest of
Honour, who were separated by a half-length when settling for minor awards in
the July 13 Summer Mile at Ascot, and the multiple Group 3 winner Side Glance.
A longer-winded group of older males will travel 1 11/16 miles in the
American St Leger earlier in the program. European raiders Wigmore Hall, who
has successfully plundered the Northern Dancer Turf at Woodbine twice, and
Dandino, runner-up in the Canadian International, Jockey Club Stakes and
Hardwicke Stakes since October, might hold a slight class edge over the
Best of the domestic contenders is Dark Cove, who has reeled off three
straight victories in the Elkhorn, Louisville Handicap, and Stars and Stripes,
the latter over 1 1/2 miles at Arlington. Ioya Bigtime, a two-time Grade 3
winner and American St Leger runner-up last year, has not looked as sharp this
term while finishing well behind Dark Cove an the aforementioned marathon tests.
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