08/15/2013 1:31PM

Arlington: American St. Leger's marathon distance ideal for Dark Cove

Four-Footed Fotos
Dark Cove, who was running for a claiming tag earlier this year, has flourished since he began to focus on turf marathons..

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – The Ramsey juggernaut knows so few bounds today that even turf stakes run at the inordinately long (and odd) distance of 1 11/16 miles are part of the domain.

Dark Cove, who earlier this year was running in claiming races, will be carrying the familiar red-and-white silks of Ken and Sarah Ramsey on Saturday as a prime contender in the $400,000 American St. Leger, the first of four straight major stakes on the Arlington Million program at Arlington Park.

Eight older grass horses will traverse the three turns of the St. Leger, with Dark Cove and jockey Joel Rosario likely looming large from the start. Dark Cove is coming into the race off three straight wins, all in graded turf stakes at 1 1/2 miles, and all by way of a pressing style that suddenly has made him a force within the national ranks in long-distance turf events. The 6-year-old Dark Cove will break from post 1 as the 3-1 second choice on the Arlington morning line.

“We’re just looking to keep his streak alive,” said Mike Maker, who trains Dark Cove for the Ramseys, the up-from-the-bootstraps Kentucky couple who set owners’ records this spring at Keeneland and Churchill Downs and lead the current standings at Saratoga.

“Obviously we’ve found a home for him in these races,” Maker added. “We’ve had this race in mind for quite some time because there aren’t a whole lot of opportunities like this, at least with so much money on the line.”

Still, while Dark Cove has developed into a standout in this country, he might well be just another horse in Europe, where high-class turf marathoners abound. Last year, an Irish-bred named Jakkalberry put on a clinic in capturing the first-ever American St. Leger as the favorite on Million Day, and this time, a horse from the same stable is favored to win. That would be Dandino, a British-bred 6-year-old coming off back-to-back runner-up finishes in presumably tougher Group 2 events in his native land.

Dandino (post 4, 9-5), with Ryan Moore riding for trainer Marco Botti, will be treated with Lasix for the first time in his American debut.

Another Euro horse, Wigmore Hall (post 8, 7-2), is the leading earner in the field with more than $2 million. This is the fourth straight year he has started here on Million Day.

As the seventh of 12 races, the St. Leger leads off the 50-cent pick four with a $200,000 pool guarantee.

◗ As occasionally happens with the surfeit of available 3-year-old turf fillies, the Hatoof Stakes was split into two divisions Saturday, bookending the four major stakes as races 6 and 11. Both of the one-mile turf races look well-matched, with no clear-cut favorites among respective fields of 10.

In the first division, the Illinois-bred My Option could be the one to beat when switching surfaces from her win versus open company in the Grade 3 Arlington Oaks last month. Likewise, Frivolous, the Arlington Oaks runner-up, figures as a major player in the second division.

The purse for both divisions is $75,000. The Hatoof is named for the 1994 Beverly D. winner.

◗ The $65,000 Straight Line (race 1, post 12:45) should set a competitive tone for the day, with 10 3-year-olds going a flat mile on Polytrack. Cameo Appearance, making his stakes debut for Wayne Catalano after a pair of easy local wins, is a 2-1 program favorite.

◗ Besides the pick-four guarantee, Arlington also is offering a $100,000 guarantee on the 50-cent pick five that runs from the Secretariat (race 8) through the last of 12.