Smile Politely

Summer showdowns at Arlington, Saratoga make for wild weekend

Presious PassionAmerica isn’t known for its turf racing, but when the gates smash open for the Grade I Arlington Million this Saturday at Arlington Park near Chicago, the top three favorites will be supporting the good ol’ red, white, and blue. The 2009 season for American turf racing suddenly blew wide open in late spring thanks to the smashing comeback of the 4-year-old Gio Ponti, and the back-to-back freaky performances of Presious Passion.

While Einstein ran in the 2008 edition of the Million, going off as the 3-1 favorite, he almost went down to his knees coming out of the gate and never recovered, finishing fifth. This year, Einstein comes back to try again in perhaps his last chance before retirement. Proving to be a resilient older horse, having won Grade I races on turf and synthetics and a Grade II on dirt, Einstein will be ridden by regular rider Julien Leparoux this time around. Last year, Robby Albarado was in the stirrups for the ill-fated trip. Though their last outing together proved unlucky in the Grade I Stephen Foster on dirt, EinsteinLeparoux and Einstein have become a perfect pair on grass, winning the Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs despite being hung at least five wide going around the turn for home and dogging it out with a tenacious Cowboy Cal to the wire. Taking into consideration Leparoux is currently the winningest jockey in the nation, you can’t place a bad bet if you go with Einstein this time around.

Interestingly, the top three favored starters for the Million all have different running styles. While Einstein sits off the pace and generally runs from the middle of the pack, Gio Ponti usually comes from behind horses or somewhere in the middle, and Presious Passion isn’t happy unless he’s flying well ahead of the rest of the field. In a performance where he not only smashed the course record, but gave the track announcer a fit of the giggles while calling the race, Presious Passion dominated the 2009 United Nations by leading 20 lengths ahead of the rest of the field and holding on to win by nearly three. And just in case you think Presious Passion is a one-trick pony, take a gander at his victory in the Mac Diarmida Stakes at Gulfstream, where after taking the lead from a valiant Finallymadeit, Presious Passion led the field with suicidal fractions and went into another gear in the last furlong, resurging once the pack caught him to win by a half-length.

The Arlington Million may not be the only big race this Saturday, but it’s certainly one of the more interesting. Another field packed with talent is headed toward the Grade I Whitney Handicap at Saratoga. The old warhorse Commentator will try to win his third Whitney and mirror the great Kelso for the most wins and as the oldest horse to win the race. He will not have an easy time doing it.

When Commentator is hot, he’s sizzling, but this year hasn’t been as remarkable as the 8-year-old gelding’s previous season. In his two starts this year, Commentator finished fourth as the beaten favorite in the Charles Town Classic in April, but won his most recent start in the Kashatreya Stakes for New York-breds in June. This time last year, Commentator was in the middle of a seemingly invincible season, romping by an average margin of 10 lengths; the Whitney was just one more notch in this dominating horse’s belt. With a full field chomping at the bit to take on the old boy, Commentator’s odds are greatly stacked against him.

The Whitney veteran will be facing Macho Again, who is coming off an upset victory in the Grade I Stephen Foster over–you guessed it–Einstein; the runner-up in that race, Asiatic Boy; Bullsbay, the winner of the Alysheba Stakes; and the steadily improving Smooth Air, who is seeking his first Grade I victory. Commentator has been known to sporadically sprout wings without warning, but he’s going to need a lot of fairy dust to beat this Whitney field.

And then on Sunday, on the other side of the states, is the Grade I Clement Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar, featuring the undefeated Zenyatta. The five-year-old mare will be attempting to make her record a perfect 12-12 when she goes into her second Clement Hirsch. Yes, the untested champion older mare will be facing a field of hapless fillies and mares once again who can hardly look forward to their meeting. The also-Shirreffs-trained Life is Sweet has already been defeated by Zenyatta and tried to take on greener pastures against the boys in the Hollywood Gold Cup, but could only get up for third place.

In other words, Zenyatta again will be facing sub-par competition and will undoubtedly put in another easy victory while tucked under the safety of her California blanket. While her undefeated record is impressive, it would be more impressive to see her take on someone her own size, or at least something as muscular. If we go the rest of 2009 without seeing Zenyatta run against the boys, what a waste this amazing mare’s final season will have been. Are you listening out there, Mr. Moss?



The Grade I Arlington Million will be shown live on ESPN. Post time for the Million is at 4:42 p.m. CDT. (But why are you looking at this? You should just GO there!)

The Grade I Whitney will be aired live on HRTV and TVG from Saratoga. Post time is slated for approximately 5:47pm ET.


The Grade I Clement Hirsch Stakes will be aired live on TVG from Del Mar. Post time is TBA.

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