Ultimately, despite the lack of overseas entrants, the Gr1 Arlington Million still had a touch of international flair thanks to Santin, a Godolphin home-bred stallion, who hoisted the trophy when Saturday’s race was moved to Churchill Downs.
Bloodhorse.com reports that Santin, a 4-year-old Kentucky-bred colt by Distorted Humor, shadowed pacemaker Smooth Like Strait at the stretch corner of the Million, challenged the three-sixteenth pole and passed to score with 1: 3 to win /4 lengths.
Smooth Like Strait came in second, while Sacred Life relegated Set Piece to third place.
Winning jockey Tyler Gaffalione said the plan from the start was to keep Santin near Smooth Like Strait and get a late run. That strategy became doubly important, he said, with the scratch of fast Megacity and with speed holding up well in the day’s only other turf race, the Beverly D. Stakes (G1T).
“Previously we drove in the Beverly D. and it looked like the speed held up pretty well at this track,” said Gaffalione. With the other speed scratching, we didn’t want to let Smooth Like Strait get away with it.”
Winning trainer Brendan Walsh said the million was similar to Santin’s victory in the Gr1 Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic at the same course on Kentucky Derby Day, May 7th.
“It was the same type of race,” Walsh said. “Tyler put him in a good position and we knew from the Beverly D. you probably wanted to be up there with the pace. He delivered what we thought was possible. He trained really well.”
Santin, out of the Medaglia d’Oro mare Sentiero Italia, was not ridden as a two-year-old, then won his first two races at the end of 2021. That year he came second in the Hollywood Derby (G1T) in Del Mar.
On his 4-year fairground debut, he finished fourth, then second at the Muniz Memorial Classic Presented by Horse Racing Nation (G2T), ironically behind Two Emmys, winners of the 2021 version of the Arlington Million, despite winning the Gr1 Mr D. Stakes and Run for $600,000.
He finished sixth in the Gr1 Resorts World Casino Manhattan Stakes at Belmont Park on June 11 at 1 1/4 miles.
“A mile and an eighth is probably as far as he wants,” Walsh said, citing distance as a factor in that loss. “I wouldn’t be shy about putting him back to a mile or a mile and a sixteenth.”
Smooth Like Strait, a 5-year-old son of Midnight Lute, continued a string of second and third places which now stands at seven. Many of them were a mile away, and in all of them he gave up the lead late. All were graded operations.
While Santin was bred in Kentucky, his Dubai-based owner maintained a historically international flavor for the race.
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It was only the third time in the history of the Million, which was held for the first time in 1981 and the first time since 1990 that no foreign-trained horse competed for the event, which is also shortened from its normal 1 1/4 this year became miles to 1 1/8 miles.
The Million was first held at Churchill Downs. The track’s parent company, Churchill Downs Inc., has closed its former home, Arlington International Racecourse near Chicago, and is in the process of selling the property to the Chicago Bears.
With the change in venue, CDI was not actively seeking foreign entrants for the million, which for decades was the crown jewel of Arlington’s “International Festival of Racing.” Churchill Downs originally announced four turf races for ‘Million Day’ but scraped two of those, including the Secretariat Stakes (G1T) for 3-year-olds, due to seasonal issues with its new turf pitch – another irony as Arlington’s lush turf was a major factor to attract European contributions.
Aside from apparently rewarding speed, the surface issues didn’t become an issue in either race.
“Of course it was a problem,” Walsh said. “But I think he showed over the Derby weekend that he’s handling it well and that’s what made us want to bring him here.”
“I thought Churchill prepared well for today,” added Gaffalione. “It’s a very safe course for us. We didn’t have any problems out there so we’re very grateful to them.”
Churchill Downs made a concerted effort to bring some Chicago flair to the day by offering Chicago-style hot dogs and chronicling the history of the race in its former home. Still, the mood was very different from the race, which began with the first seven-figure prize in Thoroughbred history, won by John Henry via The Bart in a stunning finish.
Walsh noticed the difference.
“When I came to America, the first track I went to was Arlington,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to win an Arlington Million. It’s not in Arlington. But winning an Arlington million, whatever it is, is the next best thing. We’ll take it.”
There was good news for a local breeder from this breed. Both the Wilgerbosdrift stallion Flower Alley and Santin are sons of Distorted Humor, while the Vaguely Noble mare Diamond Spring is Flower Alley’s third dam and Santin’s fourth dam.