If this is what Million Preview Day is like, what the heck will they do for an encore come Arlington Million Day?
How is this for an afternoon which featured four Grade III stakes worth a total of $750,000: the first three featured a margin of victory of a neck or less and the final one -- the Stars and Stripes -- saw Ioya Bigtime, from the Chris Block stable, pay a whopping $84 to win.
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Jockey Francisco Torres started off Million Preview Day with a bang, courtesy of a head-bobbing victory aboard Tiree in the $65,000 Coach Jimi Lee Stakes.
In the winner's circle afterward, Arlington's leading rider confessed to track analyst Jessica Pacheco that he was hoping to be back talking to her when the first of the four big races on the card -- The Modesty Handicap -- commenced.
It sure wasn't easy, though, as Torres and Romacaca ($4.50-1) survived an extended stretch duel with Snow Top Mountain ($5.90-1) and Julien Leparoux to win by a neck.
"This mare is awesome and she gets better and better every time I've been on her," said Torres, who had four wins through the first seven races on the card. "When Snow Top Mountain came to me, all that did was make my mare run a little harder."
In the American Derby, all Cozzetti (4-1) and jockey Shaun Bridgmohan needed in the final yards before the wire was just a little space. Any kind of space.
With All Stormy ($5.80-1) on the lead and Skyring to Cozzetti's outside, it looked like a lost cause, but somehow Bridgmohan finagled some room along the rail and got up just in time to edge out All Stormy for the win.
"The horse on the rail (All Stormy) drifted a little bit, so I went back down on the inside," Bridgmohan said. "It was a little tight, but he was game and he pulled through."
Of all the horses who figured to go to the lead in the Arlington Handicap, Rahystrada ($4.30-1) wasn't among them. But there he was anyway, leading at every call and holding on for a neck victory over a fast-closing Boisterous ($1.90-1) to pick up his 13th career victory.
"They told me there wasn't a lot of speed in the race, so I sent him out there and tried to hold my position," winning jockey Joel Rosario said. "I sent him out there and tried to hold my position."
That set the stage for the shocker in the stakes finale as Ioya Bigtime (41-1), with Jeffrey Sanchez aboard, stalked the pace in the 1½-miles marathon and then pulled out to a 6-length lead in the stretch before holding off favored Musketier (2-1).
Block's other horse in the race, Suntracer (16-1), finished third.
"Both of these horses trained well coming up to the race," Block said. "I knew Suntracer could get the mile-and-a-half, but I didn't know about Ioya Bigtime."
Yes and yes on both accounts.
"I let him be and he relaxed," Sanchez said. "Everything was perfect today."