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Arlington Park Road to the Million (6/29/05)

Contact: Graham Ross


Major prep races leading to this summer's Grade I Arlington Million Aug. 13 occur half a world apart over the upcoming holiday weekend in four different time zones, and a quartet of significant preps for the Grade I Beverly D. -- sister race to the Million run that same second Saturday in August -- are also on tap during the approaching America's Birthday celebration.

The looming grassy preambles to Arlington Million XXIII begin this Saturday in Great Britain with the Group I Coral-Eclipse over 10 furlongs at Sandown, and continue across the Atlantic later that day on America's Jersey Shore with Monmouth's Grade I United Nations Handicap at a mile and three-sixteenths.

On Sunday, Arlington's Grade III Stars and Stripes Breeders' Cup Turf takes place on the home grounds of Chicago's own world famous turf course at a mile and a half, while Canada presents the Grade II King Edward Breeders' Cup Handicap at a mile and an eighth over the Woodbine lawn. Southern California has the Grade II American Handicap, also at nine furlongs, on the Hollywood Park grass, and New York offers the Grade III Poker Handicap at one mile over the Belmont Park turf.

Finally, this weekend's significant Million preps conclude with an appropriate bang on Monday when Churchill Downs presents the Grade II Firecracker Breeders' Cup at one mile over the Louisville lawn, and it is at the Twin Spires oval where long range Arlington Million favorite Kitten's Joy will make his 2005 debut.

Owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, Kitten's Joy won Arlington's Grade I Secretariat Stakes for sophomores last summer on Arlington Million Day and is now in a position to join last year's Million champion Kicken Kris as the second straight runner to complete the Secretariat-Arlington Million double in successive seasons.

Following his Secretariat score, Kitten's Joy went on to beat older horses in Belmont's Grade I Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational Oct. 2, and was a clear runner-up in the Grade I John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf at Lone Star Park Oct. 30. The El Prado colt subsequently garnered a 2004 Eclipse Award as male turf horse champion.

Kitten's Joy has been asked to shoulder the top impost of 124 pounds in Monday's Firecracker, and is expected to face a host of worthy challengers including Mill House's America Alive, 119, hero of Churchill's Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on Kentucky Derby Day May 7; as well as David Garner's Cool Conductor, 118, winner of Pimlico's Grade II Dixie Handicap on Preakness Day May 21.

Sunday's Stars and Stripes over the Arlington Million's home course has attracted several nominations that are also nominated to the Arlington Million, and among the probable and still possible Stars and Stripes starters in that group are Bloodstock Management Services Inc.'s Vangelis, Mrs S. K. Johnston Jr.'s Swagger Stick, Augustin Stable's Rochester, Juddmonte Farms Inc.'s Exterior, First and Ten Stable's License to Run, and S J Stables LLC's locally based Cloudy's Knight.

The last named is a Lord Avie gelding conditioned by Arlington's defending trainer champion Frank Kirby, and the 5-year-old has already won at a mile and a half over the Arlington turf course this season when taking the Mac Diarmida Handicap by three and a half lengths June 11.

Vangelis finished third in Hollywood's Grade I Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap on that same day, while Rochester finished second, beaten less than a length, in Churchill's Grade III Louisville Handicap May 30.

Swagger Stick was fourth in Keeneland's Grade III Elkhorn at the 12-furlong distance April 29; Exterior was third in Hollywood's Grade III Jim Murray Memorial Handicap May 14, also at a mile and a half; and License to Run has enjoyed success in a Louisiana-based campaign.

When this weekend's Million preps begin Saturday in Great Britain's Coral-Eclipse, Mrs. John Magnier's Powerscourt, first under the wire in last summer's Arlington Million before being disqualified, is expected to challenge Group I Epsom Derby hero Motivator.

In Monmouth's United Nations Handicap later that day, Bushwood Stable's Better Talk Now, an Arlington Million nominee who defeated Kitten's Joy in last fall's Breeders' Cup Turf at Grand Prairie, will be the strong choice of the fans.

Not to be overlooked, however, during this three-day weekend holiday is the foursome of important races restricted to members of the distaff set that could shape the field of this summer's $750,000 Beverly D.

The 15th renewal of the Beverly D., as well as the 29th running of the Grade I Secretariat with its $400,000 purse, will complete the top ranked trio of turf tests that make up Arlington's one-day International Festival of Racing.

On Saturday, Churchill offers the Grade III Locust Grove Handicap for fillies and mares at nine furlongs on the Twin Spires turf, and Belmont gives that same group the Grade II New York Handicap at mile and a quarter.

On Sunday, Hollywood has the Grade III Royal Heroine Stakes for fillies and mares at one mile on the grass, but also the Grade I American Oaks Invitational, which although restricted to the 3-year-old age bracket, is designed for grass fillies of international caliber.

One of Hollywood's major Beverly D. preps took place June 25 when Michael Bello's Megahertz, the West Coast's leading female turf runner trained by Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, came from far back to capture the Grade II Beverly Hills Handicap by three-quarters.

Frankel has been a strong presence in all divisions of Arlington's International Festival, winning the 2000 Arlington Million with Juddmonte Farms Inc.'s Chester House and the 2002 edition with that same stable's Beat Hollow; the 1995 Beverly D. with Blue Vista Inc.'s Possibly Perfect and the 2003 running with Juddmonte's Heat Haze; and the 2002 Secretariat with Juddmonte's Chiselling. In post race quotes following Megahertz's Beverly Hills tally, Frankel assistant Humberto Ascanio said, "Bobby might look at the Beverly D."

Also on June 25 in the Group I Audo Pretty Polly Stakes at The Curragh on The Emerald Isle, Beverly D. nominee Alexander Goldrun, an Irish-bred filly owned by Mrs. Noel O'Callaghan, swept past rivals in the stretch run for an impressive score.

One final Arlington Million update also came from Europe some days after the Group II Hardwicke Stakes on the final day of the Royal Ascot at York meeting June 18. Arlington Million nominees Bandari and Maraahel, both owned by Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, finished first and second respectively in that 12-furlong test, leading to speculation that the winner truly prefers the longer distance, and that the runner-up, conditioned by 1986 Million participant Sir Michael Stoute, might be brought back to the 10-furlong distance of the Arlington Million.

Arlington Park -- the Chicago area's premier Thoroughbred racetrack located in Arlington Heights, Ill. -- is running a 94-day meet in 2005 from Friday, May 13 through Sunday, Sept. 18. Arlington Park, whose parent company is Churchill Downs Incorporated (Nasdaq: CHDN), also operates eight off-track, simulcast-wagering facilities: Trackside Arlington Park (Arlington Heights), Trackside Quad City Downs (East Moline), Trackside Chicago, Trackside McHenry, Trackside Rockford, Trackside South Beloit, Trackside Waukegan and Lucky's featuring Trackside OTB in South Elgin. Information on Arlington Park can be found online at

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