Arlington Million Review 2023: Piece of Cake

Set PieceSet Piece rallied spectacularly from last to first when Florent Geroux asked him to quicken in the 2023 Arlington Million Stakes at Colonial Downs on August 12. Trained by Brad Cox for Juddmonte Farms, it was his first grade one victory and probably no coincidence that it was the first time this son of Dansili had been tried over a mile and a quarter.

Sent off at 6/1, Set Piece beat Godolphin’s Santin (7/1), last year’s winner, two lengths leaving Madaket Stables’ 4/1 favorite Adhamo to take third half a length further back. Claude McGaughey’s Never Explain (12/1) was close behind in fourth, two lengths ahead of Mark Casse’s Win For The Money (15/1).

Set Piece was bred by Juddmonte Farms in the UK out of Portodora, a daughter of Kingmambo who won a fillies’ maiden and a minor race as a three-year-old. He started his career in England, trained by Hugo Palmer. Set Piece won his only start as a juvenile over a mile on an all-weather surface in a low grade race in December 2018. He was the 11/10 favorite and showed his immense superiority over his rivals by beating them a length after he had clipped heels and lost all momentum early on.

Set Piece proved a worthy favorite next time out too despite being burdened with a minimum of 7lb more than his six rivals in a similar low key race. He won easily by three lengths. His connections must have been impressed by that success as he was subsequently saddled in the group three Craven Stakes at Newmarket in April 2019. He was understandably a 14/1 long shot with only two minor victories on his resume. He outran his starting odds to finish third, ridden by the Italian-born star jockey Frankie Dettori for the first time.

Set Piece was predictably found wanting in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket in May 2019 when a tongue tie was used for the first time to help him breathe. He started at odds of 40/1, was slow out of the gates and beaten 18 lengths. His subsequent trip to France in July for a Listed Race proved unprofitable too. Blinkers were used for the first time but he finished last on the good to soft turf at Deauville.

He underwent wind surgery soon after the flop in France and was gelded. After an absence of more than three months from the track he reappeared in November and was the 16/1 winner of a listed race on an all-weather surface. He narrowly beat the right horse too, the 5/6 favorite Khuzaam after being held up and produced late by James Doyle. He was equipped with both a tongue tie and blinkers.

Set Piece was subsequently shipped to Brad Cox’s barn. His career in the US began well with a win but he failed to impress in his next two runs on the dirt at Churchill Downs and Saratoga. The decision to try him on the all-weather track at Turfway Park proved a good move. He won his next two starts there but was a beaten 4/5 favorite in the listed TwinSpires Kentucky Cup Classic Stakes in late March 2021. He finished second, two lengths behind William Morey’s Visitant, an 8/1 shot.

In late April 2021 he was successful on the turf at Churchill Downs in the Opening Verse Overnight Stakes when fancied to win. Set Piece was a worthy favorite once again in the grade two Wise Dan Stakes at the same track in June 2021, beating Michael Maker’s Somelikeithotbrown half a length under Geroux.

Geroux rode Set Piece to victory in the grade two Dinner Party Stakes on the firm turf over a mile and a sixteenth at Pimlico in May 2022, winning by a length and a quarter. He achieved respectable results in subsequent contests without winning and started as the 2/1 favorite in the 2022 Arlington Million at Churchill Downs run over the shorter distance of a mile and a furlong. Santin beat him nearly eight lengths as Set Piece stayed on late to take fourth.

The partnership achieved success again in the grade three Baltimore/Washington International Turf Club Stakes at Pimlico over a mile in September. Set Piece did well to finish fourth after encountering trouble in running in the grade one Coolmore Turf Mile Stakes at Keeneland in October under Joel Rosario.

Set Piece was not beaten far when finishing third in the Opening Verse Stakes in May this year at Churchill Downs and followed up with a victory in the grade three Arlington Stakes at the same track in early June. Both races were on the turf.

Most recently Set Piece was a beaten evens favorite in the Wise Dan Stakes at Ellis Park on July 1. He finished a length and a quarter behind the surprise winner, Gregory Foley’s 46/1 shot Stitched, in third under Geroux.

The 2023 Arlington Million victory has pushed Set Piece’s lifetime earnings over the $1 million mark and he was reportedly a firm favorite in Cox’s barn before that. He is also one of Geroux’s favorite rides.

What next for Set Piece?

Having gained a long-awaited top level win, connections are reportedly keen to take Set Piece to the Breeders’ Cup in November. There may well be other challenges in the interim and this seven-year-old gelding has to be taken seriously by bettors wherever he races next time.