Set Piece did all his running, and all the running he needed to do, in the final furlongs of the 2023 Arlington Million Aug. 12 at Colonial Downs, rallying from last of 11 to score his first Grade 1 victory.
Santin, the 2022 Arlington Million winner when the race was held for a year at Churchill Downs, finished second, two lengths behind. Adhamo, back from a 10-month layoff was third. The 1 1/4 miles on firm turf was clocked at 1:58.19, a new course record.
Florent Geroux, who calls Set Piece his favorite horse to ride, kept the 7-year-old gelding well behind all 10 rivals most of the way down the backstretch on the wide Colonial Downs course. Hitting the turn, he drafted behind fellow late-runner Adhamo while swinging widest of all into the stretch. It briefly seemed Adhamo had the advantage, but it was Set Piece sling-shotting past and to the easy lead with Adhamo not quite up to catching Santin for second.
"It's awesome," said Cox assistant Katie Tolbert. "He just hit a million (dollars in earnings) in his last race. That was kind of a big steppingstone for him. It would be exciting to go to the Breeders' Cup with him, for sure."
The Million, along with the Grade 1 Beverly D. Stakes for fillies and mares, and the Grade 2 Secretariat Stakes for 3-year-olds, comprised the biggest racing program in the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia and attracted celebrities including Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who enthusiastically noted in a pre-race interview that both Secretariat himself and this year's Secretariat Stakes winner, Gigante, were bred in the Commonwealth.
The inaugural Arlington Million, in 1981 at its suburban Chicago birthplace, was the first Thoroughbred race to offer a seven-figure purse. The money was attractive to European connections, as was Arlington's well-regarded turf course and, with the help of the International Racing Bureau, the race attracted European competitors throughout most of its history.
There were no foreign-based starters in this year's running.
John Henry won the nationally televised inaugural Million in a thrilling finish over The Bart, helping legitimize the race from its beginning. When the old Arlington Park burned to the ground 25 days before the 1985 renewal, owner Richard L. Duchossois famously refused to move or reschedule the event, cleared the rubble, and ran the "Miracle Million" in a county-fair atmosphere with tents in place of a grandstand. The track won a special Eclipse Award for pulling that off successfully.
The race was run at Churchill Downs in 2022 after Arlington was closed and sold for demolition by owner Churchill Downs Inc. The 2021 running of the Arlington Million was the last at Arlington International Racecourse.
Fev Rover Goes Gate to Wire to Earn Breeders' Cup Berth with Beverly D. Victory
Taking charge from the start, Fev Rover set a slow pace and turned back an early stretch bid from Gina Romantica to win the $500,000 Grade 1 Beverly D. Stakes by 3 1/2 lengths on Aug. 12 at Colonial Downs.
The winner raced 1 3/16 miles on firm turf under Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano in 1:54.35 following splits of :25.12, :50.10, 1:13.63 and 1:37.01. She paid $3.20 to win as the favorite. Mark Casse trains Fev Rover for owner Tracy Farmer. She is 3-1-2 in six starts under Casse's care in 2022-23 after coming to North America from Europe. The Beverly D. marked her first grade 1 victory.
The Beverly D. was a longtime stakes fixture at Arlington International Racecourse before track operator Churchill Downs Inc. sold that property to the Chicago Bears of the National Football League in 2021. The race was run for the first time at Colonial Downs this year after being contested for one year at Churchill Downs in 2022.
"She's a really good horse," Casse said. "It's taken her a little while to understand our racing, but she's a toughie. She looks magnificent. She's really grown up in the last year, so we're excited and looking forward to the Breeders Cup." -- Byron King