Chicago Sun-Times

August 20, 2000

Arlington’s big day


By Jim O’Donnell, Chicago Sun-Times, August 20, 2000


In a box seat under the clouds, Bobby Frankel was talking to himself Saturday afternoon.

Within the hour, most of the 26,664 Million Day fans at Arlington International Racecourse would be talking about the 59-year-old Hall of Fame trainer.

Less than 90 minutes after his heavily favored Happyanunoit was upset in the $500,000 Beverly D., Frankel’s Chester House benefited from world-class piloting by Jerry Bailey to win the 18th running of the Arlington Million.

Bailey kept the baffling Mr. Prospector 5-year-old ($9.60) on the rail, off the leaders, throughout the 1 1/4-mile grass classic. He finally got a hold turning for home when the pace-setting Asidero (7-2) drifted, allowing Chester House to storm to the wire. He beat charging runner-up Manndar (3-1) by 3 1/4 lengths. Long shot Mula Gula (25-1), with Chicago ace Mark Guidry in the irons, was a length farther back in third.

“It is an amazing feeling,” said Frankel, who was 0-12 in Millions heading into Saturday’s centerpiece–along with 0-84 in Breeders’ Cups and 0-9 in Triple Crown races. “After Happyanunoit got beat, I sat there by myself telling myself, ‘You just can’t win big races.'”

Frankel’s pessimism seemed well-placed, particularly since Chester House hadn’t won this year and had never won a grass race in America. But a strong second in the recent Grade II Eddie Read at Del Mar and a switch to Bailey in the saddle for the $2 million Million appeared to make the horse competitive among the seven entered. Bailey’s brilliant tactics made all the difference Saturday on the yielding Arlington turf.

“I was right where I wanted to be, saving ground,” said Bailey, who earlier had won the Beverly D. with Snow Polina for Bill Mott and would later get caught in the closing strides of the $400,000 Secretariat aboard Mott’s King Cugat.

“The only problem was that I was going to be jammed in. But I also figured that when Alex [Solis] asked Asidero to run coming out of the turn, the horse would likely move off the rail a bit. It’s very, very difficult to ask a horse who has been in front to run on turning for home and stick to the rail.”

Bailey’s anticipatory strategy was precise. Solis–who had moved Asidero out of post-position one through quarter splits of :24.20, :47.73, 1:11.85 and 1:37.30–left a hole as he tried to coax a closing run from the Ron McAnally trainee. Asidero’s wobbliness gave Bailey the chance he needed.

“You are in a funny spot at that point,” Bailey said. “You can only ask for run from your horse once, so you’ve got to wait. Ask too soon and the horse may run up someone’s behind. As soon as Asidero moved out, I asked. I never asked before the hole opened up.”

Down the stretch, Chester House was clearly getting the best of it, although all seven horses were strung across the track, each in his own lane, outside the eighth pole. To the surprise of the pari-mutuel crowd, while Bailey was flying inside, Guidry and the outsider Mula Gula were motoring into second seven-wide.

“At the top of the stretch, I thought we had it,” said Guidry, Arlington’s leading jockey and a first-time Million participant on the Jerry Hollendorfer colt. “I went wide because out of the turn, there were four across and two behind, so that was automatic. We ran hard to the end.”

While Chester House and Mula Gula were moving into the final 100 yards ahead of the pack, Manndar (3-1) and Bienamado (5-2) were also unleashing their money runs, with Manndar getting up for second.

In the smallest Million on record–and the first to offer that $2 million kitty–Frankel and Chester House owner Juddmonte Farms cashed for $1.2 million thanks to Bailey’s headiness.

“This game is so much about perceptions,” Frankel said later. “The press can make you, the press can bury you. In these big races, I’ve been getting buried for a long time.”

Saturday, the burial stopped. And the clouds lifted. And Bobby Frankel could finally stop talking to himself.