The Main Track: Million Day Sets Arlington Park Abuzz

Racing at Arlington Park on Million day. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Welcome to another edition of America’s Best Racing’s Main Track.

Each Tuesday in this space we spotlight the most meaningful story of the past week, detailing news that stands out because of its importance or perhaps the emotional response it generates.

Looking ahead, if you believe there’s a story this week that should be featured in next Tuesday’s edition of the Main Track, let us know by tweeting it to @ABRLive using the hashtag #ABRMainTrack.

As for this week, our featured story is a report on a day that one again lifted racing at Arlington out of its doldrums.

These have not been the best of days for Arlington International Racecourse.

From years of futile waiting for legislative relief, the tailspin that has engulfed racing and breeding in Illinois has choked much of the life from the jewel of a racetrack in Arlington Heights.

Yet there is still that one day on the racing calendar when Arlington and its indefatigable 95-year-old chairman Richard Duchossois put on a spectacular show that only a handful of racetracks can match.

Saturday’s 35th edition of the Arlington Million once again showed how vibrant a great day of racing can be at Arlington.

A crowd of more than 33,000 turned out to watch the Million, the Grade 1 Beverly D. and Grade 1 Secretariat and three other stakes during the Arlington International Festival of Racing on the kind of day that seemed torn from the pages of the track’s halcyon days.

Only three years ago, the Million attracted just seven starters, with only two shipping over from Europe for one of the sport’s most famous turf races, and there were some who voiced concerns that Arlington’s mounting problems were dragging down the Million. But Duchossois was not one of them. He continued to stress that the Festival of Racing should be a first-class event, and judging by the large fields and strong contingent of foreign runners for Saturday’s races, 2014 was just a glitch.

This past weekend, the hallmark of what has made Arlington Million was clearly visible. There was great racing, a buzz throughout the facility, a collection of Eclipse Award contenders, and a rather historic day for owners Sol Kumin and Jay Hanley and trainer Chad Brown.

The trio combined to win both the Arlington Million with the ultra-game Beach Patrol and the Beverly D. with their 6-year-old mare Dacita, which made them the first owners to win the two stakes in the same year and Brown the first trainer to win both stakes on the same day.

Dacita (right) wins the Beverly D. (Eclipse Sportswire)

“It’s not easy to win those two races,” said Brown, who posted a third straight win in the Beverly D. “The Arlington Million is a very important race for me. I have tremendous respect for the race and enormous respect for Mr. Duchossois.”

Kumin was the only one of the three who was on hand at Arlington on Saturday, and the next day, while watching his horses at Saratoga, he raved about the experience.

“It’s amazing. I’ve been there three times on Arlington Million day and that day is as good as anywhere I’ve ever been,” he said. “I don’t know what it would be like on an average day, but they treat you well, they are respectful, and the fans love the racing. The atmosphere is amazing and the track is beautiful. It’s as good a day as you’re going to find.”

Brown, who now has two wins in the Arlington Million and set a record with his fourth win in the Beverly D., also voiced praise for everything Duchossois and his team have done to make the Festival of Racing as vibrant ever.

“They always treat you first class at Arlington,” he said. “It starts at the top with Mr. D. During my time, you can’t get treated any better than the way they treat you at Arlington.”

Kumin and Hanley race together under the banner of Sheep Pond Partners and own a share of Beach Patrol, along with James Covello and Head of Plains Partners (a group with a roster of owners that includes Kumin), and Dacita with Bradley Thoroughbreds.

Given the long list of famed horses and horsemen who have competed in the two important Grade 1 stakes, it’s the kind of accomplishment that left all of them humbled.

“Jay and I focus on turf racing, so for us Arlington Million day is like the Super Bowl. It’s always a day we’re targeting,” Kumin said.

Or as Hanley put it about the sport’s first million-dollar race, “Next to the Breeders’ Cup races is there a bigger race for an older turf horse than the Million that we would want to win?”

Kumin (left) with Rosario and kids after the Million. (Eclipse Sportswire)

For Brown, his second victory in the Million matched the win total of his mentor, the late Bobby Frankel, in the Grade 1 stakes and made the moment even more special for the 38-year-old Eclipse Award-winning trainer.

“I think of Bobby a lot, especially on a day like that. I learned so much from Bobby and I try to hand that down to my staff,” Brown said. “There are so many talented people making this happen for me. I’m just a lucky guy. I have all these nice horses to go along with an all-star staff. If you stay with it and stick with Bobby’s system you are going to have days like Saturday.

“When you go back to the beginning of Chad Brown racing, it was always the history of the sport that lured me into it. I was fascinated by it. Now that I have a chance to participate in these very prestigious races, they are extra special to me and those two races at Arlington are at the top of my list.”

Dacita, one of three Brown runners in the Beverly D., came to the United States from Chile through a purchase arranged by co-owner Peter Bradley. Now a 6-year-old mare, she registered her second Grade 1 win for Sheep Pond Partners and Bradley, joining last year’s win in the Diana at Saratoga.

Ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr., Dacita prevailed by a half-length over her stablemate Grand Jete and the favored Dona Bruja who finished in a dead-heat for second. Grand Jete, who had a rough trip, is trained Brown and owned by Juddmonte Farms.

“Dacita was training great so we felt good about her,” Kumin said.

The Million marked a sweet return to the Chicago area for Beach Patrol, who won the 2016 Secretariat. That was also the last time the now 4-year-old colt visited the winner’s circle. Yet in his six races since then – the last five of them Grade 1 stakes - Beach Patrol turned in one solid effort after another as he finished second four times and never lost by more than 1 ¾ lengths.

In the Million, all of that hard luck was washed away by a courageous effort in which the 9-2 second choice was passed in the stretch by the favored Deauville and still battled back under jockey Joel Rosario to surge past the European and edge clear for a half-length victory.

“To beat those Euros, you saw the guts that Beach Patrol has. He always showed it, but kept falling short by a head. He always tries and he’s typically doing all the hard work in a race. In the Million, he finally got a good trip and had things his way. Kudos to Chad and his staff for getting him ready,” Hanley said. “To come through on the same day, and get such great rides, it’s a testament to the people who created the opportunity for us. People like Pete Bradley with Dacita and Ben Glass and Nick Sallusto with Beach Patrol. Our thanks goes out to them for finding these horses for us and making it such a great day.”

A great day for Hanley, Kumin and Brown, for sure.

But also for Arlington, which was a welcomed turn of events for a beleaguered racetrack and some of the best news during a busy week for racing.

The Also-Eligible List

Here’s some of the other stories that made for a lively week in the U.S. Thoroughbred racing industry:

World Approval kicks clear in Fourstardave

Run Away dominant in Best Pal

Round Table: Optimism for horse racing integrity act

McKinsey: Better scheduling would add handle

Zayas notches Win No. 1,000

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