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Arlington Park Road to the Million (7/11/07)

Contact: Graham Ross


James Scatuorchio’s English Channel, fourth in last summer’s Grade I Arlington Million, and Bushwood Stables’ Better Talk Now, fourth two years ago and seventh in last year’s renewal, finished first and third respectively in Saturday’s Grade I United Nations Stakes at Monmouth Park.

The Jersey Shore fixture, run at 11 furlongs over the Garden State grass, is usually a significant prep for the Arlington Million on Aug. 11. Although Todd Pletcher, trainer of English Channel, and Graham Motion, conditioner of Better Talk Now, have indicated their horses are headed to Saratoga’s Grade I Sword Dancer Invitational Handicap, also Aug. 11, both horsemen have “called audibles” up to and even beyond time of entry over the last two years and their two grass stars should remain as possible Arlington Million candidates at this time.

Splitting English Channel and Better Talk Now in the United Nations was the Todd Pletcher-trained Honey Ryder, owned by Glencrest Farm LLC. That 6-year-old gray mare, who finished a length behind English Channel Saturday but two lengths to the good of Better Talk Now, is an original nominee to this summer’s Grade I Beverly D., the Arlington Million’s sister race run at a mile and three-sixteenths on the grass.

Once again this summer, the Arlington Million will be run along with the $750,000 Beverly D. Stakes for fillies and mares and the $400,000 Secretariat Stakes for 3-year-olds during Arlington’s one-day International Festival of Racing on the second Saturday in August. Together, those three events that annually attract some of the world’s best grass runners are the only Grade I events run in Illinois on an annual basis.

However, both the Arlington Million and the Beverly D. have an upcoming late nominations deadline of July 25, which allows for at least one very intriguing scenario.

Should Pletcher remain pointed toward the Sword Dancer with English Channel, the possibility remains that he would run Honey Ryder in the Million instead of the Beverly D. Three of her last four outings have been against males, and Pletcher surprised the racing world this spring by running Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith’s filly Rags to Riches against colts this spring in the Belmont Stakes – and winning.

Pletcher has maintained that Honey Ryder is a mare who prefers a distance of ground, and the distance of the Million is a sixteenth of a mile longer than the distance of the Beverly D., in which Honey Ryder was a closing fourth last summer after racing wide.

There is precedent for a Million winner of the fairer sex. Twenty-one years ago, the late Allen Paulson’s Estrapade, also a 6-year-old mare, won the Arlington Million by five lengths, a margin of victory that remains the largest in the Million’s history.

Stronach Stables’ Citronnade, conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, cruised to a facile two and a half-length victory in Hollywood’s Grade II Beverly Hills Handicap July 1 in her final prep for the Beverly D. and remains the early Beverly D. favorite. It was the 4-year-old daughter of 1999 Belmont Stakes winner Lemon Drop Kid’s fifth win in a row, and she remains undefeated in four starts this season after earlier wins that include Santa Anita’s Grade II Santa Ana Handicap March 25 and Hollywood’s Grade I Gamely Stakes May 28.

In other Beverly D. developments last weekend, French-bred Lady of Venice, an original nominee to this summer’s 18th running, captured Hollywood’s Grade II CashCall Mile Invitational Stakes July 6. Owned by Martin Schwartz, whose silks have been posed in the Beverly D. winner’s circle aboard Gorella last year and astride Angara in 2005, Lady of Venice tallied in Lone Star’s Grade III Ouija Board Distaff Handicap before that on May 28.

On July 8, Mauralakana, another French-bred original nominee to this year’s Beverly D., took down winning honors in Churchill’s Grade III Locust Grove Handicap. Owned by Fab Oak Stable, Lewis Lakin, Richard Giacopelli and Maurice Hassan, the 4-year-old Muhtathir filly was a Group III winner in France in 2005 and is now trained by Patrick Biancone.

Interestingly, Mauralakana is also an original nominee to the upcoming silver anniversary edition of the Arlington Million.

On the European Beverly D. front, Team Valor International’s Barry Irwin has announced that his South African-bred star Irridescence, entered in Newmarket’s Group I Falmouth Stakes July 11, will use that race as a prep for the Beverly D.

In updates for the Secretariat Stakes, Centaur Farms’ Distorted Reality, an original nominee to this year’s Mid-America Triple, may have earned consideration for the Secretariat by capturing Belmont’s $106,000 Lexington Stakes July 8 at nine furlongs on the inner turf course.

On the European Secretariat front, Ireland’s all-time leading trainer Dermot Weld, an avid supporter of Arlington, has a 3-year-old colt named Perfect Casting, owned by Moyglare Stud Farm and a winner of his last two, who is on target for the Grade II American Derby, presented by Jack Daniel’s on July 21, who would then take in the Secretariat if all goes to plan.

Weld has won the American Derby, middle leg of Arlington’s Mid-America Triple, three times and twice in the last four years. Weld also most recently finished second in the Secretariat with Moyglare’s Jazz Beat in 2002, an Irish homebred who was also runner-up in the American Derby that year.

Another European-based Secretariat possibility is the French-based Holocene, owned by Stavros Niarchos, who was third in the Group III Prix de Guiche at Chantilly when last sent to the post May 9. Previously, the Kentucky-bred son of Lemon Drop Kid was third in Longchamp’s listed Prix Francois Mathet March 29.

Arlington Park – the Chicago area’s premier Thoroughbred racetrack located in Arlington Heights, Ill. – will run a 94-day meet in 2007 from Friday, May 4 through Sunday, Sept. 16. Arlington Park, whose parent company is Churchill Downs Incorporated (Nasdaq: CHDN), also operates nine off-track, simulcast-wagering facilities: Trackside Arlington Park (Arlington Heights), Trackside Chicago, Trackside Quad City Downs (East Moline), Trackside Rockford, Trackside Waukegan, Fat Sam’s Bar & Grill featuring Trackside OTB in Lockport, Lucky’s featuring Trackside OTB in South Elgin, Nicolino’s featuring Trackside OTB in McHenry and The Inferno featuring Trackside OTB in South Beloit. Information on Arlington Park can be found online at

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