|Arlington Park Barn Notes
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In today's notes:
Peter Willmott's Cheshire -- the last European invader to arrive in Chicago this week and consequently the last one to clear quarantine -- had his first jog over the Arlington Park main track Wednesday morning.
"He's a gentle horse, an easy horse to handle," said Imre Gergely, the groom/exercise rider who traveled with Cheshire and was aboard Wednesday's jog. "This was his first time flying, and he handled that very well."
A total of seven European-based Thoroughbreds have come to Arlington this year to contest Saturday's International Festival of Racing, centerpiece event of the Chicago Thoroughbred racing season.
Three Grade I races -- the Arlington Million, the $700,000 Beverly D., and the $400,000 Secretariat -- make up the focus of the Festival. Cheshire, a British-bred who has raced only in France but is owned by a Chicagoan, has come to America for the 20th running of the Arlington Million, the signature race of the Arlington season.
"We just trotted him around and took him through the tunnel in the grandstand to get him used to it," said Gergely. "He did all right. He hadn't been to the track since he left France last weekend, so he had been confined for more than four days, and was glad to be able to get out."
Cheshire's last race came July 24 at Vichy, when he won the Group III Grand Prix de Vichy going the Arlington Million distance of a mile and a quarter.
"He won easy in France in that in that last trip, and it was a good race for him mentally," said Gergely. "We don't know how he fits in this kind of company, but Mr. Hammond (trainer John Hammond) knows what he's doing. I have great trust in him."
Hammond saddled Henri Chaloub's Dear Doctor to win the 1992 Arlington Million.
Gergely, 45, despite his Hungarian name, is a Swedish native. The former jockey is a freelance horseman currently under a six-month contract to Hammond.
"We'll give Cheshire a little hack (jog) tomorrow, and Friday we'll go out for a turf canter," said Gergely Wednesday. "Saturday (race day) we'll just build up his fighting spirit."
Easily the most fascinating story line among this year's Arlington Million candidates is that of David Heath's Ulundi: a former hurdler now being focused for a career on the flat.
In his last trip to the post -- his first start of 2002 -- Ulundi won the Wolferton Rated Handicap June 21 during the Royal Ascot meeting.
However, the Rainbow Quest gelding's three previous efforts were in hurdle races at Wicanton and Kempton in Great Britain and Galway in Ireland.
Ulundi is trained by British conditioner Paul Webber, born and raised in Banbury, Oxfordshire. Although Webber still lives in the house where he was raised, he has traveled all over the world, and came to the Arlington Million in 1984 as an assistant to trainer Jeremy Hindley to saddle Muscatite, who finished 11th that year. Webber celebrated his 44th birthday Tuesday while en route to the United States by air.
"We really liked his last race," said Webber, speaking of Ulundi's recent test on the flat. "He was running against some very good horses in that race, it was his first start of the year, and he was carrying top weight of 133 pounds.
"This horse runs well fresh," said Webber. "We had him spotted in a race in Dubai in February, but he developed a suspensory problem about that time so he didn't run. We had been pointing him toward the Arlington Million for some time, but we weren't coming here without at least one race in him and we were pleased with his performance.
"We had him scheduled for a race at Sandown in the beginning of July," said Webber, "but the ground was a bit too soft that day so we didn't go in there. It may have been a blessing in disguise, because he does so well off a layoff, and he's a fresh horse now.
"Ulundi will be pointed for a career on the flat from now on," said Webber, a former steeplechase jockey. "I used to sell a lot of my jumpers to (American-based trainer) Jonathan Sheppard, but he's not having this one. This horse would have been a very good one (jumper), but the horse needs firm ground, and the weather in Europe has been very wet, so it's unlikely he'd get his condition very often. We're going to point for one more race, the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, for him, and then he'll go strictly on the flat.
"We'll try and send him out on the grass to breeze Thursday," said Webber. "On Friday, we'll give him a canter over the main track, and then, we may have jockey Richard Hughes sit on him for a little hack Saturday morning."
Frau Carde Ostermann-Richter's Paolini, the early favorite among European starters in the 2002 Arlington Million, finished an uncharacteristic eighth, beaten almost 17 lengths, in his last trip to the post in the Group I Prince of Wales's Stakes June 19 during the Royal Ascot meeting.
However, Austrian jockey Andreas Suborics, who rode Stiftung Gestut Fahrhof's Silvano to victory in the Arlington Million last year, and will be aboard Paolini Saturday in an attempt to become the first jockey to win back-to-back Arlington Millions, discounts that last race.
"We had a terrible trip," said Suborics of Paolini's run in the Prince of Wales's Stakes. "We got caught up on the rail, were forced to check and got shuffled back in a matter of seconds.
"If that hadn't happened, I think we should have been second that day," said Suborics. "I was very disappointed. It was just one of those things. Ignore that race."
Mike Watchmaker and Alan Shuback, two authors who penned chapters in Daily Racing Form's popular handicapping book "Bet With The Best," will conduct a free seminar and book signing this Saturday at Arlington Park's Starting Gate Theater, located on the track's second floor, beginning at 10:30 a.m.
During the seminar, Watchmaker and Shuback will convey handicapping strategies and discuss that day's powerful International Festival of Racing card, which includes the Grade I Arlington Million, Beverly D. and Secretariat Stakes. In addition, fans can sign up to win one of four $50 wagering vouchers that will be drawn at the conclusion of the seminar.
Watchmaker is Daily Racing Form's national handicapper and Shuback is European racing writer for DRF. Both will remain for a book signing following the seminar.
Bet With The Best, which contains nine chapters of betting strategies and philosophies from nine renowned Thoroughbred handicappers, is the first book in over a decade to provide the reader with contemporary strategies to compete in today's racing and wagering environment.
Recently retired Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron and European riding great Pat Eddery will be guests on a special "International Breakfast At Arlington" program Friday from 7:30 - 9:30 a.m. Arlington Park television personality Christine Gabriel and Arlington Park announcer John G. Dooley will host the breakfast program.
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