If you believe in older dogs trying new tricks, Fanciful Angel is the Arlington Million (G1) longshot for you. A miler for most of his career, the British-based five-year-old recently discovered that 1 1/4 miles is within his compass, but his aptitude in top company remains unproven.

Fanciful Angel is an auction veteran, touring the sales ring as a weanling, yearling, two-year-old in training, and as a battle-hardened campaigner at last summer’s Tattersalls July. Consigned by trainer Marco Botti for Scuderia Blueberry that day, he brought easily the highest price of his life when going for 135,000 guineas. His new ownership, the Dubai-based Touch Gold Racing syndicate, wisely kept him in Botti’s yard.

Botti has won major races elsewhere in North America, but his horses are particularly on target at Arlington. He won the 2014 Beverly D (G1) with Euro Charline, as well as the first two editions of the American St Leger with Jakkalberry (2012) and Dandino (2013), who was second as the defending champion the following year.

As a son of the speedy and precocious Dark Angel, sire of such top sprinters as Mecca’s Angel and now Harry Angel and Battaash, Fanciful Angel logically started out going shorter. The gray won second time out at two, and proved himself up to stakes quality with a troubled fourth in the Sirenia (G3) over Kempton’s Polytrack and a third in York’s Rockingham.

Fanciful Angel earned his only stakes win in the 2015 International Trial on Lingfield’s Polytrack early in his three-year-old season, his first attempt at what became his usual trip of a mile. That served as a tune-up for a classic try on the Continent, where he finished second in the German 2000 Guineas (G2). But after failing to land a blow in the Jersey (G3), Superior Mile (G3), and Premio Vittorio di Capua (G1), he was gelded and lowered sights into handicap company.

Right off the bat, Fanciful Angel scored in a mile handicap at the 2016 Dubai Carnival, despite traffic trouble. Watch him in the green silks of his former owner. Obviously with a ton up his sleeve, he had to stay on hold until able to angle out. He flashed home in time to beat Meydan-loving Dark Emerald, but would have been more emphatic with clear sailing:

 

Over the same course and distance, but at a higher grade, Fanciful Angel was not as effective when seventh in the Zabeel Mile (G2).

 

Back in England, Fanciful Angel faded to seventh in the Diomed (G3) on softish ground at Epsom. He dropped into handicap company again, but didn’t hit the board in two ensuing starts that summer, either side of his Tattersalls sale. He reappeared from a freshening to finish a better fourth on the Chelmsford Polytrack in late December.

That set him up for a victorious return to Meydan for the 2017 Dubai Carnival, this time in the Touch Gold silks. Taking the overland route didn’t blunt his momentum in a January 12 mile handicap.

 

Yet the pattern of the year before was duplicated when Fanciful Angel didn’t build upon his first-up score. A non-threatening sixth in another mile handicap and once more in the Zabeel Mile, he was a staying-on seventh in his English handicap return in Newbury’s Spring Cup.

Botti then experimented with a step up to 1 1/4 miles in a Chelmsford handicap, and Fanciful Angel responded. At the rear as he was up to his old habits of breaking tardily, he stayed on to prevail by a head as the 133-pound highweight. Of course, the opposition wasn’t anything to write home about, as you’d expect for a race like that on the all-weather in late May, while the Flat season is in full swing.

Fanciful Angel hoped to follow up in his first stakes attempt at his newfound distance, the July 7 Gala S.  at Sandown. Yet again he didn’t look as strong on the class hike, winding up seventh of eight. Granted, he did himself no favors by pulling early. Still, you’d have preferred a better result going into the biggest test of his life at Arlington, especially since the Gala didn’t exactly feature world-beaters.

Judging by how Fanciful Angel kept switching leads in the stretch, perhaps he just wasn’t enjoying Sandown.

From a form perspective, Fanciful Angel is up against it versus bona fide Grade/Group 1 horses, and his penchant for lackadaisical starts complicates his task. On the plus side, he’s still unexposed at this distance, a horse who acts so well around Meydan figures to excel at Arlington, and he’s coming up to the race in fine shape.

Touch Gold Racing helpfully tweeted about his last serious piece of work at home, a seven-furlong drill on the Polytrack:

According to the summary paragraph, this was “one of his fastest gallops this year,” accelerating in the final quarter-mile off a strong pace and posting :10.8 for his next-to-last furlong.

In an open-looking Million, Fanciful Angel could sneak into the bottom rungs of the exotics if he runs his absolute best and a couple of the principals fail. Nevertheless, he reminds me more of horses like Elleval and Belgian Bill, the respective fifth and seventh to The Pizza Man in 2015 – Dubai handicap aficionados who aren’t up to the top levels in Europe and have something to prove in a prize of this stature.

Photo courtesy Dubai Racing Club/Andrew Watkins