OK, if Saturday is any indication of what it’s going to be like at Arlington Park in about a month or so, you might want to go ahead and order your Million Day tickets now because you’re in for a treat.
The big crowd that showed up for Million Preview Day sure was treated to a special day, one that included jockey Rosie Napravnik flying into town in the morning and flying out later that evening having won two of the four Grade III turf races on the card — the Stars and Stripes and the Arlington Handicap.
Or how about locally-based jockey Channing Hill picking up his first victory since returning from a shoulder injury he suffered in a spill two weeks ago ... and doing it in the $200,000 American Derby?
But the denouement had to be the performance of the ageless (OK, he’s actually 9) Rahystrada, who willed himself to victory down the stretch — and, en route, became the first three-time winner of the Arlington Handicap and the oldest one, to boot.
“I’m tickled to death. I’m shaking,” said Robert Courtney Jr., owner of Rahystrada. “He’s the only horse in history to win this race three times.
“It’s quite a thing.”
Indeed it is, and with his victory, the Byron Hughes trainee, who was ridden by Napravnik, earned himself yet another shot (his fourth) at going for the gold in next month’s running of the Arlington Million.
“We’re as amazed as anybody,” Hughes said. “He keeps telling us he wants to go ... so we go.”
But Rahystrada, who also won the Handicap in 2010 and 2012, really had to work for his three-peat.
After dispatching front-running Beer Garden entering the far turn, he then had to dig deep to hold off Temeraine and race favorite Dullahan down the stretch for a half-length victory in the finale of the four-stake festival.
“Even when I rode him down at Churchill he was such a cool horse,” Napravnik said. “He’s got as much heart as any of them.”
In the first stakes race of the day, the 1½ miles Stars and Stripes, Napravnik got things rolling with a win aboard heavily favored Dark Cove.
Napravnik and Dark Cove were sitting chilly in second place the first time the field went under the finish line in the marathon race, but the next time the big crowd saw them heading down the stretch, the pair were holding off futile closing attempts by Suntracer and The Pizza Man to pick up career victory No. 9 by 1¾ lengths.
“He ran a great race,” trainer Mike Maker said.
In the American Derby, Channing Hill rode a great race aboard Infinite Magic, saving ground throughout and then finding a seam between horses turning for home and then outkicking fast-closing favorite Admiral Kitten to win by a head at 12-1 odds.
“This was a great way for me to get my first win off the injury,” Hill said. “The thing I was concerned about was not being able to see the other horses all the way (on the outside), but once he did, he ended up re-breaking and I was surprised how much horse we had to the wire.”
In the Modesty Handicap, race favorite La Tia, as expected, went right to the lead, but she didn’t have quite enough gas in the tank late and finished third behind Ausus and Artemus Kitten.
“We think she can run all day,” trainer Dan Peitz said of Ausus. “She had a little bit of a rough start the last time out (in the Arlington Matron) where she tried to run through gate.
“But she redeemed herself today. We finally won a stakes race with her, and now it’s on to the Beverly D.”Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.