When the Arlington Million debuted as the first thoroughbred horse race to offer a $1 million purse, it was hoped that it would become a premier event on the international horse racing calendar.Thanks to a six-year-old gelding named John Henry — and an assist by The Bart — it did.On Aug. 30, 1981, a field of 14 was assembled for the inaugural Million at Arlington Park. Horses from the United States, England, Ireland and France lined up in the starting gate to do battle over 1 ¼ miles on the turf.According to Chicago historian John R. Schmidt, “interest in Europe was so great that NBC added special satellite TV coverage of the race” and “one writer said that the first Million would be ‘the race people may be telling their grandchildren about, fifty years from now.’”
1981 Budweiser Arlington Million
After John Henry won by a desperate nose, his jockey, the late, great Willie Shoemaker, said “This might be the greatest race I was ever in.”This year’s Million may not draw similar proclamations from the riders involved, but it does look like a great betting race. Below is a peek at each of the 13 entrants:
1-REAL SOLUTION (10/1 morning line odds)Although he ran great in the Manhattan on June 8, the son of Kitten’s Joy has been MIA since. In fact, the Chad Brown trainee has started just three times in the past 462 days and his late speed rations (LSRs) aren’t up to par. I’ll pass.Fair Odds: 15-12-FINNEGANS WAKE (30/1)If you like him, you’ll be amply rewarded, as the son of 2005 Million champ Powerscourt is 30-1 on the morning line. However, I think that price is about right. Finnegans Wake is a deep closer in a race with an average early speed ration (ESR) of +4 and his form is dubious to boot. Not my cup o’ tea, this young Finnegan.Fair Odds: 25-13-HUNTER’S LIGHT (8/1)If this race was run over Arlington’s main track, this dude would undoubtedly be favored — and he’s no slouch on turf either. I like his tactical speed and he’s faced some mighty tough hombres overseas. On the downside, I’m not sure a race in Germany is the ideal final prep.Fair Odds: 6-14-NATES MINESHAFT (30/1)Without a doubt, this guy is the most intriguing entrant in the race. To begin with, he’s got early speed and three of the past 10 editions of Arlington’s premier grass race have been won in wire-to-wire fashion. Secondly, his last race, although not fast (86 Brisnet speed figure vs. today’s par of 102), was outstanding in terms of pace figures. The son of Mineshaft earned a +4 LSR and a positive Pace Profile (meaning he ran relatively faster late, than he did early) and he’s got some back class to boot. The six-year-old ridgling is hardly the one to beat, but I give him a big shot today.Fair Odds: 8-15-TEMERAINE (30/1)His best speed figure does not meet today’s par and his come-from-the-clouds running style could be a detriment today. Not hopeless, but not inspiring either.Fair Odds: 30-16-SIDE GLANCE (12/1)Has the talent to win, but I’m not confident that he hasn’t lost a step — or two — at the age of six. Over the past two years, Side Glance has one just one of 11 starts and that was in a Group 3 at Epsom over a year ago.Fair Odds: 20-17-INDY POINT (9/2)His races in Argentina were solid; his debut in the United States at Del Mar on July 24 just so-so. Yeah, he won as the 2-1 favorite that day, but both the Brisnet speed figure (99) and the LSR (0) were below par — and this is obviously a much tougher spot. I’m also concerned about Indy Point’s ability to handle the distance versus this caliber of competition. The Richard Mandella trainee is playable… but not at a short price.Fair Odds: 10-18-MULL OF KILLOUGH (12/1)Given the listed owner’s name, Invictus, I suppose it would be poetic justice for Mull of Killough win the 2013 Arlington Million. The horse has been in great form of late, but today’s contest promises to be his biggest challenge to date.Fair Odds: 15-19-GUEST OF HONOR (15/1)Although he was beaten by fellow entrant Mull of Killough last time, I think this guy has far more upside. Not only is he younger (four years old), but he appears better suited to today’s distance and seems to be getting better in every start… big shot at a big price today.Fair Odds: 12-110-THE APACHE (6/1)He’s run against — and beaten — some tough ones in the not-too-distant past, but that last race gives me pause. In big events like the Kentucky Derby, Breeders’ Cup Classic and Arlington Million, razor-sharp form is practically a prerequisite to win and, based on his effort in the Sky Bet York Stakes, The Apache can hardly be considered “razor sharp.”Fair Odds: 10-111-LITTLE MIKE (5/1)Like Robert Plant, I’m dazed and confused by last year’s Million and Breeders’ Cup Turf champion. On the one hand, he’s fast enough and classy enough to win today’s race — plus, he’s got an advantageous running style to boot (and, doggone it, people like him). On the other hand, his last three races make me to wonder: Is this the same Little Mike we saw in 2012? I don’t have the answer; hence, I’ll let the odds have the final say as to whether I use him or not.Fair Odds: 6-112-RAHYSTRADA (20/1)Love the fact that this guy ran without front leg wraps last time… don’t love the fact that he drifted out. If he can keep a straight path today, I think the son of Rahy has a great chance of winning. He should be able to stay in touch early and his overall LSRs rank second in the field.Fair Odds: 8-113-GRANDEUR (7/2)His US speed and pace figures (earned at Hollywood Park last fall) are tops in the field and his trainer, Jeremy Nosada, is great with UK shippers. Definitely the one to beat, but I’d still want a price given his late-running style and the big field.
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