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Arlington Park Road to the Million (6/21/06)

Contact: Graham Ross


Irish-bred Phoenix Reach, owned by Winterbeck Manor Stud, won Woodbine’s Grade I Canadian International as a sophomore in 2003, captured the Group I Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Vase in 2004 at Sha Tin, and was clearly best in the Grade I Dubai Sheema Classic at Nad Al Sheba in the spring of 2005.

Then, in the Group I King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes at Newbury last July 23, the globetrotting son of Alhaarth aggravated an old injury and has been relegated to the sidelines ever since.

However, Phoenix Reach is in training once again, and conditioner Andrew Balding is aiming for the Grade I Arlington Million XXIV over Arlington’s world famous grass course on Aug. 12 as the target for the 6-year-old’s return to competition.

“Phoenix Reach is just starting back to work now,” said Balding, speaking over the phone from Great Britain this week, “and he has a way to go, but he’s been given a clean bill of health and the plan is to make the Arlington Million with him.”

Plans that were under consideration to include a prep race prior to the Arlington Million, that could have included a start in the Grade III Arlington Handicap July 22 at the Million’s 10-furlong distance, have apparently been scrapped.

“I suppose that’s still a possibility,” said Balding when asked if there was to be any prep race for Phoenix Reach, “but he seems to run best when fresh. We have big hill gallops around here (at Kingsclere in Berkshire) to get him ready, so I think we’ll train him straight into the Million.

“When he was a 2-year-old he suffered a split pastern,” said Balding, in reference to Phoenix Reach’s injury-prone career. “He needed plating and screws to correct it. Then, last year (in the King George) he suffered a small fissure fracture. We gave him some time to let it heal naturally, but it didn’t, so three months ago we inserted a pin and started him back cantering about a month ago.”

Balding, 33, is the son of trainer Ian Balding, best remembered as the conditioner of Mill Reef. In addition to the King George, that son of Never Bend won the Group I Epsom Derby and the Group I Arc de Triomphe during his own racing career in the early ‘70s.

The Balding family also includes Andrew’s older sister Clare, who is a sports and racing presenter for the BBC.

The Arlington Million, centerpiece of the Chicago Thoroughbred racing season, is one of three Grade I events that will make up Arlington Park’s one-day International Festival of Racing on the second Saturday in August. Another classic event to be contested on that day, but restricted to fillies and mares, is the $750,000 Beverly D., sister race to the Million, run at a mile and three-sixteenths on the grass. Also slated for that afternoon is the $400,000 Secretariat Stakes, restricted to 3-year-olds of international turf caliber and run at the Million’s mile-and-a quarter distance.

Together, the Arlington Million, Beverly D. and Secretariat Stakes are the only Grade I races conducted in Illinois on an annual basis.

Not surprisingly, the International Festival of Racing annually attracts turf writers from all over the world, and they have included Paul Haigh of Great Britain’s Racing Post for every renewal since 2000.

Haigh, a native of Wales, is in the process of writing a book called “The World’s Greatest Racecourses” -- due out in November -- and Arlington Park is one of 28 racecourses worldwide, including seven in North America, which will be featured in this landmark publication.

“I’ve always been extremely fond of Arlington,” said Haigh, speaking from his English home on the eve of the meeting at Royal Ascot which runs June 20-24. “I’ve always thought it was really beautiful, but it also has a very friendly atmosphere.

“Everything at Arlington is so readily accessible,” said Haigh, who has been with the Racing Post since its inception more than two decades ago. “As an international racecourse, Arlington has been organized to make people feel welcome.”

“The World’s Greatest Racecourses” will be leather-bound and include 150 integrated color photographs and course maps. Each book will be signed and numbered by Haigh, with the author provided an engaging essay to accompany the beautifully reproduced photographs.

Arlington Park -- the Chicago area’s premier Thoroughbred racetrack located in Arlington Heights, Ill. -- will run a 95-day meet in 2006 from Friday, May 5 through Tuesday, Sept. 12. 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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