One of modern racing's most tradition-rich races, the Arlington Million, will be held Saturday under unusual circumstances. The former Chicagoland mainstay returns after a one-year hiatus and lands on its feet in Louisville at Churchill Downs. The distance shortens to a mile and one-eighth to fit the track figuration, and the Million will anchor an 11-race card that includes its sister race, the Grade 1 Beverly D.
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Grade 1 winners SMOOTH LIKE STRAIT and SANTIN have succeeded at the highest level. FIELD PASS and SET PIECE are Grade 2 winners, while SACRED LIFE, ADMISSION OFFICE, CAVALRY CHARGE and CELLIST are Grade 3 winners in the field of 9. The class edge in terms of top-end victories and toughest competition consistently faced goes to SMOOTH LIKE STRAIT and SANTIN.
It's a crossroads distance that has lured turf milers, middle-distance runners and marathon types. SMOOTH LIKE STRAIGHT and MEGACITY insure a very solid pace as proven front-runners. The next flight includes SANTIN, FIELD PASS and potentially the wide-drawn pair of CAVALARY CHARGE and CELLIST, whose speed may be forced upon them in bids to avoid ground loss. This should be a very solid, if not fast, pace.
SMOOTH LIKE STRAIT is the 5-2 morning line favorite and clearly one of the best milers in America. But the additional 220 yards from his norm is a trip over which he's 1-for-4 lifetime. SMOOTH LIKE STRAIGHT did run a strong third on the lead at Churchill in the 2021 Turf Classic. He never misfires and will take them simply as far as he can. Any breathers, and he's the horse to beat. But if they gang up on him, which is plausible here, the door opens.
SANTIN won Churchill Downs' premier grass race, the Grade 1 Turf Classic, on the Kentucky Derby undercard. That came over this same trip, but was flattered by a much slower pace than expected Saturday. We got 7-1 when on him in the Turf Classic, but that price will be under-laid this time, even coming off a fading trip in the Manhattan at Belmont. He was a 'buy' in June at 7-1, but a 'sell' Saturday at half likely half that.
SET PIECE (pictured above) does all of his running at the tail end, and his 4-for-5 local record doesn't hurt; though note the newly sodded turf course in 2022 has yet to welcome his presence. This is a horse favored in 9 of his last 12 starts, but likely to be a juicier proposition at 4-1 in the morning line. Also from the back of the pack comes SACRED LIFE, a Chad Brown trainee who has been in the mix with Arlington Million rivals like FIELD PASS, SANTIN and CAVALARY CHARGE with mixed results. His form is consistent, but his best results have come at Monmouth, site of his most recent victory. Of the late-running duo, my preference solidly goes to SET PIECE.
Trainer Mike Maker has the fastball MEGACITY as a key to the pace scenario, as well as the presser/stalker FIELD PASS. Those two ran 1-2 last out in the Texas Turf Classic at Lone Star, but haven't shown the Grade 1 knockout punch to date. The field also includes 2 past winners of Churchill Downs' 1-1/2 miles Louisville Handicap, CELLIST and ADMISSION OFFICE. Their recent marks of 1-for-the-last-5 and 1-for-the-last-7, respectively, give them more of an underneath feel for the exotics than major win threats.
Most Certain Exotics Contender:
SMOOTH LIKE STRAIT has 20 straight superfecta finishes in his 21-race career. Even in defeat, he sticks around for a share.
Best Longshot Exotics Contender:
ADMISSION OFFICE has the right running style and is talented enough to pass tiring rivals for a minor share at 10-1 in the morning line.
Sending it in ($100 bankroll):
$75 win SET PIECE. $25 exacta SET PIECE over SMOOTH LIKE STRAIGHT.