Racing: Tin Man steals Million as Phoenix fails to fire

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The Independent Online

International racing owes much of its impetus and credibility to this place - to a time when, as they say, a million dollars was a lot of money, and also to horses of such vintage resonance as John Henry and Teleprompter. But the concept would never have left the departure lounge had horses, or jockeys at any rate, always been as meek as those who flew in for the 24th Arlington Million. In truth the British, Irish, French and Germans might as well have replaced their national flags, flying proudly alongside the Stars and Stripes in the home straight, with white ones.

The Tin Man was foaled some time around Prohibition, but he was granted such an easy lead that his rivals seemed stricken by a misplaced respect for the elderly. The fractions might sooner have been measured with a sundial than a stopwatch. By the time the other jockeys woke up to what was happening, Victor Espinoza and an eight-year-old gelding had stolen a million dollars in broad daylight. Chicago has seen nothing like it since the days of Al Capone. The Tin Man rattled two lengths clear into the bend and Cacique, himself prominent throughout, could only halve that advantage by the post. Soldier Hollow fared best of the Europeans in third.

Richard Mandella had rubbed his eyes as the numbers flashed on to the big screen. "I'm no mathematician," the winning trainer said. "But when I saw they had done a half in 50 I knew what that meant." Specifically, it meant that he had been allowed an extra 3.5 seconds to cover the first half-mile compared with the leader in the preceding Beverly D Stakes. "I knew then that it would take some crazy horse to get past me," Espinoza said.

In fairness to The Tin Man, this success merely crowns the Indian summer that has now seen him beaten by only one horse - David Junior, at Nad al Sheba in March - in four starts since his return from a year off with injury. Nor does this rejuvenation qualify him as the oldest winner of the Million. John Henry, who mastered The Bart in an epic duel for the inaugural running in 1981, returned to win it in 1984, aged nine.

The immortal brawl between John Henry and The Bart is preserved in a scale bronze over the parade ring here. It is entitled "Against All Odds", very much an axiom for this racecourse and its owner, Dick Duchossois, at 84 no less spry then The Tin Man. The outlook of "Mr D" is expressed more plainly by another caption, beneath a picture of the grandstand after its devastation by fire, just 25 days before 35,000 watched the 1985 Million: "Quit? Hell no!"

And that in turn tells the story of The Tin Man and his trainer, the blacksmith's son who forged four winners at the 2003 Breeders' Cup. "He has had injuries that would have stopped most other horses for good," Mandella said. "He bowed both tendons when he was two, and then a couple of years ago he wrenched an ankle. But he seems better than ever now. Just you wait till he's 10."

Whether Phoenix Reach will ever rise again from his own flames is another matter. Making his first start in 13 months, he raced too excitably behind the early crawl but rapidly lost interest after that. He trailed in last, while Ace squandered a good early position and took sixth place in the procession down the stretch.

But the other Ballydoyle runner, Ivan Denisovich, ran his best race of the season in the Secretariat Stakes. Again the winner, Showing Up - who has been beaten only in the Kentucky Derby - was permitted first run. John Velasquez and Ivan Denisovich were obliged to challenge around weakening rivals and would certainly have gone closer otherwise. The colt clearly finds the local racing environment congenial and should pick up a good prize here.

Martin Dwyer, Phoenix Reach's jockey, also finished last on Rising Cross in the Beverly D, where Gorella promised formidable opposition for Ouija Board in the fillies' race at the Breeders' Cup. But the race will go down in Turf history as the first of many Grade One successes for his brilliant young rider, Julien Leparoux. As a Frenchman, at least he put some colour back into one of those flags.

Chris McGrath

Nap: Underscore (Wolverhampton 4.00)

NB: Top Royelle (Windsor 5.45)