European Invader Mekhtaal Formidable in Arlington Million


By Ellis Starr, courtesy America's Best Racing

The field for the 35th running of the Grade 1, $1 million Arlington Million consists of 12 expected horses, including three coming in from Europe to Arlington Park for the hefty purse and a "Win and You're In" starting spot in the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf this November. In terms of money earned and being a fan favorite, 2015 Million winner The Pizza Man comes to mind first, but on the other hand he is 8 years old now and comes into the race even a bit slower than last year when he finished sixth.

Of the European contingent, Group 1 Prix d'Ispahan Stakes winner Mekhtaal deserves mention as does 2016 Million third-place finisher Deauville, who was last seen missing by a head in the Group 3 Meld Stakes in Ireland. Group 1 Caulfield Cup runner-up Scottish may have been competitive but has been declared out of the race. Another among the U.S. contingent with a win at this level is Ascend, winner of the Grade 1 Manhattan Stakes in June. Ghost Hunter and Oak Brook just finished first and second, respectively, in the Grade 3 Arlington Handicap, the local prep for the Million. Others with stakes-winning credentials include Divisidero, who won the Grade 1 Turf Classic Stakes in May, as well as Beach Patrol, runner-up in four graded stakes between October of last year and May of this year including a half-length defeat to Divisidero in the Turf Classic. Enterprising won the Grade 2 Muniz Memorial Handicap in April so also fits with these as does Kasaqui, who finished third in that race and two races later won the Grade 2 Wise Dan Stakes. Other entrants include Oscar Nominated, who has managed to win more than $800,000 in his career but has never won a graded stakes on turf. Fanciful Angel is another horse that has yet to win a group or graded stakes and rounds out the field.

Main contenders:

Mekhtaal is a Group 1 stakes winner and that is the first requirement for being a win contender in a Grade 1 race. He is just a 4-year-old so is still not fully mature, which means he can run even better than he did when winning the Prix d'Ispahan Stakes in France in May, with an Equibase Speed Figure of 119 (foreign race figure from STATS Race Lens). That 119 figure was as good as the 119 figure Deauville earned when beaten just a half-length in the 2016 Million. Facing even tougher one month later in the Price of Wales Stakes, Mekhtaal wasn't disgraced one bit when beaten just three lengths by multiple group and grade 1 stakes winner Highland Reel and earning a 120 figure. Only worse than second one time in six races at this mile and a quarter trip on grass and with champion jockey Frankie Dettori coming across the pond to ride, Mekhtaal also has a perfect 3-for-3 record on firm turf and could be the one to beat in this year's Arlington Million.

Deauville shipped to the U.S. last summer and won the Belmont Derby Invitational against 3-year-olds before a banner effort in last year's Million, making the lead with an eighth of a mile to go and beaten just two necks on the wire. He took the rest of 2016 off after that and won the Huxley Stakes this past May before a huge effort when third of 16 in the Queen Anne Stakes behind Ribchester and next out winner Mutakayyef. That effort earned a 122 figure so Deauville enters this year's Million in form as good as last year and as such must be taken very seriously as a contender for all the marbles.

Kasaqui missed by a neck in last year's Million behind Mondialiste, a multiple Grade 1 stakes winner and runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Mile the previous fall. Earning a career-best 119 figure with that effort, Kasaqui did not win again in 2016 and took some time off, returning with a pair of runner-up efforts in graded stakes before a strong win this June in the Wise Dan Stakes with a 114 figure. Improving to a 117 figure even though third in his most recent start in the Arlington Handicap, Kasaqui returns to the mile and a quarter trip he's very fond of, having been first or second in six of seven tries. Although overall having 10 runner-up finishes to go along with six wins may mean he's a cut below the best, Kasaqui is on a pattern for his best race of 2017 and must be respected as a contender.

Ghost Hunter and Oak Brook beat Kasaqui when finishing first and second, respectively, in the Arlington Handicap over the course last month and are two more to be used when considering wagers involving this race (there is value to be had by going a bit deeper than one might normally because there are 13 entrants and the payoffs should be worth the risk of a bigger investment). Ghost Hunter earned a career-best 118 figure with that effort and Oak Brook earned a career-best 117. Those efforts, if repeated, give them both a shot at being in the top positions in this year's Arlington Million. For the exacta and trifecta, I would also not rule out The Pizza Man, still running his heart out at the age of 8.

Here is the rest of the Arlington Million field, with their best representative figures: Ascend (112), Beach Patrol (117), Divisidero (117), Enterprising (112), Fanciful Angel (103) and Oscar Nominated (112).

Please note: Equibase Speed Figures on foreign races are available through STATS Race Lens.

My selections:

Ghost Hunter/Oak Brook (for exotic wagers)