ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. (AP) - Carlo Vaccarezza, co-owner and breeder of Arlington Million defender Little Mike, had a scare in the spring when his 6-year-old gelding came up lame after a race in Dubai.
After three months of rehab brought Little Mike back to form, Vaccarezza is looking for his horse to become the first back-to-back winner of the Million. Three losses in as many races this year, including Little Mike's return to the track in June, means the gelding is only the third favorite, at 5-1. But Vaccarezza believes Little Mike, who won four of seven starts last year, is the best in the 13-horse field for Saturday's race.
``The horse is at the peak of his career, and is going to come back and run huge,'' Vaccarezza said.
Irish import Grandeur drew the outside post and was installed as the morning-line favorite at 7-2 odds, with Argentina's Indy Point at 9-2 and Little Mike third. Grandeur was second in its most recent race, at York in England, and fourth in the other race it ran this year. Indy Point scored a victory in its only race this year, at Del Mar in July, with Gary Stevens aboard.
Stevens was Little Mike's jockey for a late March race in Dubai, and opened with a sub-24-second first quarter-mile. Vaccarezza termed it ``a brutal pace, an absolutely horrendous pace.'' The horse came up lame soon after, and the long rehab kept him sidelined until the United Nations Handicap on July 6 at Monmouth.
``His ankle was the size of a watermelon,'' Vaccarezza said. ``Luckily, it was not a fracture. So we shipped back to New York.''
Joel Rosario, jockey for Kentucky Derby winner Orb, guided Little Mike to a fourth-place finish in the United Nations that likely would have been higher if not for a bad step at the top of the stretch, and will be aboard on Saturday.
``You can draw a line through the races in Dubai,'' Vaccarezza said. ``The horse has no excuse here.''
If Little Mike wins Saturday's race, then Vaccarezza has a plan.
``This horse won the three most prestigious (turf) races in the United States,'' Vaccarezza said of Little Mike's 2012 resume, which included wins at up to 1 1/2 miles. ``Wise Dan won three races at a mile, and he got the Eclipse for Horse of the Year. I will argue with anybody about that. I'd like to win this race, and then challenge Wise Dan to a match race at 1 1/8 miles or 1 1/4 miles. Let's meet halfway. If not for anything else, it would be good for racing.''
Wise Dan, not entered in the Million, has won all four starts this season, including last Saturday's Fourstardave Handicap at Saratoga.