Although Little Mike took a different rider into the starting gate of the Arlington Million (G1), the game plan was the same. So obvious was the plan that the opposing jockeys were well aware that Little Mike would get the early lead in the $1 million race — but still they could do nothing to defeat him.
And that is the way Little Mike and jockey Ramon Dominguez executed the course of action in the 1 ¼ mile turf race at Arlington International Race Course near Chicago. Little Mike jumped out of the gate and went right to the lead from post position four with Wilcox Inn giving chase in second and Colombian racing third, more than a length back, as they passed the grandstand for the first time. Just as fast as Little Mike got the lead however, Dominguez was able to slow the Florida-bred horse into his winning pace, going the first quarter mile in :25.10 and the first half-mile in :49.95. As if that wasn’t slow enough, they nearly put the field of 11 international runners into a gallop as they finished six furlongs in 1:15.03 and the mile in 1:39.54.
By that time the race was all but over as Little Mike sprinted away from Wilcox Inn and Colombian as they turned for home. At one point in the stretch, Little Mike was more than four lengths in front before eventual runner-up Afsare made his late run that fell short by a length and one-half. Afsare was another length and-a-half ahead of Rahystrada and Colombian, who had dead heated for third. Final time of the race was 2:02.44 as Little Mike ran the last quarter of a mile in a rapid :22.50.
“[Little Mike] was running very comfortable,” Dominguez said after the race. “Turning for home when I decided to let him run, he beautifully started opening up. I wasn’t sure how slow we were going. I got him to the three-eighths pole and he started to open it up. I tried to slow him down [early], but [for the rest of the way] I was going to let him spring home. He galloped home like a freight train.”
It was the second Arlington Million for Dominquez who also won aboard Gio Ponti in 2009. Just as Dominquez was elated with the way the Arlington Million played out however, Kieren Fallon aboard Afsare felt nothing but frustration.
“I knew what was happening [with eventual winner Little Mike setting a slow pace]. But there was nothing I could do about it,” Fallon said. “I had to ride my horse to win, and there was nothing I could do. I had to ride my horse to win, and there was no pace.”
Pace is the key to success for Little Mike. In his last five races going back to a Dec. 22 optional claiming race victory at Gulfstream Park, when Little Mike has been able to get to the half-mile pole in :47.90 or slower, he has won. He went the half in :48.27 in winning the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs May 5 and he went in :48.01 while winning the $150,000 Sunshine Millions Turf Jan. 28, also at Gulfstream. Distance does not seem to factor into his success too much. Both of those races were at 1 1⁄8 miles. In his last race, he was third behind Florida-bred Jeranimo in the Shoemaker Mile (G1) at Betfair Hollywood Park after a half in :46.40. He also won the 2011 Canadian Turf (G3) at one mile after a half in :45.42 so he is capable of going faster early and winning. But give Little Mike a half in :48 or so and he appears deadly.
It was the eleventh win from 19 career starts for Little Mike who is trained by Dale Romans for Priscilla Vaccarezza of Parkland, Fla. The $570,000 first -place check in the Million makes Little Mike the newest Florida-bred millionaire with a career bankroll of $1,436,412. He also joins Ron the Greek as Florida-breds with two Grade 1 victories this year.
Bred by Carlo E. Vaccarezza, also of Parkland, Little Mike will now be pointed to Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita Nov. 3 as the Arlington Million was a “Win and You’re In” race. Entry fees to either the Breeders’ Cup Turf or Breeders’ Cup Mile and a travel expense allowance will now be paid to Ms. Vaccarezza.
“This is Florida’s horse,” said Carlo Vaccarezza, who owns Frank and Dino’s restaurant in Dearfield Beach and Damiano’s restaurant in Boca Raton, Florida along with partner John Williams. “And I want to say that Dale Romans is not just my trainer but my friend. He’s done such a tremendous job with Little Mike. A great deal of credit also goes to Jimmy Crupi [of Ocala and who gave Little Mike his early training.]
“But I was also so happy to win the Arlington Million for America. Before the race, the [Europeans] were all so cocky saying they were going to beat us. But Little Mike kicked [them into defeat.]”
Little Mike ended a streak of eight straight wins by European-based runners in International Festival races at Arlington Park that also include the $750,000 Beverly D. (G1), $500,000 Secretariat Stakes (G1) and the $400,000 American St. Leger Stakes. The last American-based horse to win a Festival race was the Dale Roman’s-trained Paddy O’Prado who took the 2010 Secretariat Stakes.
Little Mike paid $9.80 for a $2 win ticket, $5.60 to place and $4.40 to show. Afsare returned $6.60 and $4.80. Rahystrada paid $4.40 to show while Colombian returned $3.80 to show.