February 23, 2018

Four stakes highlight Arlington’s ‘Ride to the Million’ preview day

After a runner-up finish in last season, Kasaqui was much the best in the 2017 renewal of the Wise Dan (Coady Photography)

Kasaqui squares off against eight rivals in Saturday’s $100,000 Arlington Handicap (G3) on “Ride to the Million” preview day at Arlington Park.

The 1 3/16-mile turf contest will give the top three finishers entry and paid starting fees to the Arlington Million (G1) on August 12. The $100,000 Modesty Handicap, sending distaffers the same grassy distance a few races earlier, will do the same to the Beverly D. Stakes (G1).

Those two events share the “Ride to the Million” program with the $100,000 American Derby (G3) for turf sophomores going nine furlongs and the $100,000 Stars and Stripes Stakes (G3) at 1 1/2-miles on the green.

The Arlington ‘Cap concludes the day’s stakes action with defending champion Kasaqui taking on Sir Dudley Digges and Taghleeb, among others. The Ignacio Correas IV trainee exits a drawing-off win in the Wise Dan Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs on June 17, his first triumph since scoring in last year’s Arlington Handicap by 1 1/4 lengths off a runner-up effort in the 2016 Wise Dan. The gray seven-year-old keeps jockey James Graham aboard for this one.

Sir Dudley Digges made a name for himself last year as well, upsetting the Queen’s Plate Stakes, the first leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, at Woodbine by 15-1. Like Kasaqui, the Mike Maker pupil only recently returned to the winner’s circle, prevailing in a pair of allowance/optional claimers at Churchill Downs in his past two under returning jockey Julien Leparoux.

Taghleeb closed out his five-year-old campaign with victory in the H. Allen Jerkens Stakes at Gulfstream Park and opened 2017 with a head score in the W. L. McKnight Handicap (G3) at that same Florida venue on January 28. In three starts since, the Maker trainee has finished fourth in the Pan American Stakes (G2), second in the Man o’ War Stakes (G1) and ninth in the Belmont Gold Cup Invitational (G3) going two miles. Robby Albarado will be aboard for the first time in the Arlington ‘Cap.

Group 1 winner Dona Bruja captured her U.S. debut in the Mint Julep Handicap (G3) at Churchill Downs on June 10, and is going for her fourth straight victory while facing seven fellow turf distaffers in the Modesty. The five-year-old mare will break from the rail under jockey Declan Cannon, who also piloted her in the Mint Julep, for conditioner Correas.

The Jimmy Toner-trained Time and Motion is looking for her first win of the year in this spot after running sixth in the Jenny Wiley Stakes (G1) and third in the Beaugay Sakes (G3) to kick off her four-year-old campaign. The Tapit filly scored in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) last season and tries Arlington for the first time with Florent Geroux holding the reins.

Fan-favorite The Pizza Man will attract most of the attention in the $100,000 Stars and Stripes Stakes (G3), which drew a field of nine and takes place one race before the Arlington Handicap. The eight-year-old gelding makes his fifth appearance in the Stars and Stripes, which he won in 2014-2015, placed third in 2013, and ran fourth by a neck last year. He returned to just miss by only 1 1/2 lengths when sixth in the Arlington Million (G1) next out, and the Roger Brueggermann-trained veteran followed that with a neck win in the Northern Dancer Stakes (G1) at Woodbine.

The Pizza Man boasts just one start this season, rallying late to be fourth in the Black Tie Affair Handicap on June 17, and gets Geroux in the saddle.

A field of seven will line up in the American Derby to begin the stakes action, including Gorgeous Kitten. That Maker pupil scored in an allowance on April 26 at Keeneland before showing up at Arlington to rally for second in the Arlington Classic (G3) on May 27. Albarado will be holding the reins for the first time on the Kitten’s Joy colt.

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