ARLINGTON HEIGHTS – The great ones find a way to continually reinvent themselves, when the old tricks aren’t getting the job done. In the opinion of many of the railbirds at Arlington Park, 8-year-old gelding Rahystrada is a great one – at least by local standards. In today’s Grade I Arlington Million, Rahystrada gets a chance to prove his greatness against a decorated, international field.
The strategy issued by Rahystrada’s trainer Byron “Scooter” Hughes, and employed by several of his recent jockeys hadn’t been working. He’d been sitting in mid-pack, trying to close ground in the stretch. But he’d come up short in each of his past three races dating to October. Rahystrada’s most recent start, the June 16 Colonial Derby, frustrated Hughes immensely. He decided that Rahystrada would throw down the gauntlet in the July 14 Arlington Handicap by going right to the lead and playing “catch me if you can.”
“He got stuck behind slow fractions and couldn’t make up enough ground at the end,” Hughes said of Rahystrada’s run in the Colonial Derby. “[In the Arlington Handicap], we decided to change things up a little and go to the lead with him, and it worked out just fine.”
The change in tactics ordered by Hughes worked out well for the connections and backers of Rahystrada, who won the race by a neck over Boisterous – the favorite in today’s Million.
“He likes to run close to the pace,” said jockey Joel Rosario, who rode Rahystrada in the Arlington Handicap. “He took the bit on the backside and he was gone after that.”
Rahystrada’s win, as impressive as it was, didn’t make a believer out of Rosario – who opted to stay at Saratoga, his regular track. Julien Leparoux takes over the riding duties today.
The gelding’s win in the Grade III race (the second of his career, he previously won the race in 2010) catapulted his career earnings well more than the $1 million mark. The money provides only part of the joy for owner Robert Courtney Jr. For Courtney, it’s all about the horse’s great backstory and incredible durability.
“Who would imagine an 8-year-old gelding coming back and winning this for the second time?” Courtney said, after the horse’s Arlington Handicap triumph. “He’s been a wonderful horse.”
The fans at Arlington have had a chance to see Rahystrada compete over the local turf course five times, including the past two years in the Million. With the new tactics, the Arlington faithful have ample reason to believe that Rahystrada’s likely Million swan song stands to be his best chance to take home the hardware.