Returning to the site of his first ever graded stakes win, Winchester comes back to the turf at Arlington Park for today’s G3 Stars and Stripes Stakes. It has been an interesting racing career for the 6 year old. Between today’s stakes and the Secretariat Stakes at Arlington in 2008, Winchester has reached a few highs and lows. After romping home and running away by 7 lengths, this horse looked like a serious contender for the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Turf. But things didn’t go according to plan. Against a healthy field of European Turf specialists, Winchester was unable to deliver and finished 7th. Following the BC Turf, Winchester came back in December in the Hollywood Turf Cup. Again, he just couldn’t find it and finished 6th.
Owners, Mr. and Mrs. Bertram Firestone and trainer, Christophe Clement still had high hopes for the young horse. Like anyone would, they definitely felt their horse could make it back to the Breeders’ Cup in 2009. After a 7 month layoff, Winchester didn’t make it there and wound up losing all four races in his 4 yr old campaign. Considering one of those races was an Allowance Optional Claimer where he finished 6th, no handicapper had reason to think Winchester could find the promise he showed after winning the Secretariat Stakes at age 3. But 2010 ended a little different.
At age 5 Winchester got started earlier. The earliest he had ever raced in the Calendar was April at age 3 and the majority of his races took place in the summer and fall. This time it was the G2 Mac Diarmida Stakes in February. After finishing 2nd there and 4th in the Pan American Stakes, Winchester found the winners circle again. Although it was an Allowance it set him up for his first ever back to back wins. Last June Winchester found his way and his form when he took home the G1 Manhattan Stakes at Belmont Park. Overcoming a strong field and heavy favorite Gio Ponti, the win brought him back into the fold for the Breeders’ Cup Turf. In the 4 races following the Manhattan Winchester finished 3rd, 2nd and 1st before finishing 4th and just out of the money in last years Breeders’ Cup Turf.
After another 7 month layoff the six-year-old opens up his 2011 campaign today as the heavy favorite. At 1-2 he the obvious choice in a field that is considered over matched. Since this is the first race of the year Winchester might not be ready to perform at the highest level he’ll find this year. However, he might not need to find his A game to win in today’s 1 1/2 Mile Stakes over the turf at Arlington. The distance suits his style and it will require a strong bid to take him down.
The field of 7 does have a few upset contenders to consider. Proceed Bee returns to the Arlington turf after finishing 6th in the G3 Arlington Handicap on July 9th. Though it wasn’t his best effort, if he can race at the level he showed when winning the Prairie Meadows Handicap last summer, he’ll be in position to bid for the upset. 2009 Stars and Stripes winner Free Fighter should also be considered. Now trained by Mike Reavis, the 4th place finisher in the Arlington Cap might find the stride that got him to winners circle in this race before. The horse coming in off a win and looking to keep things rolling is Kingofthebluegrass. His win was in the Independence Stakes on 7/3 at Mountaineer. This will be his debut at Arlington Park.
Grade 3 $100,000 Stars and Stripes Stakes — 3 yr olds & up, 1 1/2 Mile, Turf Post Position, Horse, Jockey, Trainer, ML Odds
- Kingofthebluegrass J. Alvarado T. McCauley 6-1
- Proceed Bee C. Emigh S. Becker 6-1
- Hattaash T. Riggs C. Bettis 15-1
- Lemonade Kid J. Santana A. Mitchell 12-1
- Winchester C. Velasquez C. Clement 1-2
- Free Fighter T. Thornton M. Reavis 6-1
- Getta Rhythm J. Graham M. Kendrick 20-1
Finally, the only concern for our favorite was the firm conditions on the Turf at Arlington. Up until today there was likely to be good news for Winchester. Last nights rain, which turned out to be the largest single-day rainfall in Chicago’s history, would have played in his favor and softened up the course just a bit. However, according to AP Changes, all races will now be run over the main track’s synthetic surface. There are no scratches to report even though this will be the first race off the turf for a few of these horses, including Winchester. More rain is likely today but it should be another great day at Arlington.
Written by: Little Brink