|Arlington Park Barn Notes
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In today's notes:
Two transplanted Irishmen -- both having spent the majority of their careers in Great Britain -- walked the world famous turf course at Arlington Park Friday morning, one day prior to the 20th running of the Grade I Arlington Million, traditional centerpiece of the Chicago Thoroughbred racing season.
One of them, 50-year-old Pat Eddery, Ireland's jockey champion in 1982, toured the local lawn successfully 19 years ago to win the Arlington Million aboard Tolomeo. The other, 35-year-old Brian Meehan, has been training successfully on British soil for about 10 years, notably saddling Tomba to win the Group I Prix de la Foret in 1998.
Together, the pair have come to America to start Roldvale Ltd.'s Freefourinternet in the Saturday's Arlington Million.
"The ground is in excellent condition," said Eddery, now second in all-time victories among British-based riders behind Sir Gordon Richards. "It's drying out well and getting faster all the time."
"This is beautiful ground," said Meehan, who does not have Eddery's familiarity with the local course. "I'm very pleased with the course and everything about the entire facility here."
In his last trip to the post, in the Group I Prince of Wales's Stakes June 19 during the Royal Ascot meeting, Freefourinternet finished fifth behind Godolphin Racing Inc.'s Grandera, current leader in the World Series Racing Championship. (Saturday's Arlington Million is the fifth leg of the 2002 WSRC.)
However, in the Prince of Wales's Stakes, Freefourinternet finished several lengths in front of Frau Carde Ostermann-Richter's Paolini, regarded as the best of the four European candidates in Saturday's signature race at Arlington. How did Meehan assess Freefourinternet's chances against all eight rivals -- including the North American-based contingent -- on Saturday?
"To be honest, the only worries I have are Beat Hollow and Sarafan," said Meehan, referring to the projected first and second choices in Arlington Million XX. "I think we've got the European horses covered. I'm very pleased with our horse. He's improving every day."
"He's in great form now," said Eddery of Freefourinternet, a Kentucky-bred son of 1994 Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Tabasco Cat. "He looks marvelous. He's in great shape."
Interestingly, Meehan also trained 2002 Belmont Stakes winner Sarava during his unsuccessful 2-year-old campaign at Sandown, Lingfield, and Doncaster last year. Although winless as a juvenile, it was Meehan who suggested that owner Susan Roy take the horse back to the United States and pursue a career on dirt courses with him.
"I thought he had a chance to be a very good horse," said Meehan, "but he wasn't acting well on grass. Mrs. Roy followed my advice, brought the horse back to the United States and took on a partner (New Phoenix Stable)."
Could the main track be in Freefourinternet's future?
"Right now, our goal is the Arlington Million, and if he runs well, to bring him back for the Breeders' Cup," said Meehan. "We'll see how the turf goes for now, but in the future, I can tell you I would have no qualms about running him on dirt at all."
If any horse figures to have a home field advantage in Saturday's Grade I Arlington Million, it is Mystery Giver, who has seven Arlington turf starts under his belt; four of them resulting in victories. And that's a big reason why his trainer, Chris Block, thinks Mystery Giver will be a factor in Saturday's race.
"He's not a good shipper, so being home without needing even a van ride is a big plus for us," said Block. "He's run very well over this course; granted, not with these types of horses. But it's a big, wide turf course here and he's a big, grinding type of horse, so the course suits him perfectly."
Block also feels that his horse is better than a mere cursory glance at the past performances might indicate, "In his last race, the Arlington Handicap, Mark Guidry didn't ride him the way I asked him to. He made his move way too late. He's a difficult horse to ride and a jockey needs to be aggressive with him."
In the Explosive Bid Handicap at Fair Grounds in March, Mystery Giver took on Beat Hollow and Sarafan, two of the favorites in Saturday's Million. Mystery Giver finished 13th in that event, but was beaten by a relatively slim 5 3/4 lengths and, again, Block feels the statistical running line doesn't tell the whole story of that race.
"The Racing Form doesn't mention it in the past performances, but we were dead stopped in that race," the trainer noted. "We were fifth, trailing by two lengths and advancing, when a tiring horse backed up and drifted to the right, right into our running path. Eddie Martin had to steady him hard, and he never had a chance to run thereafter. I'm not saying he would have won that day, but he would have been a lot closer than 5 3/4 lengths behind. So given that race, and being on our home track and the million-dollar purse, that's why we're running. With this horse, it's a case of the farther, the better. You can't get him tired. He doesn't burst away from you, but you can't shake him either."
Peter Vegso's Orchard Park, the 2-1 morning line favorite for Saturday's Grade I $400,000 Secretariat Stakes, arrived at Arlington Park late Wednesday morning after a van ride from his Churchill Downs homebase.
"He came up yesterday morning and was unloaded and in his stall by 11 a.m.," said Ralph Nicks, longtime assistant to Hall-of-Fame Bill Mott, as the son of Hennessey was cooling out after his Thursday exercise. "He's a good shipper. He's laid back, that's him walking by, out for his daily stroll. He already trained this morning, just a gallop. He'll gallop a mile and an eighth or a mile and a quarter tomorrow."
Orchard Park already has five wins this year, all but one in stakes competition. The only blemish on his 2002 record is a third-place finish in the Grade III Crown Royal American Turf at Churchill Downs May 3. In his last two starts, he won the Grade III Jefferson Cup Stakes at Churchill Downs in June and the $500,000 Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs last month.
"He's turned into a good horse for us," said Nicks. "You can't knock what he's done so far. He's beaten some nice horses and he's gone the mile and a quarter. He doesn't make many mistakes. He had some traffic problems in the Crown Royal in his only defeat this year.
"The difference between him and some of the others we've brought in the past is that he's a little easier to manage in his races," he continued. "He's pretty much push button. If we need to go, we go -- if we need to wait, we wait. He's able to do whatever is necessary."
Three Kings Stables' Extra Check, a good third in the Grade II American Derby, beaten only a length and a half for all of it, gets a chance to make amends in Saturday's $400,000 Secretariat Stakes for 3-year-olds at Arlington Park.
The Secretariat is one of three Grade I races that make up the one-day International Festival of Racing at Arlington, along with the Arlington Million and the $700,000 Beverly D.
"Extra Check is coming up to the race great," said trainer Mike Stidham Friday morning. "He couldn't be doing better. In the American Derby, he had to steady around the turn, and he was still making up ground on the top two at the end. If anything, he has moved forward both mentally and physically since that race, and has been putting on weight steadily as he matures."
A horse who has been overlooked in the Secretariat field is James M. Messineo's Major Rhythm, dismissed at 50-1 in morning-line odds.
However, Major Rhythm was beaten only a nose by Extra Check in allowance company here July 6, when going a mile and a sixteenth over the local lawn.
"I think that race had some influence on the decision by the owner to try this spot," said Jeffrey Lynn, trainer of Major Rhythm. "That's why we decided to take a shot.
"He's been training good," said Lynn of Major Rhythm. "He needs to have been training good to try a spot like this. I'm sure it's a dream, but it's not a big field. Hopefully, we'll be able to beat a few of 'em."
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