Mike Stidham has won some big races during his career, including nine graded stakes among 22 stakes wins at Arlington Park, but the track’s Grade I races have eluded the veteran trainer.
Stidham hopes to remedy that situation on Saturday when he sends Lael Stable & All In Stable’s Willcox Inn and Stone Farm et. al.’s Upperline postward in the Arlington Million and Beverly D. Stakes, respectively.
“He’s doing really well,” Stidham said on Tuesday. “He came out of the work great and will gallop up to the race.
“He’s kind of established himself as a graded stakes horse, but we hope he takes the next step in Grade I company. The time off did him well. He came back better mentally, and with a race under his belt I think he’s ready to run his ‘A’ race.”
Upperline, meanwhile, has already raced five times this year, winning the Grade III Bewitch Stakes at Keeneland and the Grade III Arlington Matron here before placing in Woodbine’s $100,000 Trillium Stakes and Arlington’s Grade III Modesty Handicap ahead of her Beverly D. try. She worked five furlongs on Sunday at Arlington breezing in 1:01.
“It’s been a busy year for her already,” Stidham said. “She’s like Willcox Inn – established in graded stakes and looking for a Grade I performance. She was beaten just four lengths in this race last year behind some good horses. A step forward can get a bigger piece this year.”
Stidham has a pair of Grade I victories in his career, winning the 2006 Frizette with Sutra and the 1994 Coaching Club American Oaks with Two Altazano. Both of those wins came at Belmont Park in New York, and adding to his Grade I tally at Arlington Park would be extra special for the conditioner who ranks first in win percentage among trainers with at least 50 starters at the current meeting (28/108, 25.9%).
“It’d be big to win a Grade I on Million day,” Stidham said. “I really enjoy being here every summer, and we run a lot of horses and the fans know who we are.”
James Graham will ride both of Stidham’s charges on Saturday. The trainer said that these races were the summer goals for both Upperline and Willcox Inn, but that he would consider adding the Breeders’ Cup World Championships to their fall schedules with good performances on Saturday.
HALL OF FAME TRAINER MCGAUGHEY LOOKS FOR MARQUEE MILLION WIN
Claude R. “Shug” McGaughey has won many of the sport’s top prizes including classic and Breeders’ Cup races, but the Hall of Fame trainer would consider the Arlington Million as one of his crowning achievements should Boisterous win on Saturday.
“I’m dating myself with this, but I was there for the first one, and I think it’s a great race,” McGaughey said Tuesday. “I was training at Arlington that summer and they said, ‘We’re going to run a million-dollar race,’ and that was the craziest thing I ever heard. It would be a nice race for me or anyone else to win.”
Boisterous will be a part of a busy Saturday for Shug, who will be at Saratoga saddling Sea Island in the Grade I Alabama Stakes and Point of Entry in the Grade I Sword Dancer Invitational. The Sword Dancer is also for turf males, and McGaughey said it has been his plan all along to point the Phipps Stable homebreds—Boisterous and Point of Entry—to different Grade I races this summer.
“I wanted to keep them separated but in good company also,” McGaughey said. “Boisterous had a nice work [on Monday]. He seems to be coming into the race good; he’ll be a factor.”
Although McGaughey wants to keep Boisterous and Point of Entry away from each other in the starting gate, he has worked them together. The pair went five furlongs together in 1:00.40 on August 7 at Saratoga but worked separately on Monday.
Boisterous has two wins from four starts at the Million distance of 1 ¼ miles, and McGaughey said he would like new jockey Jose Lezcano to have Boisterous closer to the pace than in the Grade III Arlington Handicap when behind 11 lengths through a half in :48.40.
Boisterous is McGaughey’s third Million entrant, but he would only be the trainer’s second starter. McGaughey scratched Lure in 1993 because of soft ground and saddled Good Reward to an eighth-place finish in 2005 on yielding going.
“Lure was the morning line favorite, but he didn’t favor soft turf, and when I got there that day it had been raining as hard as it could all day, so we had to scratch,” McGaughey said. “Good Reward didn’t like the softer turf either, but Boisterous would like it. Soft would be fine with us.”
The course is unlikely to be rated as soft come Saturday afternoon, but forecasted rain for mid-week could give the turf that “give” McGaughey wants.
“A little bit of give would help,” McGaughey said. “It was hard in the (Grade I) Manhattan, and [Boisterous] finished fast, but he doesn’t have quite the same kick when it’s hard. It doesn’t have to be soft, but we want a little bit of give.”
Boisterous arrives on Thursday.