08/07/2008 12:00AM

Archipenko heads European invasion

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The challenge presented by Archipenko and Mount Nelson in the Arlington Million adds luster to this year's renewal of America's oldest million-dollar race Saturday. Both Group 1 winners at the Million distance of 1 1/4 miles, they will vie for favoritism Saturday against what appears to be an outclassed home defense.

Archipenko is the one all other Million runners must fear.

Trained by master South African Mike de Kock, he is a superbly bred son of Kingmambo out of Bound, herself a three-quarter sister to Nureyev and a half-sister to the dam of the great stallion Sadler's Wells. Archipenko has been in peak form since February when de Kock applied blinkers for the first time to aid in winning the one-mile Group 2 Al Fahidi Fort at Nad Al Sheba. Archipenko then finished a game half-length third behind Jay Peg and the excellent French filly Darjina in the 1 1/8-mile Dubai Duty Free.

Sent to Hong Kong for the 1 1/4-mile Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup on April 27, Archipenko responded with a 1 3/4-length victory, suggesting that he is at his best going 10 furlongs, the distance at which he had won the Group 2 Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial in Ireland as a 3-year-old. He prepped for the Million with a victory in Ascot's Summer Mile Stakes, a Group 2 race that had Group 1 cachet, with multiple Group 1-placed Cesare second and last year's four-time Group 1 winner Ramonti running fifth.

Archipenko loves firm ground and will have his regular rider, South African Kevin Shea, in the saddle. It is ironic that his main rival in the Million - Mount Nelson - is trained by Aidan O'Brien, at whose Ballydoyle yard Archipenko was ensconced before being bought privately by Sheikh Mohammed's cousin Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum.

Archipenko is the best horse that John Magnier, Michael Tabor, O'Brien, and company have ever let slip from their grasp, not that O'Brien is missing him. The Master of Ballydoyle has chalked up 17 Group 1 wins since April 27, Mount Nelson accounting for one of them in his last start - a victory in a subpar renewal of the 1 1/4-mile Eclipse Stakes at Sandown Park.

A 4-year-old son of Rock of Gibraltar, Mount Nelson was the only Group 1 winner in the Eclipse field, but in victory he was apparently beginning to live up to the potential he had shown at 2 when he won the one-mile Group 1 Criterium International at Saint-Cloud. Last year, he was sidelined with foot problems after he tore a shoe off in training and ran only once, up the track in the Champion Stakes. Two back, he was unlucky not to finish closer in Royal Ascot's one-mile Queen Anne Stakes, which was won by his stablemate Haradasun. Mount Nelson could be sitting on a big race for the hottest trainer in the world, who will employ in Johnny Murtagh the hottest jockey in the world. O'Brien will not be at Arlington; he has delegated his responsibilities to Ballydoyle's traveling head lad, Pat Keating.

A third Euro invader in the Million, Spirit One, finished only a head behind Mount Nelson in the Criterium International two years ago. He went off form at 3 when tried against such good ones as Soldier of Fortune, Lawman, and Literato, but recovered the winning knack in March to take the 1 1/4-mile Group 3 Prix Exbury. Last time, Spirit One was a close second in a Group 3 to Crossharbour, who was a dull fifth in a one-mile Group 3 next time. So the chances of this Philippe Demercastel-trained son of Anabaa Blue do not look promising, although he would move up if the ground were to turn soft.

Archipenko carries a 122+ Racing Post Rating into the Million, while Mount Nelson has a 123. Einstein's best RPR is 119, while Stream Cat is at 117. Sudan earned a 120 for his fourth-place finish behind Red Rocks in the Man o' War. Timeform, however, rates Archipenko at 127 and Mount Nelson at 125.

o The Beverly D. has attracted some pretty tough customers in Precious Kitten (RPR 119), Dreaming of Anna (113), Rosinka (113), and Mauralakana (110). In Cicerole they will face a French filly whose best RPR is only 107, but one who always runs her race.

Trained by Jean-Claude Rouget, Cicerole is a daughter of Barathea who just may be able to handle this rise in both class and distance. First or second in her last six starts, all of them in listed or Group 3 competition, she should be running late at a price.

The other French filly in the field, Toque de Queda, has run decently against colts of late, but not well enough to suggest that she will be a factor Saturday.

o If O'Brien fails to win the Million with Mount Nelson, he has a very good chance with Plan in the Secretariat Stakes. As with so many Ballydoyle trainees, Plan is superbly bred. By Storm Cat out of Breeders' Cup Distaff winner Spain, he blossomed when beating older horses in the 1 1/8-mile Group 3 International Stakes at the Curragh on July 12, an effort that had O'Brien promptly announcing Plan's plan for a trip to Chicago. Plan may remind some of another O'Brien-trained colt with a four-letter name, Ciro, the winner of the Secretariat in 2000 off a distant third-place finish to Sinndar in the Irish Derby. Plan's latest effort compares favorably with that run.

The Dermot Weld-trained, Bert Firestone-owned Winchester has shown a liking for 1 1/4 miles in Ireland in maiden and listed-race company, but was apparently exposed by two dull efforts against better in the King Edward VII Stakes and the Irish Derby. His best RPR is a mere 102, while Plan's is 113+. Tizdejavu earned RPRs of 111 for his victories in the Crown Royal American Turf and the Jefferson Cup at Churchill Downs, but slipped to a 105 for his American Derby score last time on soft ground over the Secretariat course and distance. Having been tested by older horses, Plan may hold a slight edge.