The first Arlington Million (G1) staged at Colonial Downs conjured up thoughts of the Old Dominion’s history, as the lone British-bred in the field, Set Piece, rolled in course-record time. Out of luck in his prior Grade 1 attempts at a mile, and fourth in last year’s 1 1/8-mile Million at Churchill Downs, the Juddmonte homebred thrived on the step up to 1 1/4 miles to reach a new career high.
As a deep closer, Set Piece is hostage to the circumstances of pace and traffic. But the Brad Cox veteran got a fast tempo courtesy of front-running Strong Quality, and all the space in the world swinging out wide around Colonial’s outer course.
Anchored in last early by regular rider Florent Geroux, the 5.70-1 chance bided his time behind fractions of :22.96, :46.67, 1:10.12, and 1:34.02, and traveled conspicuously well as he improved turning for home. Strong Quality began to look increasingly vulnerable in the stretch, when defending Million champion Santin pounced.
All the momentum, however, was with Set Piece widest of all. Mowing down the field to win going away by two lengths, the Dansili gelding clocked a course-record 1:58.19.
Santin held second by a half-length from Adhamo, the lukewarm 4.20-favorite, who stayed on for third in his belated seasonal reappearance. Never Explain did his best work late also to churn into fourth, followed by Win for the Money, Rockemperor, Strong Quality, Catnip, Strong Tide, Master Piece, and Atone.
Set Piece’s Grade 1 laurel boosted his bankroll to $1,684,697 from his 29-13-2-3 line. The seven-year-old’s resume includes nine stakes victories, most notably the 2021 Wise Dan (G2); 2022 Dinner Party (G2) and Baltimore/Washington International Turf Cup (G3); and the June 3 Arlington (G3) at its new home of Churchill Downs. The blaze-faced dark bay was coming off a third in the Wise Dan that was transferred to Ellis Park.
An erstwhile classic hopeful in his native Great Britain, when third in the 2019 Craven (G3), Set Piece wound up 14th in the 2000 Guineas (G1). After arriving stateside, he’s fared better in his top-level forays, but still found it a bit beyond him. Set Piece’s best Grade 1 result had been his second to Got Stormy in the 2021 Fourstardave (G1) at Saratoga, where Casa Creed was third. Casa Creed has since gone on to win the next two runnings of the Fourstardave, scoring his repeat on Saturday.
Set Piece is a half-brother to multiple French stakes victress and Group 3-placed Alocasia. Their dam, the Kingmambo mare Portodora, is a descendant of the influential matron Modena. Thus Set Piece hails from the all-star family of Zafonic, Zamindar, Elmaamul, 1997 Epsom Oaks (G1) heroine Reams of Verse, and champion Midday.