08/10/2017 2:06PM

All eyes on Deauville in Arlington Million

Barbara D. Livingston
Deauville will face 11 competitors in Saturday's Arlington Million.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – The Irish horse with the French name and the famous English jockey is the most likely winner of the 35th Arlington Million in the Chicago suburbs on Saturday.

Deauville finished third in the 2016 Million while facing older horses as a 3-year-old, and he appears well positioned to go two places better this year for trainer Aidan O’Brien and jockey Ryan Moore.

Deauville’s task became easier Thursday when another overseas shipper, the major contender Scottish, injured a fetlock in a morning work and was taken out of the Million.

That leaves a field of 12 to run 1 1/4 miles over the wide swath of Arlington’s grass course that somehow, even after heavy use during the ongoing meet, still looks glorious. So does the Saturday weather forecast, which calls for sunshine and a high temperature of 76. There was a chance of rain here Thursday night into Friday morning, but Arlington has been in a dry spell and was watering the course this week to keep it from becoming too hard.

The Million, set for 6:19 p.m. Central, is the 11th of 12 races on an excellent card that starts at 12:15 and includes two other Grade 1 races, the Secretariat (race 7, 3:50) and the Beverly D. (race 10, 5:35). The other stakes on the card are the Grade 3 American St. Leger, the Grade 3 Pucker Up, and the $75,000 Bruce D. Memorial.

NBC Sports Network will televise the Beverly D. and the Million, both Breeders’ Cup Challenge Win and You’re In races, on a telecast from 5:30 to 6:30 Central.

Arlington offers guaranteed pools on three 50-cent multirace wagers: a $150,000-guaranteed pick five starting in race 8, a $300,000 pick four starting in race 9, and a $100,000 pick three starting in race 10.

It would be imprudent to leave Deauville off tickets covering any of those bets. Moore has never won the Million, while O’Brien would have three victories rather than two had Powerscourt not been disqualified in 2004. Last summer, Deauville went from a win in the Belmont Derby back to Ireland before returning to the States to finish a solid third in the Million, a race no 3-year-old has won since 1983.

And given O’Brien’s mastery of both training and planning, it would not be surprising if the Million run a year ago was the start of a long-range goal of winning this summer.

Deauville’s form does not leap off the page, but he is plenty qualified to succeed if one reads between the lines. He’s a fast-ground horse, so excuse poor starts that came on wet courses, and the Million’s 10-furlong trip is his best game. Deauville has raced that distance twice this year, finishing second to Ulysses, perhaps Europe’s best older middle-distance horse at the moment, and third over soft turf in the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup.

O’Brien experimented with blinkers and a straight-course mile in the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes, in which Deauville finished a strong third. Then came a second-place finish under a 138-pound impost in the Group 3 Meld over yielding ground at Leopardstown last month which was a mere tune-up for Saturday’s start.

Deauville has a fine draw in post 5, but Mekhtaal, the other major European in the race, does not, breaking from post 12 with Scottish out. Since 1990, posts 9 and out in 1 1/4-mile Arlington turf races have produced just six winners from 116 starters.

Mekhtaal is one of six Group 1 or Grade 1 winners in the field, but his lone tally at the highest level came in a modest edition of the Group 1 Prix d’Ispahan. Mekhtaal most recently finished sixth in the Group 1 Prince of Wales’s Stakes and has not yet hit a mark as high as Deauville.

Scottish’s defection could mean Beach Patrol winds up on the lead, though trainer Chad Brown would prefer otherwise.

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“I’d like to see him stalking, in close range and forwardly placed, but not on the lead,” Brown said.

Beach Patrol, a course-and-distance winner one year ago in the Secretariat, was the target last out in the Grade 1 United Nations, where he got in a speed duel and finished third.

Trainer Graham Motion believes Ascend got the wrong trip when he finished fourth two weeks ago in the Bowling Green over 1 3/8 miles at Saratoga. After relaxing off a moderate first quarter, Ascend, who won the 1 1/4-mile, Grade 1 Manhattan in June, hooked up on a hot middle pace and faded.

“I think we took him out of his race and out of his style,” said Motion, who would prefer a more patient approach Saturday from jockey Jose Ortiz.

Kasaqui might have won the 2016 Million with a better trip, and he had a difficult journey finishing third last month in the Arlington Handicap, where he stumbled and grabbed a quarter at the start, then raced from well behind a slow pace while giving weight.

“I don’t know if you can ask him to improve,” trainer Ignacio Correas said. “You just need to ask him to maintain.”

The admirable Divisidero’s two Grade 1 wins came at Churchill Downs, where his record is three wins from three starts, compared with 2 for 11 at other venues. Divisidero is unplaced in three tries at 1 1/4 miles.

The Pizza Man won the 2015 Million but finished sixth in the race last year, and though he might be set for his best in the third start of his 2017 campaign, The Pizza Man at age 7 could need 1 1/2 miles for his best.

Ghost Hunter and Oak Brook finished first and second in the Arlington Handicap but lack Kasaqui’s level of accomplishment. Oscar Nominated and Enterprising, trainer Mike Maker’s entrants, would need career bests to threaten. Overseas shipper Fanciful Angel shows no sign of being a Grade 1-level horse.