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|Arlington Park Barn Notes (8/11/05) (P.M. Edition)
Contact: Graham Ross
In today's notes:
After saying earlier in the week that Bushwood Racing Partners' Better Talk Now was "90 percent likely" to run in Saturday's Grade I Sword Dancer Invitational Handicap at Saratoga rather than the Grade I Arlington Million in Chicago, trainer Graham Motion changed course with his 2004 John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf winner and decided Thursday that he will now run the 6-year-old Talkin Man gelding in the Arlington Million.
"The weather was a huge factor," said Motion of the late change of plans. "It's what started the wheels turning."
The newly expected participation of Better Talk Now in Saturday's Arlington Million sets up a rematch of the first three finishers in last fall's Grade I Breeders Cup Turf in Texas. Kitten's Joy, the morning line Million favorite and Eclipse Award-winning Male Turf Horse of the Year last year, was the runner-up behind Better Talk Now in the 2004 BC Turf last Oct. 30 at Lone Star Park, and Million entrant Powerscourt finished third at the Grand Prairie, Texas, oval.
In the 2004 Arlington Million, European invader Powerscourt came from far back to finish first under the wire by a length and a half, but was subsequently disqualified and placed fourth.
Better Talk Now's best races have come over ground with "give" in it, and daylong rains in Arlington Heights Thursday have softened the Arlington Park turf course considerably. More rain is expected Friday and Saturday in Chicago. Meanwhile, at Saratoga, Motion described that upstate New York turf course as "rock-hard."
The early pace scenario of the two races was also considered by Motion in making the decision. "Pace is a second factor: the lack of it here in Saratoga and the presence of it in the Million," he said.
"We realize we're running in the tougher race now," said Motion. "But we'd rather go out there and run our race -- win, lose or draw -- than get compromised....At the end of the day, we don't want to say we saw this situation developing and we didn't do anything about it."
Although Red Oak Stable's Sweet Return has taken his last two races -- the Grade I Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap and the Grade I Eddie Read Handicap -- in wire-to-wire fashion, his trainer Ron McAnally does not necessarily expect his charge to be on the early lead in Saturday's Arlington Million.
McAnally, incidentally, is tied with fellow Hall of Fame trainer Whittingham with three winners in the Million: more than any other conditioner in the history of Arlington's showcase event.
"There wasn't much speed in those last two races," said McAnally of Sweet Return's recent record. "Gary Stevens rode him in a mile race at Santa Anita (the Frank Kilroe Handicap) where he came from last place to win. Whilly has lots of speed. If he (Whilly) wants the lead, he'll probably get it."
Sweet Return ran eighth in last year's Arlington Million, but McAnally thinks his trainee is a different horse this season. "He's much more of a pro now," said McAnally. "He knows what's going on now."
McAnally is not overly worried about the potential for soft turf given Thursday's rain and similarly wet forecasts for Friday and Saturday. "I don't think it will bother him," he said. "He ran second in the Woodford Reserve at Churchill and the rain came down in buckets that day."
Two weeks ago, trainer James Toner scratched Wonder Again, owned by Joan & John Phillips, out of the Grade I Diana Handicap, fearing the hard turf and lack of an early pace would conspire against his 6-year-old mare whose best races have come in closing efforts on soft ground. Indeed, the Diana was run on an extremely firm turf course and Sand Springs, trained by Bill Mott, coasted wire-to-wire on a soft pace to win.
Two weeks later, with the rain falling at Arlington Park and more expected before Saturday, it looks like the Wonder Again camp made the right move in waiting for Saturday's Grade I Beverly D. Stakes at Arlington.
"Is this beautiful, or what?" said Emmanuel Davy, assistant to Toner, gazing at the Chicago rain. "It was a great decision to skip the Diana. It would have been very difficult to catch Sand Springs....If the ground here has a good cut in it, it's going to help us a lot."
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