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Arlington Park Road to the Million (6/15/05)

Contact: Graham Ross


Arlington's defending trainer champion Frank Kirby is a longtime local guy who especially likes to win stakes at Arlington, but that won't necessarily interfere with his international dreams.

Kirby, who has the unique distinction of winning two Arlington trainer titles 30 years apart, saddled S J Stables LLC's Cloudy's Knight for an impressive score in Arlington's $40,000 Mac Diarmida Handicap June 11, and that should serve as an excellent prep for the Grade III Stars and Stripes Breeders' Cup Turf, one of the traditional events of Arlington's summer season, run at 12 furlongs over the local lawn July 3.

But beyond that, assuming Cloudy's Knight runs well in the Stars and Stripes, is Kirby's longer range dream of seeing the 5-year-old gelding enter the starting gate for this summer's Grade I Arlington Million, to be contested over this same world famous turf course Aug. 13.

"We'd love to see him run in the Million," said Kirby, "but that would be the dream race. That's a pretty high goal. We'll have to see what happens between now and then.

"That race the other day (Mac Diarmida) was a prep for the Stars and Stripes, and that's where we want to try for next," Kirby said. "He ran in the Stars and Stripes last year and finished sixth, but he ran on the front end and was pretty rank the first part of it. That probably cost him. But as he's gotten older, he's learned to rate like he did in that last race, and that should help his chances.

"He's a big, long-striding horse," Kirby said, "and once he gets to rolling he can be pretty impressive. I'm not sure it makes much of a difference if he's going a mile and a quarter or a mile and a half. He's good at both distances. Actually, he's pretty good at a mile, too.

"I love to win stakes here at Arlington," said Kirby. "It's a lot of fun. They're all fun, but when you can snag one here, it's always special. That's why we also nominated him to the Arlington Million."

International racing fans might not be familiar with the Kirby's unprecedented feat of winning his only two Arlington training championships 30 years apart, but Chicago fans have always respected the Illinois based conditioner and can more easily appreciate the uniqueness of last summer's accomplishment, earned on the last day of the season.

"It was nice," said Kirby when reflecting on the spread between his 1974 title to the one last year. "I had to beat a lot of good horsemen and a lot of good horses to do it. I can't tell you if anyone has ever done that anywhere else before. Maybe they have, but I've never heard of it."

The prospect of a locally based horse in the Arlington Million, no matter how remote, adds a unique flavor to the centerpiece of the Chicago Thoroughbred racing season. It recalls memories of the early 1980s, when Leslie Combs II's Rossi Gold, a three-time winner of the Stars and Stripes, followed those victories with three straight starts in the Arlington Million.

However, looking forward to Kirby's goals this summer, including his Arlington Million dream, it should be remembered that the Million is one of three Grade I races, along with the $750,000 Beverly D. and the $400,000 Secretariat, that will be contested on that second Saturday in August, and a 3-year-old that Kirby tabs as the future star of his barn is one more who could participate in Arlington's International Festival of Racing.

Iron County Farms Inc.'s Apache Point, a son of 1990 Breeders' Cup Mile winner Royal Academy, broke his maiden at first asking and finished third in an allowance race on the main track at Churchill June 10. Not surprisingly, Kirby is pointing him toward a start on grass soon.

"He ran a good race the other day; he's still a little green," Kirby said. "It was his first start in six months, he got knocked off stride, and he had to contest a pretty hot pace. I might point him toward the Round Table next, but the Arlington Classic is a possibility."

The Grade III Arlington Classic, presented by Woodford Reserve July 2, is the first leg of the Mid-America Triple, followed by the Grade II American Derby, presented by Jack Daniel's July 23, with the Secretariat next on Arlington Million Day. The Round Table is run July 16.

Out on the West Coast June 11, in Hollywood's Grade I Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap, Arlington Million nominee Sweet Return, owned by Red Oak Stable, broke in stride to make the pace and held on gamely to tally by a head in that 10-furlong turf test.

Conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Ron McAnally, Sweet Return finished eighth in last year's Arlington Million, and McAnally was asked if he was considering bringing Sweet Return to the Midwest again for Arlington Million XXIII.

"Absolutely," McAnally said, "and I've got one that might be better than him (fellow Million nominee Fast and Furious, owned by Arnold Zetcher and third in Hollywood's Grade I Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile Stakes May 30) that I'd also like to bring. I might even bring one for the Beverly D."

Another Arlington Million nominee, Phipps Stable's Good Reward, trained by Hall of Fame conditioner Shug McGaughey, won the Grade I Manhattan Handicap in New York on Belmont Stakes Day. Good Reward previously finished third in the Grade II Dixie Handicap in Baltimore on Preakness Day.

Ken & Sarah Ramsey's Kitten's Joy, winner of last summer's Secretariat on his way to an Eclipse Award as male turf champion, breezed five furlongs Tuesday over Churchill's Matt Winn turf course, accomplishing the move in 1:01.60. The 4-year-old El Prado colt is scheduled to make his 2005 debut in Churchill's Grade II Firecracker Breeders' Cup on July 4.

Nominated to this year's Arlington Million, Kitten's Joy could emulate the feat of Brushwood Stable's Kicken Kris, who captured last summer's Arlington Million after winning the Secretariat in 2003.

David Garner's Cool Conductor, an Arlington Million nominee who won Pimlico's Grade II Dixie Handicap on Preakness Day, May 21, breezed six furlongs Tuesday in 1:14.60 on Churchill's main track in preparation for the Firecracker.

Overseas on Tuesday, on the first day of Great Britain's Royal Ascot meeting being held at York this summer, Arlington Million nominee Rakti, owned by Gary Tanaka, finished second in the Group I Queen Anne Stakes.

The Royal meeting has switched its venues for the first time in its nearly 300-year history in 2005, as the massive redevelopment currently underway at the Berkshire track continues.

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