Arlington Million is special
by James Scully
The Arlington Million (G1) is one of the most important races in the United
States and will be held for the 22nd time on Saturday.
A predecessor for the
Breeders’ Cup, the Million became this country’s first $1 million race when
created in 1981 and has attracted many of the world’s best turf horses. There
are four European shippers among this year’s 13 entrants, highlighting the
international appeal that the Million has held since its inception.
The biggest name in Million history is John Henry. The venerable
Kentucky-bred gelding entered the inaugural running in top form and was favored
at odds-on, but the six-year-old appeared beaten inside the final sixteenth of a
mile as The Bart was rolling on a clear lead. With Bill Shoemaker urging him on,
John Henry rallied amazingly over the soft turf to catch The Bart by a nose in
the final jump. It was a legendary finish from one of the best horses ever.
John Henry skipped the second running when Charlie Whittingham shipped in
champion Perrault (GB) to win by 2 1/4 lengths in a course record under Laffit
Pincay Jr., but he returned the following year and just missed, finishing second
by a neck to English invader Tolomeo (Ire). A nine-year-old in 1984, John Henry
returned to Arlington with a rousing performance, easily winning the Million
over a classy field.
Teleprompter (GB) came from England to win in 1985, and the exceptional mare
Estrapade, trained by Whittingham, put on a show in 1986, winning by five
lengths. Champion Manila capped his notable career the following season, scoring
an impressive victory with Angel Cordero Jr. in the saddle. In 1989, Steinlen
(GB) surprised some observers when stretching out to 10 furlongs for trainer D.
Wayne Lukas. He won the Million by a half-length under Jose Santos and didn’t
lose again the rest of the year, finishing with a victory in the Breeders’ Cup
The Million continued to shine with some excellent stretch battles in the
1990s. The Whittingham-trained Golden Pheasant came flying late to defeat With
Approval and Steinlein in 1990. Tight Spot gave trainer Ron McAnally his
third Million victory in 1991, winning by a head in a four-horse photo. French
shipper Dear Doctor (Fr) surged along the rail to upset eventual champion and
heavy favorite Sky Classic by a head the following year. Pat Day guided champion Paradise Creek
to victory in the Million in 1994. Awad rallied from last to first in 1995
and nearly became the first repeat winner when second a year later. Lukas again
showed that his skills aren’t limited to the main track when sending out Marlin
to capture the final Million of the decade in 1997.
Following a two-year hiatus when Arlington was closed for business, Chester
House treated onlookers to a sparkling performance, drawing off to a 3
1/4-length victory under Jerry Bailey. The Bobby Frankel-trained colt looked
ready to dominate the turf division the rest of the year but sadly never raced
again. German highweight Silvano (Ger) proved best by three lengths for
conditioner Andreas Wohler in 2001. Last year’s Million proved quite eventful.
Wide open with a furlong left to run, Storming Home (GB) was going best of a
tight four-horse pack late when he was spooked by something and altered course,
dislodging jockey Gary Stevens right at the wire. Storming Home still finished
first but was disqualified to fourth for interference, elevating Godolphin’s
Sulamani (Ire) (Hernando [Fr]) to the win. Stevens luckily escaped serious
Another top-class field has been assembled for this year’s running.
Trainer Aidan O’Brien has shipped in POWERSCOURT (GB) (Sadler’s Wells) from
Ireland. Winner of May’s Tattersalls Gold Cup (Ire-G1), the four-year-old colt
is the second choice on the morning line at 4-1. The German-based EPALO (Ger) (Lando
[Ger]), conqueror of this year’s Singapore Cup (Mal-G1), is another top
contender and listed at 8-1. Godolphin will seek a second straight score with
French Group 1 winner VESPONE (Ire) (Llandaff), who will have Frankie Dettori in
The American contingent is led by Grade 1 winners SWEET RETURN (GB) (Elmaamul),
SABIANGO (Ger) (Acatenango) and KICKEN KRIS (Kris S.).
With the exception of the Breeders’ Cup, the Arlington Million is the biggest
turf race of the year in North America.