Priscilla Vaccarezza’s Little Mike will carry the Florida banner onto the International stage Saturday when the 5-year-old gelding makes the post parade for the $1 million Arlington Million at Arlington Park near Chicago Saturday. The Grade 1 Arlington Million has drawn a field of 11 starters representing stars from the United States, Great Britain and Ireland with Little Mike the co-third choice in the morning line at 6-1. The Program favorite is Boisterous at 4-1 from the barn of Claude “Shug” McGaughey with second choice honors going to the Irish-bred invader by way of Britain, Italy and France Crackerjack King at 5-1 in the program.
Included along with the Arlington Million during this Saturday’s one-day International Festival of Racing conducted over Arlington’s world famous turf course are the $750,000 Beverly D. Stakes for some of the world’s best turf-favoring fillies and mares, the $500,000 Secretariat Stakes, restricted to 3-year-olds of international caliber on the grass, as well as Saturday’s inaugural running of the $400,000 American St. Leger Stakes.
The Arlington Million, Beverly D. and Secretariat Stakes are also the only three Grade 1 races run in Illinois on an annual basis. The 1 ¼-mile Arlington Million on the grass is also a “Win and You’re In” race for the $3 million Breeders’ Cup Turf to be run at Santa Anita in early November.
Little Mike will be coming into the Arlington Million off of a third-place finish in the Shoemaker Mile (G1) at Betfair Hollywood Park on Jun. 30, a race won by fellow Florida-bred Jeranimo. That was only the second loss in the last seven starts for Little Mike, going back to Feb. 27, 2011 when he won the Candadian Turf Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park. Since that victory he has won the Grade 3 Appleton, an optional claiming race, the $150,000 Sunshine Millions Turf and was third in his defense of the Canadian Turf in March, all at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Fla. He was fourth in the 2012 version of the Canadian Turf then came back to win his most prestigious victory to date, taking the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on May 5, the day of the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (G1).
“There are a number of reasons why we like the Arlington Million for Little Mike,” breeder Carlo Vaccarezza, who is also married to owner Priscilla, said. “We looked at the nomination to the [Arlington Million] and it appears there is no real speed in the race. In nearly every one of his victories, Little Mike has gone wire-to-wire to he may stand out in this race. Plus we have been watching the weather in Chicago all summer and it has been hot and dry. Hopefully that hardens the turf course some.
“The Breeders’ Cup has also been a goal of our all year, so the “Win and You’re In” condition is also very attractive to us.”
Vaccarezza of Parkland, Fla., also said there will be a change of jockey for Little Mike, but had little concern. Regular rider Joe Bravo has elected to stay on the East Coast and ride Florida-bred Turbo Compressor in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer at Saratoga, also on Saturday. In Bravo’s place however, is jockey Ramon Dominquez, the Eclipse Award winner as North America’s champion jockey the last two years and winner of the 2009 Arlington Million on Gio Ponti.
The Dale Romans-trained Little Mike will be trying to become the fourth Florida-bred to win the Arlington Million in the 30-year history of the race when he breaks from post four. Other Arlington Million winners bred in the Sunshine State include Mecke (1996), Marlin (‘97) and Powerscourt (2005).
Boisterous comes into the Arlington Million off of a second-place performance to fellow Million entrant Rahystrada in the Grade 3 Arlington Handicap at Arlington Park Jul. 14. McGaughey has given the mount aboard Boisterous to jockey Jose Lezcano who will be riding the 5-year-old horse for the first time. One has to go back to the Grade 3 Fort Marcy Stakes at Belmont Park in May to find Boisterous’ last win with a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Manhattan Handicap at Belmont Park in June between his last race and last win.
Crackerjack King has won seven of nine career starts including the Group 1 Premio Presidente d’Repubblica GBI Racing Stakes at Capannelle Race Course in Italy May 13. In his last race he was fifth, beaten 11 1⁄2 lengths, by winner Nathaniel in the Coral Eclipse Stakes (G1) at Sandown Park in Great Britain July. 7. Marco Botti trains Crackerjack King and jockey Colm O’Donoghue will ride.
– Photo of Florida-bred Little Mike by Reed Palmer