Saturday, July 17, Arlington Park
The Low-Down: The G3 Arlington Handicap is the local prep for the Arlington Million, to be run on Saturday, August 21. JUST AS WELL, the runner-up behind eventual Turf Champion Gio Ponti in last year's Million, defends his Arlington Handicap crown against a tough crowd. Other top challengers amongst the field of 11 include multiple G1 winner MARSH SIDE, G1 Turf Classic victor GENERAL QUARTERS, G3 River City upsetter RAHYSTRADA, and top Illinois-breds GIANT OAK, Free Fighter and Princeville Condo. The Arlington Handicap is the final leg of an "All Stakes Pick Three" that also includes the G3 Modesty (prep for the G1 Beverly D) and the G2 American Derby (prep for the G1 Secretariat). Six of Saturday's 11 races are carded for turf, and two courses will be utilized.
Our Eyes: JUST AS WELL has held his own against a high caliber of competition. He won just once from ten tries last year, but that victory happened to come in the G3 Arlington Handicap. He followed up with an impressive, runner-up performance behind eventual turf champion Gio Ponti in the G1 Arlington Million. A troubled fifth behind Winchester in the G1 Manhattan at Belmont last out, he returns to a turf course he relishes running over.
A warrior on all surfaces, GENERAL QUARTERS would run a race in the parking lot if you asked him to. A graded stakes winner on dirt and Poly as a 3-year-old, he more than proved his merits on grass on Kentucky Derby Day at Churchill, taking down the G1 Turf Classic in gritty fashion. The Arlington Handicap, and an eventual start in the Million, have been the plan ever since. He owns tactical speed in a race that isn't overloaded with front-running types, and should be a player from go to whoa.
MARSH SIDE has banked over $2.2 million in his career, bagging a couple do Grade I wins along the way. He seems to do his best work in Canada, where he's won both the '08 G1 Canadian International and the '09 G1 Northern Dancer, a race in which he edged JUST AS WELL. Following a fruitless trip to the G1 Japan Cup in the fall, he returned to his home-base in California, and raced evenly in a pair of graded stakes over Santa Anita's synthetic surface. He returns off a forward string of drills for master trainer Neil Drysdale, and could fire his A-game fresh.
A winner of four of seven starts in '09, RAHYSTRADA stamped himself as a force to be reckoned with. One of those victories came at odds of 56-1 in the G3 River City Handicap at Churchill, and he proved that effort was no fluke by taking down a stakes caliber allowance at Keeneland in April. He finished a solid third in the G3 Dixie at Pimlico last out, just behind the runner-up JUST AS WELL. He scored a powerful win over the Arlington green last summer, and must be taken very seriously today. GIANT OAK has proven to be quite a challenge for trainer Chris Block. A winner on turf, Poly and dirt, he enters this backyard contest on a ten-race losing streak. Block's put blinkers on, taken them off, and recently put them on again. He's tested his charge over varying distances and surfaces, trying to find the magic formula. A solid fourth behind a trio of classy dirt devils in the G1 Stephen Foster at Churchill last out, he gives it another go on the green today.
A Group III winner in England as a 3-year-old, TAJAAWEED kept some salty company overseas. He only raced once as a 4-year-old, and recently returned from an 11-month vacation to make his U. S. debut. He returned with a bang, scoring a visually impressive win over the Arlington green. A troubled fifth in a third-level allowance last out at Churchill, he takes several steps up the class ladder for this. He appears to be up against it, and a probable wide run into the first turn will make an already tough task even more difficult.
The winner of consecutive minor stakes in Presious Passion-type, gate-to-wire style last summer, the old timer RUMOR HAS IT has fallen on hard times in recent months. In fact, he's a shadow of his former self. Chances are he'll try for the lead, but his backs will be packed for an early trip home. Horses attempting to save ground may have to deal with him backing up on the backstretch. He could cause critical traffic for any contender who gets stuck behind him.
The Bottom Line: GENERAL QUARTERS should be in line for a wonderful trip, and he tries really hard. Let's key him on top of exactas using JUST AS WELL, MARSH SIDE, RAHYSTRADA & TAJAAWEED for place and turn it around for with smaller exactas with the GENERAL second. Also bet GENERAL QUARTERS win and place.
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