Florent Geroux made Arlington Park his personal playground on Saturday when he won five of the six stakes races on the card, but in the Arlington Million, British jockey Daniel Tudhope spoiled the Geroux party aboard Mondaliste.
Eleven months after winning the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile Stakes and nine months after finishing second to Tepin in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, Mondaliste returned to the United States to stretch out an extra quarter-mile for the Million. Racing midpack, about five lengths behind pacesetting Take the Stand, Mondaliste launched his bid on the far turn but took nearly the whole stretch to take the lead and prevail by a neck.
Mondaliste hadn’t won since the Woodbine Mile last September but had put in some good performances, including a seventh in France that trainer David O’Meara identified as a key race that was better than it looked on paper.
“After America, he went to Hong Kong. He traveled east and it took a lot out of him traveling that direction,” said O’Meara. “When he came back, he had his first race in France in a race that turned out to be very good, there were about three or four other horses behind him that got hammered that day and came out and won group races next out. It was an extraordinary race, really.”
It wasn’t cemented in the plans to bring Mondaliste over to compete in the Arlington Million, even after he finished a close second to multiple group stakes winner Time Test three weeks ago in a Group 2 race at York at 1 5/16 miles. But when the horse came out of that in good shape, the decision was made to ship him to Chicago.
That proved a wise move with Mondaliste winning the $570,000 winner’s share of the $1 million purse, plus a berth to the 2016 Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf. Winning the race in a time of 2:01.87, Mondaliste was followed by Kasaqui, who won the local prep for this race. The 3-year-old Deauville finished third by three-quarters of a length.
A decision on where to send Mondaliste next won’t be made until they see how he emerges from this race after his return flight to Europe, but O’Meara said the Breeders’ Cup definitely is under consideration.
“He seems to perform exceptionally here. He likes these turning tracks, he likes how these American races are run and it would make sense to bring him back this direction again,” he said.
Mondaliste paid $10.80 to win after going off at odds of 4.40-1.
Despite having a strong European presence in the races, Mondaliste was the only European to win any of the Festival races this year. Perhaps that was partially due to the fact that jockey Geroux was on fire throughout the card, both in the Festival stakes races and other races on the card.
The French-born, U.S.-based jockey made a late run on Sea Calisi to win the $700,000 Beverly D. Stakes and take the second most valuable race on the card about 45 minutes before the Million.
“[Chad Brown] is one of the hottest trainers in North America right now, and number one on turf. I went to visit him when I was in Saratoga and asked if he could give me some horses, since I’m doing quite good on the turf,” said Geroux. “We agreed to come here together and he gave me those very nice horses to ride. Turf horses are push button, just sit back, pull the trigger and they are there when you need them.
“[Sea Calisi is] a very nice filly, definitely no distance problem at all – she can win at longer if we have to. We got helped a lot today with the pacemaker, it was good for that. She needed some pace and a clean trip and it worked out good.”
Sea Calisi broke from post-position 13 and raced in 11th for most of the race before going wide around the turn. In the stretch, Sea Calisi still had a pack of horses in front of her with Zipessa looking like she may take the victory. Geroux continued to urge his filly through the stretch, finally overcoming Zipessa in the final sixteenth of a mile to win by a half-length in 1:54.93 for 1 3/16 miles.
Al’s Girl also passed Zipessa to take second.
The Beverly D. victory was for the fourth for owner Martin Schwartz, whose celebrations started before the filly even came off the turf course after the race. The owner, who is known for finding successful fillies abroad and bringing them back to the U.S., gave high praise to Arlington Park after the victory.
“It’s a great place, a great race and great people. It’s a beautiful racetrack, a fair surface … other than being out in the parking lot to start, Florent with his beautiful ride overcame that. We couldn’t be more overjoyed,” he said.
Sea Calisi paid $4.20 to win on a $2 ticket after going off as the favorite at odds of 11-10. The Beverly D. was a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” race, which gave Sea Calisi and guaranteed starting spot in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and mare Turf in November.
Brown and Geroux also paired up in the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes and came out the winners of a close photo finish between Beach Patrol and Long Island Sound, ending Aidan O’Brien’s two-year winning streak in the race.
Both Beach Patrol and Long Island Sound were close behind the front-running Scissors and Tape through the first stages of the race but as they entered the stretch, it turned into a battle between the two of them. Long Island Sound led until the final furlong, when Beach Patrol passed him to win by a head as the 2.80-1 favorite.
Beach Patrol completed the 1 ¼-mile race in 2:01.95. American Patriot finished third.
Geroux teamed up with trainer Mike Maker in the American St. Leger Stakes at 1 11/16 miles to try and improve Da Big Hoss’ record to four wins in five starts this year.
Da Big Hoss rated in midpack for most of the race but started making his extended run as the field entered the final turn. By the head of the stretch, the race was all over with Da Big Hoss just toying with Wasir before swishing his tail as he took the lead. Da Big Hoss won by a commanding 1 ¾ lengths with British invader Clondaw Warrior closing for second and Wasir holding on for third.
“He just loves to win,” Geroux said. “He always finds a way to find the wire and it doesn’t matter where he is, when you ask him to go, he goes.”
Da Big Hoss won in a time of 2:49.47 at odds of 4-5, paying $3.60 to win.