Godolphin’s homebred Santin, who broke through with his first stakes win in the Turf Classic (G1) on Kentucky Derby Day, followed up over the same Churchill Downs course and distance in Saturday’s $1 million Arlington Million (G1).
Aside from his proficiency over the revamped turf, that was still producing significant divots, Santin’s aggressive running style was the other prerequisite for victory. Front runners held sway in the day’s only other turf race, the Beverly D. (G1), and that proved an omen for the closers in the Million. Once again, those first or second early stuck around to produce the exacta.
The projected pace scenario changed with the scratch of the speedy Megacity, leaving Smooth Like Strait as the lone leader. But Team Santin was alive to the dynamics; trainer Brendan Walsh and jockey Tyler Gaffalione had mapped out a plan to stick close.
As Smooth Like Strait went forward through fractions of :23.85 and :47.43 on a good course, Santin hovered just a length back. Field Pass and Cavalry Charge also raced in handy stalking spots. There was a gap back to the second half of the field, spearheaded by Sacred Life. Deep-closing Set Piece, who had been bet down to 2.16-1 favoritism despite the Beverly D. hint, already looked up against it in last.
In contrast, Santin was sitting pretty. The progressive four-year-old began to apply pressure by the six-furlong mark in 1:10.64, and Smooth Like Strait was driven along with some urgency to respond. Santin was traveling much the better of the pair rounding the far turn and into the stretch. Smooth Like Strait tried to hang tough, but he could not withstand his stronger foe.
Santin struck the front and drew off inside the final furlong. Crossing the wire easily best by 1 3/4 lengths, the Distorted Humor colt finished 1 1/8 miles in 1:46.88. That was a couple of ticks off the newly-minted course record of 1:46.31 established by Beverly D. heroine Dalika.
Smooth Like Strait was unchallenged for the runner-up spot, with a 5 3/4-length margin back to the scrum for the rest of the superfecta. Sacred Life staved off the steadily rallying Set Piece by a head. Cavalry Charge checked in fifth, followed by non-threatening closers Admission Office and Cellist, and the stalking Field Pass retreated to last.
Santin went off as the slight third choice at 2.45-1, just shaded by the 2.32-1 Smooth Like Strait, and returned $6.90.
“We were able to watch how things played in the Beverly D.,” Walsh said, “and in Santin’s best races he sits a little closer to the pace. We decided to make that the game plan. Tyler gave him a beautiful trip.”
“He’s got some speed,” Gaffalione said, “and when we saw how the Beverly D. was playing, we thought we needed to sit a little closer. We were in a good spot around the turn, and (Smooth Like Strait) came out a little bit, but I had a lot of horse beneath me.
“In the past we thought he may have underperformed in his races,” his regular rider continued. “We know how much talent he has, and he showed that in the Turf Classic and here this afternoon in the Million. It’s so special to win this race. Its history speaks for itself, and I’m glad we are able to be a part of it.”
Santin was highly regarded enough to make his stakes debut in last fall’s Hollywood Derby (G1), fresh off maiden and allowance scores in his first two starts. His flying finish at odds of 17-1, just a neck away from front-running Beyond Brilliant, stamped him as one to follow this season. But Santin was a tad frustrating when fourth in the Feb. 19 Fair Grounds (G3) and runner-up in the Mar. 26 Muniz Memorial Classic (G2).
Walsh decided to add blinkers, and Santin immediately found his focus in the aforementioned Turf Classic on May 7. He took a step back in the 1 1/4-mile Manhattan (G1) on Belmont Day, winding up sixth, and reverting in trip here helped. Santin became the latest to rebound from a Manhattan loss, following next-out United Nations (G1) winner Adhamo, Bowling Green (G2) hero Rockemperor, and Grand Couturier S. victor Channel Maker.
“I think the (1 1/8 miles) is as far as he wants to go,” Walsh said. “He broke his maiden and won his second start at one mile. We found ourselves in several 1 1/8-mile races and have performed admirably.
“I think the goal is the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1). We’ve got a couple of options we’ll talk about how to get there.”
The Kentucky-bred is the first foal from the multiple Grade 2-winning Sentiero Italia, who placed in the 2015 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) and 2016 Flower Bowl (G1). The Medaglia d’Oro mare is a half-sister to Grade 1 scorer Ashkal Way, from the family of Flower Alley, and further back, Lyphard.