The Grade 1 $1 million Arlington Million Stakes has found a new and most likely permanent home. It will be run at Colonial Downs in New Kent, Va. after a storied run at Arlington International Racecourse and having been run last year at Churchill Downs. This year’s race drew a field of 11. The field is led by last year’s winner Santin, but this talented turf star has not finished in the top three in six straight races since his win in 2022. Another horse with a win at this level is Atone, who was victorious in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational Stakes Presented by Qatar Racing in January.
Atone was most recently fifth but beaten by just one length in the Grade 3 Dinner Party Stakes presented by Bulleit Bourbon. That race was won by Never Explain, who next finished second in the Grade 3 Monmouth Stakes, won by Catnip. Set Piece finished fourth in last year’s Million but has since won two graded stakes including the Grade 3 Arlington Stakes in June. Adhamo won the 2022 United Nations Stakes last summer and is returning from 10 months off. Rockemperor won the 2022 Bowling Green Stakes and the 2021 Turf Classic Invitational Stakes but enters the race off four non-threatening efforts. Win for the Money has won two straight and enters a stakes race on grass for the first time, while Strong Quality led from start to finish in winning this past February and March but in his first attempt at the level, he finished fifth in the Grade 1 Resorts World Casino Manhattan Stakes in June. Master Piece has been competitive at this level on occasion, for example when winning the 2022 Eddie Read Stakes last summer. He also has had a hard time repeating that effort as he has not won in six races since then. Strong Tide rounds out the field, with his last win coming in February of 2022 and with his best effort at this level recently a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Man o’War Stakes in May.
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Contender analysis and eliminations:
Before discussing the top contenders, I want to discuss why a number of horses with overall good records and hundreds of thousands of dollars won in their careers have pretty low probability to win this race. Let’s start with Rockemperor, one of two trained by Chad Brown (the other Adhamo), who has banked $1.1 million. In spite of having won the 2022 Turf Classic Invitational last fall and the Bowling Green Stakes in July of 2022 he has not been competitive in five races since and interestingly enough, was scratched out of this year’s Bowling Green, which appears to have been an easier spot than the Arlington Million. Adhamo has won just once in six races since importing to the United States in the winter of 2022, and he has been away since a poor effort last October when sixth of seven in the Turf Classic Invitational. Although Brown has a good record with horses returning off long layoffs, there’s not a case to be made this horse can return to grade 1 winning form. Santin won this race last year as one of the betting favorites (2 to 1) but has not been competitive since then in six races, never closer than fourth or nearer than three lengths from the winner. Many of the others have been uncompetitive recently and cases cannot be made why their recent form can be reversed.
After eliminating a number of horses as contenders, we’re left with just a few, that group led by Atone. This past January, following two and one-half months off and a win last November, Atone proved to be a top turf runner when rallying from sixth to win the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational presented by Qatar Racing, earning a 109 Equibase Speed Figure. Nearly eight weeks later in the Muniz Memorial Classic presented by Horse Racing Nation, and sent to post as the prohibitive favorite, Atone finished last of nine. When returning two months later in the Dinner Party Stakes, Atone led from the start, just as he had in his victory last November, but this time he faded to fifth. However, he has beaten a total of one length and was very game all the way to the finish. For the Arlington Million, Atone gets a jockey change to Kendrick Carmouche, who has ridden the horse just one time previously and that was in his wire-to-wire win last November. With none of the three horses with gate positions inside Atone in the Million previously shown to want to be in front early in a race, Carmouche can easily put Atone on the lead from the start from where he can control the tempo and duplicate his big effort last fall. However, in the case another horse wants the lead more than Atone does, Carmouche can get Atone to relax as he did when fifth in the early stages of the Pegasus, with the same winning result.
Catnip is one of a few fairly lightly raced 4-year-olds in this year’s Million field, who may be able to step up to the task. He has won four of eight career races, all on grass, and has improved as expected during his spring campaign. After winning in April at the first allowance condition, Catnip improved markedly in May to earn a then career-best 102 figure, then to 106 winning the Monmouth Stakes. Moved up to the Grade 1 level and facing some multiple stakes winners in the Grade 1 United Nations Stakes last month, Catnip was not disgraced when making the lead in the stretch after stalking in second, then being passed by multiple stakes winner Therapist. Cutting back from that mile and three-eighths trip to the mile and one-quarter of the Arlington Million, Catnip has a big shot to make the lead after stalking whichever horse is in front in the stretch and perhaps hold on this time.
Master Piece has won or placed in nearly half of his 22 career starts on grass, 10 to be exact, and continues to run competitively every time he steps foot on the track. Returning from nearly four months off for his first start of 2023 in the Pegasus (won by Atone), Master Piece closed strongly but too late, moving from last of 12 to be beaten just three lengths at the finish. Following that came a third-place effort with a 110 figure in the Mac Diarmida Stakes and another third-place effort in the Pan American Stakes presented by Rood & Riddle. Given three months off and changing trainers, it appears the much shorter mile and one-sixteenth race Master Piece ran in on July 4 was a prep for this much longer race. Having won the Eddie Read Stakes last summer with a 111 figure which would be very competitive if repeated, it must be noted the new trainer for Master Piece is Rick Dutrow, who recently returned to training after a long suspension. Dutrow proved he hasn’t lost his ability to get horses to run big as he saddled White Abarrio to win the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes last weekend in an upset, and that’s another reason to take Master Piece very seriously in this situation.
The rest of the field (with best Equibase Speed Figure): Adhamo (107), Never Explain (110), Rockemperor (110), Santin (110), Set Piece (117), Strong Quality (106), Strong Tide (113) and Win for the Money (108).
Top Win Contenders: