What might Chad Brown do for a Million Day encore?
Last Aug. 11, Chad Brown produced one of the all-time greatest performances since Arlington Park opened in 1927.
In addition to becoming first trainer to win back-to-back Arlington Millions, Brown also became the first to saddle the first two finishers in the Million, first three in the Beverly D. and the first to win the Million and Beverly D. in the same year.
Remarkably, a successful encore is still not out of the question for the 40-year-old New York based horseman who leads the nation with 32 graded stakes win this year (next closest is 16 by Steve Asmussen).
Brown returns to Arlington Heights on Saturday with defending champ Robert Bruce, second choice in the morning line at 7-2, for the 37th running of the Million.
But that's hardly his top performer for the 1¼-mile turf classic.
Brown also will saddle the 8-5 morningline prerace favorite Bricks and Mortar, who has 3 Grade I wins and 1 Grade III in four tries this year.
In all, Brown has seven starters in the Festival's three Grade I races, one shy of his eight last year.
He won the Beverly D. last year with Sistercharlie and was second in the Secretariat with Analyze It.
Sistercharlie returns to defend her title in the Beverly D. as the 8-5 morningline favorite.
Brown also has the morningline favorite in the Secretariat with Fog of War at 3-1.
"It's phenomenal what's he done," said Howard Sudberry, Arlington Park's senior director of marketing and communications.
Brown $16.1 million in earnings this year also is tops in the nation ahead of Asmussen ($15.7).
"Chad Brown has really taken over not only grass but now you see his horses running at a high-level class on the dirt," said Chris Block, who became Arlington's all-time stakes winning leader (45) in July, surpassing Harry Trotsek (44). "He is a phenomenal horseman with a great staff and good horses. And that's a hard combination to beat."
Block will try to beat Brown in the 10-horse Million field by sending out Captivating Moon, who was third in the Arlington Handicap behind Million starters Bandua and The Great Day on July 13.
It was Captivating Moon's first start since last September.
"I'm happy to be in the race," said Block, whose only other time in the Million was 2006 with Mystery Giver. "I actually made this kind of a last-second decision. To be honest, I really wasn't thinking about it until entry day when I took a look at who was going to be in the race.
"Bricks and Mortars looks pretty invincible, but anything is possible in horse racing. I sort of looked at it that if he wins, fine, and someone else has to be second and third."
Last year, Brown was second in the race with Alamanaar.
It would hardly surprise Alastair Donald, an executive of the International Racing Bureau, if Brown's horses finish 1-2 again.
"I think Chad Brown might have a very big say how things pan out in all the races over the weekend," said Donald, a regular visitor to Million weekend. "He has two very solid performers in Bricks and Mortar and Robert Bruce. I expect them both to run well, and they might be the exacta in the race."
Famed Ireland-based trainer Aidan O'Brien will start two horses in each of the three grade I races, including Fleeting, the second morningline choice in the Beverly D.
"I would never underestimate Chad Brown about anything, but there is a guy named Aidan O'Brien who ships some over and you never know what he brings, or the same for the other European trainers. So it's going to be a great day of racing."
"It's an interesting bunch for Aidan," Alastair said of O'Brien, who won the Million in 2005 (Powerscourt) and 2011 (Cape Blanco). "I think he has some pretty competitive runners and some new horses for all three races."
Saturday's Grade I races will have a local flavor. Fans will recognize names in all three events.
Wayne Catalano, one of two trainers to win more than 1,000 races at Arlington, along with all-time leader Richard Hazelton (1,181), sends out Clint Maroon in the Secretariat, while Michael Stidham will saddle The Last Zip.
Illinois native Brad Ross handles Oh So Terrible, a 30-1 longshot for the Beverly D.
Jose Valdivia, Arlington's second-leading rider, gets the call on Oh So Terrible and Captivating Moon, while Sophie Doyle will become the sixth female to ride in the Million when she pilots 30-1 longshot Argentine bred Catcho En Die.
Arlington's leading rider, Mitchell Murrill, steers Remember Daisy in the Beverly D.
"It adds a great flavor when the home team is involved," Sudberry said. "You are taking on the rest of the world, and that's what makes horse racing. You never know."