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Arlington Park Road to the Million (7/12/06)

Contact: Graham Ross


Seabiscuit vs. War Admiral. Nashua vs. Swaps. Affirmed vs. Alydar. All classic Thoroughbred rivalries. Is there another developing over America’s top grass courses this summer?

Last weekend’s United Nations winner English Channel and last month’s Manhattan Handicap hero Cacique have now met three times in Grade I competition in the United States, and although English Channel has won two of those matches with Cacique the other, there has never been more than a half-length between these two internationally prominent turf rivals at the wire.

English Channel, owned by James Scatuorchio, is a 4-year-old Kentucky-bred who finished second in last year’s Grade I Secretariat at Arlington. Juddmonte Farm color bearer Cacique is an Irish-bred 5-year-old who won the Group III Prix du Chemin de Fer du Nord at Chantilly during his 2005 French campaign.

Both are nominated to next month’s Arlington Million XXIV on Aug. 12, and a close encounter of the fourth kind seems likely at Chicago’s Northwest oval that afternoon.

“This is as good as it gets, at least on the East Coast,” said English Channel’s conditioner Todd Pletcher following his colt’s July 8 score on the Jersey Shore. Pletcher, 39, has been the nation’s Eclipse-Award winning trainer the last two years but has never been in a position to saddle an Arlington Million starter.

Now he appears likely to get his chance with last year’s Secretariat runner-up, who has vaulted to the top as the projected 2006 Arlington Million favorite following his U. N. victory.

(Traditionally, the Secretariat has been a precursor of future Arlington Millions. Three horses -- Ryehill Farm’s Awad, Michael Tabor’s Marlin and Brushwood Stable’s Kicken Kris -- have accomplished the Secretariat-Million winning double. One Secretariat winner -- Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Kitten’s Joy in 2004 -- came back to finish second in last year’s Arlington Million. One Secretariat runner-up -- James Lewis Jr.’s Mecke in 1995 -- came back to win the following season’s Arlington Million.)

On the other hand, Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, who conditions English Channel’s rival Cacique, has been a longtime supporter of Arlington’s International Festival of Racing: saddling two Arlington Million winners (both owned by Juddmonte), one winner of the Secretariat, and two winners of the Grade I Beverly D. as the sister race to the Arlington Million.

All three classic turf tests -- Illinois’ only three annually-contested Grade I events -- are scheduled for the second Saturday in August. The $400,000 Secretariat is run over Arlington’s turf course at the Million’s distance of a mile and a quarter but is restricted to 3-year-olds of international caliber. The Beverly D., which annually attracts the world’s best fillies and mares, is run at a mile and three-sixteenths on the grass.

However, alleviating any concern that the upcoming Million is merely a United Nations rematch is this international additive from across the Atlantic.

Winterbeck Manor Stud’s Phoenix Reach, away from competition since aggravating an old injury in last year’s Group I King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond States in Great Britain, continues to train up to a projected return to competition in the 2006 Arlington Million by galloping the hills around Kingclere in Berkshire, according to trainer Andrew Balding.

The globetrotting Irish-bred won the Grade I Dubai Sheema Classic last year in the United Arab Emirates, captured the 2004 Group I Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Vase in the Orient, and won Woodbine’s 2003 Canadian International while still a sophomore.

Out on the West Coast, 2006 Arlington Million nominee The Tin Man, sixth in the 2003 Million, won Hollywood’s Grade II American Invitational Handicap earlier this month: four years after he originally garnered that same Southern California event.

Also, Moyglare Stud Farm Ltd.’s Relaxed Gesture, Stephanie Clark’s Silverfoot and Bushwood Racing Partners’ Better Talk Now, third through fifth respectively in the United Nations, remain original nominees to this summer’s Million.

Upcoming preps for the Arlington Million include this Saturday’s Grade II Bowling Green Handicap on the East Coast, Sunday’s Grade II Sunset Breeders’ Cup Handicap on the West Coast, and Chicago’s own Grade III Arlington Handicap July 22 as the final major local prep for the Arlington Million.

On the West Coast July 23, the Del Mar Turf Club hosts the Grade I Eddie Read Handicap at a mile and an eighth on the grass.

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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