The world’s first one-million dollar horse race – first staged way back in 1981 – this year sees the 35th renewal of the Arlington Million. Now, the astute among you will quickly realise that the numbers don’t quite add up here. Continually mired in politics, Illinois racing has – and continues to have – a rather chequered and storied existence. Arlington Park actually closed down at the end of its 1997 racing season and didn’t reopen until 2000, when the Million was run for the one and only time for a prize of two million dollars – go figure, as our American cousins say.
The favourite for this year's renewal is the Aidan O'Brien-trained Deauville. O'Brien recorded the last of his two victories in the Arlington Million six years ago with Cape Blanco, who also raced in the colours of Mrs Fitri Hay. Deauville is seemingly a better horse this year than when half a length third to Mondialiste in this race (Kasaqui second, The Pizza Man sixth) 12 months ago, having produced a career-best effort when also third on his penultimate outing in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot. He failed to capitalise on a drop in the grade in the Meld Stakes at Leopardstown last time, but did nothing wrong, only giving best late on to one who was in receipt of 3 lb, and he sets a clear standard on weight-adjusted ratings here.
The European challenge is completed by Fanciful Angel and Mekhtaal, though the latter will reportedly continue his racing career in the US after the race. Fanciful Angel is a smart performer on his day for Marco Botti, and proved better than ever when winning handicaps at Meydan in January and Chelmsford in May, but more is clearly needed to figure here. Mekthaal, on the other hand, is already a Group 1 winner, having landed the Prix d’Ispahan at Chantilly (by a neck from Robin of Navan) in May. He ran to a similar level when sixth in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot last time and looks sure to go well again here, though he has been done no favours by the draw in stall 13.
That comment also applies to last year’s Secretariat Stakes winner Beach Patrol (stall 10) and Divisidero (11), who look best of the home defence on ratings. Beach Patrol was giving Ascend 8 lb when a length and a half fourth to that rival in the Manhattan Stakes at Belmont in June and may have paid the penalty for disputing too strong a pace when third in the United Nations Stakes at Monmouth (Oscar Nominated seventh) last time. His placed record is much better than his actual win record, however, and a podium finish might be the best he can hope for again for the Chad Brown stable that won this race with Real Solution in 2013. Divisidero was half a length back in sixth in the Manhattan (giving Ascend 10 lb and Beach Patrol 2 lb) and should also be thereabouts.
A special mention must also be given to The Pizza Man, who was recording his tenth course success when winning this race in 2015. He was also only beaten a length and a half when trying to defend his title last year, but this looks a stronger renewal and he is unlikely to be improving at the age of eight. Enterprising, Ghost Hunter and Oak Brook, who all have a bit to find on ratings, complete the 12-strong field, with Deauville fancied to register a second Grade 1 success.
There is also plenty of European interest in the two chief supporting races on the card, the Secretariat Stakes and the Beverly D. Stakes. Dual Group 2 winner Permian, who ran as well as ever when a game nose second to Shakeel in the Grand Prix de Paris at Saint-Cloud last time, is a clear favourite for the first-named contest, but will likely face stiff competition from Oscar Performance and the Jean-Claude Rouget-trained Afandem. Taj Mahal, who represents the O’Brien yard that has won three of the last six renewals, is also particularly well treated by the conditions of the race – in receipt of 7 lb from Oscar Performance and Permian – and could be overpriced.
O’Brien is yet to win the Beverley D, but jockey Ryan Moore has done so on two occasions with Dank in 2013 and Euro Charline the following year. The duo team up with Pretty Polly and Irish Oaks runner-up Rain Goddess this time around and she looks a worthy favourite despite her wide draw. Chad Brown has won the last two renewals and his trio – Dacita, Grand Jete and Rainha da Bateria – have all won Graded races in the States. The former looks potentially the main threat to Rain Goddess, though the Argentinian-bred Dona Bruja and German raider Sarandia also have plenty to recommend them in a truly cosmopolitan event.
Back Deauville in the Arlington Million on Saturday