Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Saturday was a good day for Delaware Park.
I don't mean at the betting windows, kiosks or even on the track in the First State. It was a good day, if not great, because horses who were coming off starts at Delaware Park shined on the national racing scene.
The biggest news came in the Arlington Million when 11-1 longshot Hardest Core stunned the field by capturing the 32nd edition of the 1 1/4-mile turf race. Maybe the fact that the 4-year-old gelding, trained by Edward Graham, was only 11-1 in a seven-horse field that included defending winner Real Solution was an indication that the public knew something special about Hardest Core.
"He's good horse - a nice horse - and I knew he was going to make his run," jockey Eriluis Vaz said. "I have to thank the owner and trainer. They have been so supportive and it's amazing."
Hardest Core was making his debut start in a graded stakes with the Arlington Million. He only had 10 starts before Saturday, having not raced as a 2-year- old.
The gelding, owned by Andrew Bentley Racing Stable, prepped for the Million by winning the $50,000 Cape Henlopen Stakes on July 12 on the Delaware Handicap program. Not exactly the kind of race that feeds directly into a Breeders' Cup Challenge event.
On top of a short stakes resume for Hardest Core, is his recovery from "a botched castration" last year when most of his intestine was removed.
"He's gone through a lot. (Veterinarians) had to cut 18 feet of intestines at one point and didn't know if he'd make it," Graham noted Saturday. "The horse was training so well. He didn't know what he was going against, but he showed it today."
Formerly trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, Hardest Core was never far off the pace and closed the final furlong in a rush to catch 9-5 favorite Magician and post a length victory.
"Arlington seems like a big galloping course," Graham said Sunday. "It didn't stop his momentum and he really liked it out there. He's a very straight forward horse. He'll let you know how he's doing just by how he acts. We all joke and call him the big strong beast.
"When he ran at Delaware Park (in the Cape Henlopen Stakes), he ran his last half-mile in :47 flat and he wasn't even being asked. He just has done everything right. We knew he was training well even if he was going up in class. All he knew (going in) was that he had won three in a row; he didn't know about the field and he ran his race."
By running his race, Hardest Core earned himself a place in this year's Breeders' Cup Turf, won in 2013 by Magician.
"I won't know what's next for him until I evaluate him, but we'll look at the Breeders' Cup," Graham said. "It's a chance of a lifetime and we'll figure out the best way to maybe get there."
Shortly before the Arlington Million at Saratoga, the top two from last month's Delaware Oaks hit the board in the $600,000 Alabama, one of the most prestigious stakes for 3-year-old fillies.
Joint Return got the runner-up spot for the second straight race as she finished less than a length behind Stopchargingmaria as Oaks winner Fortune Pearl finished fourth in the nine-filly field going 1 1/4 miles.
"I would have been happier with a win, but very happy with second," said Joint Return's trainer John Servis. "I was really disappointed with (her second-place finish as the favorite in the Delaware Oaks). I expected her to win and, hopefully, impressively. I (had) toyed with the idea of putting blinkers on her, but she'd been running so doggone good. You know, you're almost afraid to mess up, but after the Delaware race I said, 'That's it,' and I put blinkers on her. He (jockey Kendrick Carmouche) went from having to ride her the whole way to sitting on her until he called on her, and she ran real well. I thought she'd love the mile and a quarter, and how many chances do you get at a Grade 1?"
Overall, last Saturday was an excellent time for the people at Delaware Park to pat themselves on the back for the job they're doing putting together influential races.