Arlington Park: Arlington Million (Grade 1) 1m2f, turf, 3yo+
Allowed his own way up front under US champion jockey Ramon Dominguez, the Dale Romans-trained Little Mike thwarted a strong European team with a comfortable all-the-way victory in the Arlington Million in Chicago on Saturday.
The Luca Cumani-trained Afsare got upset in the preliminaries before snatching second in the 30th running of the storied contest, highlight of the Arlington International Festival of Racing.
Visitors had claimed all three supporting features via I'm A Dreamer and Bayrir, who both claimed Grade 1 victories, and Jakkalberry, who won the inaugural American St Leger.
In the main event, Venezuelan-born Dominguez, winner of the last two Eclipse Awards, was allowed to completely dictate matters on Little Mike, who led by five lengths at one stage, despite setting only a measured pace.
Winner of the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on Kentucky Derby day, the five-year-old was returned just short of a 4-1 shot as he cruised home to score by a length and a half from Afsare, with the John Gosden-trained Colombian dead-heating for third with popular local hope Rahystrada.
"He was running very comfortable," said Dominguez. "Turning for home when I decided to let him run, he beautifully started opening up. He galloped home like a freight train."
Winning trainer Dale Romans added: "Nobody thought he could go a mile and an eighth. So a little different pace scenario, when you go three-quarters in 1:15 he's going to be hard to catch."
Afsare's jockey Kieren Fallon said he was well aware of Dominguez's attempts to steal the race from the front. "I know what was happening - and there was nothing I could do," he said.
"I had to ride my horse to win, and there was no pace. His antics didn't cost him - he just acts like a spoiled child sometimes and didn't want the gate. He has a big race in him."
Colombian's rider William Buick was taking third place for the third time on the card after earlier placings on Zuider Zee and Joviality.
"He probably ran the race of his life," he said. "We're certainly happy. You'd like to win every time you go out there but I'll settle for what I got today. What an honest race he ran."
Of the other overseas visitors, Crackerjack King finished fifth, with Treasure Beach sixth and Wigmore Hall seventh.
Colm O'Donoghue was happy enough with Crackerjack King. "He really needed firmer ground but he ran a very solid race," said the jockey, who had earlier ridden Jakkalberry to victory. "He handled the ground good and travelled well but he really needs firmer going to fire his best shot."
Jamie Spencer, who won last year's Million with Cape Blanco, suggested Treasure Beach had lost his race as soon as the stalls opened. "He got squeezed out at the start and the race was over after that," he said.