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Arlington Park Road to the Million (7/27/05)

Contact: Graham Ross


Mrs. John Magnier's Powerscourt, clearly first under the wire in last summer's Grade I Arlington Million -- only to be disqualified for impeding rivals -- remains on a plotted course to make amends for that adjudged defeat in Arlington Million XXIII, Chicago Thoroughbred racing's centerpiece event that approaches once again Aug. 13.

However, Red Oak Stable's Sweet Return, equally dominant as the front-running winner of Del Mar's Grade I Eddie Read Handicap July 24 in Southern California, is also on track to make his next appearance in the upcoming Arlington Million, as is David Garner's Cool Conductor, locally impressive as the three and a quarter length-victor in the Grade III Arlington Handicap July 23.

The British-bred Powerscourt, a likely European invader for the second straight year, most recently finished second in the Group II Daily Record Scottish Derby at Ayr July 18 under European jockey champion Kieren Fallon, who has replaced the errant Jamie Spencer as Powerscourt's rider this season. While losing to the favored Imperial Stride in the Scottish Derby, it should be noted that Powerscourt was not equipped with headgear in that test and gave a solid performance despite the absence of blinkers.

Last summer, following his Arlington Million run, Powerscourt returned to Europe and was second by less than a length in the Group I Baileys Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown, losing to His Highness the Aga Khan's Azamour, who captured last Saturday's Group I King George and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes in handy fashion while establishing a course record at Newbury.

Sweet Return, who has established himself as the leading older horse among Southern California-based turf specialists, has now won two straight Grade I grass tests on the West Coast. Prior to the Eddie Read 'Cap, the 5-year-old chestnut captured Hollywood's Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap June 11 by a head in another wire-to-wire performance.

Cool Conductor, who as a sophomore last year was second by a head in Arlington's Grade II American Derby and fifth in Arlington's Grade I Secretariat, has matured as a 4-year-old and increasingly flashes brilliance. Although fourth, beaten a length and a half by Better Talk Now in Monmouth's Grade I United Nations Stakes July 2, the Ralph Nicks trainee may have been victimized by both a soft turf and a counterfeit pace set up for Better Talk Now, who boasts championship honors from last year's Grade I John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf in Texas.

Although Powerscourt is easily the most familiar among overseas invaders likely for Arlington's upcoming showcase race, several other European runners are likely at this time.

Gary Tanaka's Touch of Land, who has been pointed toward the Arlington Million for some time, returned to winning ways when capturing France's Group III Grand Prix De Vichy-Auverne by a length and a half July 20. The 5-year-old French-bred son of Lando finished fourth in the Group I Prince of Wales's Stakes during Great Britain's prestigious Royal Ascot-at-York meeting June 15, and was also fourth in France's Group I Prix d'Ispahan at Longchamp May 22.

Last December, the Henri Alex Pantell-trained Touch of Land was third, beaten less than a length for all of it, in the Group I Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Cup after previously winning the Group II Grosser Mercedes-Benz Preis at Baden-Baden and Group II Prix Dollar at Longchamp.

Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum's Maraahel, another likely European-based Million runner, was the runner-up in the Group II Hardwicke Stakes on the final day of the Royal Ascot-at-York meeting, beaten by stablemate Bandari in that 12-furlong test on June 18. The Irish-bred Maraahel, who is trained by Sir Michael Stoute, is believed to be better suited to the 10 furlongs of the Arlington Million.

Thomas Mohan's Hazyview, who gave an uncharacteristically poor performance when sixth in last summer's Secretariat Stakes, has rebounded to his better form as a 4-year-old. The British-bred colt was most recently fourth in Great Britain's Group I Coral-Eclipse Stakes at Sandown July 2 in advance of his projected start in the upcoming Million.

French-bred Alost, owned by Dominque Bayet, is a European-based Million candidate who has already made one start on this side of the Atlantic this year, finishing fourth, beaten a length for all of it, in the Grade I Manhattan Handicap on Belmont Stakes Day June 11. Previously, the gray gelding trained by Antonio Spanu was third, a half-length behind the winner, in the Group III Prix d'Hedouville at Longchamp.

The projected grouping of female European-based equines with designs on a start in the Grade I Beverly D. Stakes Aug. 13 -- sister race to the Arlington Million -- remains somewhat contingent on the weather this week in the British Isles, where the Group I Nassau Stakes is slated for the Goodwood course this Saturday.

A soft course at Goodwood could well add to the European-based Beverly D. challengers, with Mrs. Noel O'Callaghan's Alexander Goldrun and N. R. A. Springer's New Morning among those likely to declare in favor of a trip to Chicago for Arlington's firmer course should wet conditions prevail in Great Britain.

However, the $750,000 Beverly D. is now most likely to get its headline attraction from the West Coast, with Michael Bello's brilliant mare Megahertz now being pointed toward Chicago, according to her Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel.

Megahertz, a British-bred daughter of Pivotal out of a Rahy mare, is the pro tem leader among American-based grass runners in the distaff set, and her expected journey from the West Coast adds a new dimension of quality to Arlington's upcoming one-day International Festival of Racing. The 6-year-old mare is undefeated this season, winning Santa Anita's Grade II Santa Ana Handicap March 20, returning to that same winner's circle after the Grade II Santa Barbara Handicap April 17, and completing her 2005 "hat trick" with a tally in Hollywood's Grade II Beverly Hills Handicap June 25.

In another late Beverly D. development learned this week, Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard has indicated that he is likely to make Augustin Stable's Spring Season eligible for Arlington's main event for fillies and mares.

Spring Season finished third, beaten a length for the win, in Arlington's Grade III Modesty Handicap July 23 as the final major Chicago prep for the Beverly D. In the Modesty, Spring Season appeared trapped behind rivals for much of the running but made a bold late move to close rapidly on the leaders. The daughter of Seeking the Gold out of the champion mare Alice Springs won Philadelphia Park's Dr. James Penny Memorial Handicap at previous asking July 2.

Finally, all of the first three finishers in Arlington's Grade II American Derby, presented by Jack Daniel's on July 23 as the middle leg of the Mid-America Triple, remain under consideration for the $400,000 Secretariat Stakes Aug. 13, final leg of the Triple and the third Grade I race of Arlington's International Festival of Racing.

Brant Laue's Gun Salute, hero of the American Derby; E. J. Sukley's Purim, who finished a nose behind Gun Salute after winning the Grade III Arlington Classic, presented by Woodford Reserve July 2 as the of the first leg of the Triple; and Eliah & Lisa Kahn's Exceptional Ride, the American Derby third-place runner; all remain as possible Secretariat candidates.

Also, Heligbrodt Racing Stable & Dr. Michael Smurfit's Merger, the Irish invader trained by Ireland's all-time leading trainer Dermot Weld, who was sixth in the American Derby, remains at Arlington to try for redemption in the Secretariat.

Should those American Derby participants run in the Secretariat, they are expected to have to face Avastar LLC & John Pregman's English Channel, winner of the Grade III Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs July 16. Trained by Todd Pletcher, the nation's Eclipse Award-winning conditioner last year, English Channel previously won Virginia's Colonial Cup June 25, and is now halfway home in a newly-created series called the Grand Slam of Grass.

Should English Channel win Arlington's Secretariat, and go on to win the Grade I John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf at Belmont Park Oct. 29, the Pletcher trainee would win a $3 million bonus for completing the four-race sweep.

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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