ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. -- Each spring, fans of horse racing focus on the annual race of the world’s top three-year-olds, the Kentucky Derby. The Derby is a grade 1 states race, the top level of racing in the United States. It is an expensive ticket and a long way from Milwaukee.
True horse racing enthusiasts, though, know that the top level of horse racing can be enjoyed by Milwaukee horse racing fans every August on Arlington Million day at Arlington Race Track in Arlington Heights, Ill., near Chicago.
On Saturday evening, those in attendance at Arlington witnessed a first class edition of the famed Million. Irish-bred Mondialiste won the Grade 1 test, earning a berth into the Breeders' Cup. Jockey Daniel Tudhope, heels down and hands soft, piloted the 6-year-old through an oh-so-close finish to edge Kasaqui by a nose.
Mondialiste, who went off at 4-1, broke from the outside in the 1 1/4-mile race on the finest turf course in America.
The son of Galileo paid $10.80, $6.40 and $4.80. Kasaqui of Argentina returned $13.20 and $9.40 and Irish-bred Deauville paid $7 to show despite a poor outside draw.
Take the Stand set the pace and still led into the final turn before fading. Mondialiste, who finished second to Tepin in last year's Breeders' Cup Mile, will head to Santa Anita on Nov. 4-5 for the Breeders Turf.
Florent Geroux rode World Approval to seventh. The France-born jockey was attempting to sweep the day after winning the three earlier graded stakes races.
Illinois-bred The Pizza Man, who won the race last year and was a popular choice among betters, finished sixth after winning last year.
The race itself is enough to satisfy most horse racing aficionados, but there is so much more going on at Arlington during the annual August event.
The Arlington Million takes place after two other top-level graded stakes races are contested. The Beverly D attracts the top fillies and the Secretariat Stakes welcomes the top three-year-olds including Kentucky Derby contestants.
The top jockeys past and present show up at Arlington for the important August competition. Top rider Mike Smith flew in to ride beloved The Pizza Man and also took time to pose for pictures with fans to benefit the Thoroughbred Rescue Organization Canter.
This reporter enjoyed a lengthy discussion with retired hall of fame rider Earlie Fires known for his flawless and fearless riding aboard top horses including all-time-great Foolish Pleasure.
“I don’t know what the best horse was I ever rode,” he said wearily and asked the inevitable question. “I suppose everyone would say Foolish Pleasure because he won the Derby. You know, though, I also rode Swinging Mood and Pattee Canyon and Sweetest Chant. Buck’s Boy was a good one too!” He smiled confidently as he ran down the list from his illustrious career.
Like the Derby, Arlington Million day is an event. Fashion at the Races held a competitive fashion show for race goers. Men in seersucker suits and women in elaborate hats sipped drinks as they paraded before judges.
It may not be the Kentucky Derby, but it is the same level of racing and it is very close to Milwaukee!