So many of my happy memories from last summer bring sadness today.
Nine-year-old Saint Leon, in winning his third consecutive Arlington Sprint, reminded a field of younger horses that he still owned five and a half furlongs of the local grass. Istanford, facing males for the first time in the Arlington Classic (GIII), kept them chasing her from gate to wire. Flower Spell held a tenacious second behind My Option in the Chicago Handicap (GIII), despite the race being a furlong longer than her best. Champagne rained on veteran rider Chris Emigh after he guided Avanzare to victory in the Washington Park Handicap (GIII), a race which marked his 3,500th career win.
Arlington Park released its stakes schedule for the coming year, and these races I remember so fondly are among seven that will not happen in 2015.
Of course, my own memories from last summer are the tiniest part of what recedes farther into the mists of time with today’s announcement. Dr. Fager set his world record for a mile on the dirt in the 1968 edition of the Washington Park Handicap. Dr. Fager also won the Arlington Classic, just like Gallant Fox, Omaha, and Alydar. The roll of Chicago Handicap winners includes the great sprinter Safely Kept, and the Arlington Oaks counts Alcibiades, Top Flight, and Sweetest Chant among its conquerors. Sweetest Chant won the Arlington Matron, too. Sixty Sails, still the namesake of a Grade III event at Hawthorne, won the Arlington Matron twice; Pucker Up, whose namesake stakes survives at Arlington, won the Matron as well.
Though neither the Arlington Sprint nor the Hatoof has been around long enough to amass such illustrious lists of winners, they will still be missed.
The Arlington Sprint counts Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Chamberlain Bridge among its winners, as well as three-time winner Bet On Sunshine. Losing the Arlington Sprint from the calendar also means that Saint Leon will not be able to defend his title at age ten. Even if he returns strongly this summer, the race itself will no longer be there for him.
The Hatoof Stakes had been, as measured at the entry box, the most popular stakes race on the Arlington calendar in recent times. It had been split into two divisions four times in its history, including in 2014. It was won in 2013 by a multiple graded stakes winner who remains one of the more popular horses to run at Arlington: I’m Already Sexy.
The new schedule makes sense in a cold and practical sort of way. With as deeply as the purses have been cut for all but four of the stakes on the schedule, the quality of the remaining stakes would suffer if the prizes were spread even more thinly.
However, it is hard to feel cold and practical immediately after being punched in the gut.
Tomorrow, I’ll move forward and focus on the silver linings. Maybe some of these races will be resurrected if the racing situation in the state improves. After all, if the Arlington Oaks can return after being gone between Top Flight’s win in 1932 and Ribbon’s 1980 victory, can’t it rise again? We can dream.
Even in a more immediate sense, we can find some good. All six Illinois-bred stakes races from last year’s Arlington schedule remain on the calendar, giving the locals a chance to shine. All four Million Preview Day stakes races will be run again in 2015. Arlington Million Day will again be an international spectacle, and the purses for the four marquee races remain the same as last year’s. The American St. Leger assumes a well deserved Grade III ranking, after having been a listed event for the last three years.
Tonight? I mourn.