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Synthetic surfaces and short fields and the Rachel vs. Zenyatta contretemps aside, we now enter into my favorite time of the Thoroughbred racing year.
It's time for the best meet, Saratoga. The three-year-olds are maturing and the cream rises to the top. This year, we have the subplots of Rachel Alexandra's efforts to regain her top form, and Zenyatta's efforts to remain undefeated. And is Quality Road truly the best American horse in training?
And while the game rides the rainbow toward the lucrative Breeders' Cup, the noble steeds and little people will be running in many of the most prestigious races of the American year.
Let's start close to home.
While Arlington's main track program struggles, its Festival of Racing leading up to Arlington Million Day on August 22 is a treat for aficionados of racing on the turf. Million Day draws an international bunch of runners to one of the best turf courses in the world.
It kicks off Saturday with Million Preview Day, three graded turf stakes races that help sort out runners for the Secretariat Stakes, the Beverly D. and the Arlington Million itself.
Race seven, the 54th running of The Modesty Handicap (GIIIT) for fillies and mares three and older kicks it off at 1-3/16ths miles. California invader Tuscan Evening, Hot Cha Cha and Rainbow View are the favorites.
Tuscan Evening has won six of her last seven, including the Gamely at Hollywood last time out May 29. Will she find the deeper Arlington turf to her liking?
Hot Cha Cha won the Grade 3 Mint Julep at Churchill on June 5 and has run well at Arlington in the past, including a win in the Pucker Up last September.
Rainbow View flattened out in the Grade 2 Nassau at Woodbine last out after a hard-fought win in the Galorette on the Preakness undercard May 15. She's had a short freshening for this race and should be ready. Julien Leparoux has brought home winners in three of the four races he's ridden at Arlington.
The 96th running of The American Derby (GIIT) follows at the same 1-3/16ths for three-year-old colts. Workin for Hops and Dean's Kitten are the morning line favorites.
Workin for Hops won the Arlington Classic here May 22 and finished second in the Colonial Turf Cup last out.
Dean's Kitten's claim to fame was a moderate upset in the Lane's End on the Turfway Park synthetic. Hard to say if he's got any form after an ill-advised run in the Kentucky Derby and a fifth in that same Colonial Turf Cup.
I'm going to take a look at Gleam of Hope. He's coming off a win in the Grade 3 Jefferson Cup and has run against the likes of Super Saver, Schoolyard Dreams, Odysseus and Uh Oh Bango in the past. He should fit here quite nicely. Mister Mardi Gras is also worth a look.
The 75th Arlington Handicap (GIIIT) features older males at the classic 10-furlong distance.
Last year's winner Just As Well is the early favorite. He finished second to turf champion Gio Ponti in 2009's Arlington Million and hasn't done a ton since, albeit against top-shelf competition. He appears in decent form after a fifth in the Manhattan Handicap on June 5th.
Highly touted General Quarters needs to live up to the hype and will take a lot of money. He also seems to have a case of second-itis with four seconds and a third in his last six races. A neck win in the Grade I Turf Classic May 1 may be aberrational as it came on a soft course on Kentucky Derby Day.
Marsh Side is the morning line third favorite. He doesn't seem to have recovered from the long trip to the Japan Cup last November, but he's been on the bench since March. Arlington-savvy Robby Albarado gets the mount.
Inez Karlsson will seek stakes glory with the consistent Rahystrada and look out for Imponente Purse, a Brazilian who should be a good price.
Shhh, Awesome Dream
Turf-centric Colonial Downs has its big day with a big stakes schedule featuring the Virginia Oaks and the Virginia Derby. Your stars in the Derby will include Stately Victor, Interactif and heavy favorite Paddy O'Prado.
It's not his fault, but Paddy O'Prado is one of those horses whose success will be on the turf, yet was entered in this year's Kentucky Derby, finishing a very respectable third. He comes in off the victory in the Colonial Turf Cup here June 19, so will take some beating.
I'm looking at local boy Awesome Dream, but don't tell anybody. He'll be a price.
Surf 'n' Turf
It's time for the summer boutique meets to kick off.
* Del Mar, where "The Surf Meets the Turf," opens Wednesday. Even in the beleaguered California racing scene, Del Mar is always a cool breeze. Top events include the Eddie Read Stakes, the Pat O'Brien, the Bing Crosby, Del Mar Derby and Zenyatta's next probable race, the Clement L. Hirsch.
* Saratoga, my favorite meet of the year, opens July 23. Like a kid in summer school, I'd rather be at The Spa than chained to this desk. But through the magic of the Internet, a few wagers just might sneak through.
Rachel Alexandra is in the house (waiting for Zenyatta to crash the grounds, perhaps?) and after a side trip to Monmouth, I'd sure like to see her run in something like the Personal Ensign or the Ballerina. Saratoga also features The Whitney on August 7th and the "Mid-Summer Derby" - the Travers Stakes - on August 28th.
And Saratoga's gone digital, conveniently providing meet information in one place. Not a given at many tracks.
These are no dog days for this horseplayer.
Thomas Chambers is our man on the rail. He brings you TrackNotes (nearly) every Friday. He welcomes your comments.More from Beachwood Sports »