08/07/2008 12:00AM

Arlington grass grabs spotlight


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - August is all about Del Mar and Saratoga when it comes to top-class American racing, except for the one Saturday when the suburbs of Chicago become the center of the racing world for a couple of hours. There are only three Grade 1 races left in Illinois, and they'll all be run in the space of 92 minutes Saturday, when Arlington presents the Secretariat, the Beverly D., and the Arlington Million.

All Grade 1's are not created equal, of course, and that inequality is on full display Saturday. The Million is probably the deepest grass race run in the United States so far this year, with a field of eight that includes five Grade 1 or Group 1 winners; the Beverly D. is a compelling showdown between divisional leaders Precious Kitten and Mauralakana; and the Secretariat is, well, a Grade 1 race in name only.

It's not clear that the 3-year-old grass division merits a Grade 1 event before the fall, and the Secretariat is Exhibit A. Despite a $400,000 purse and top-class black type, the Secretariat attracted a dismal field of nine - two stakes winners and seven who are eligible for a nonwinners-of-two allowance race. Gio Ponti, the Virginia Derby winner, would have been favored, but the race he just won was only three weeks ago. The California grass 3-year-olds who ran in two divisions of the opening-day Oceanside are staying home for the Grade 2, $150,000 La Jolla instead of heading east. As it turns out, probably half the field that ran here Monday in the Hall of Fame Stakes could have been no worse than third choice in the Secretariat.

Tizdejavu is the 6-5 morning-line favorite and the only legit American entrant. The Tiznow colt comes off three straight front-running victories in graded stakes, two at Churchill and one at Arlington, but he's no cinch. His latter victory, in the Grade 2 American Derby, was a slow one at the expense of claimers in a race where the other accomplished colts didn't run a lick. Plan B is a colt named Plan, a Kentucky-bred son of Storm Cat and Spain who will be making his American debut off a victory in the Group 3 International at the Curragh.

Plan will run for the odd couple of IEAH Stables and trainer Aidan O'Brien, who is mounting a serious challenge to Bobby Frankel's 2003 record of 25 Grade 1 or Group 1 victories in one year. O'Brien has already won 16 as of July 31, including four each from Duke of Marmalade and Henrythenavigator and one apiece by eight other horses in his powerful stable.

The Beverly D. drew nine, including the two top-ranked turf fillies in the nation on DRF's current Watchmaker Watch, Precious Kitten and Mauralakana. Precious Kitten is a three-time Grade 1 winner and took the Matriarch and Gamely in two of her last three starts, but has lost five of her last six tries outside California and might be racing a bit beyond her best distance in the 1 3/16-mile Beverly D.

Mauralakana is 4 for 5 in New York and Florida this year, including dramatic victories in the New York and the Sheepshead Bay in her last two. The field also includes Dreaming of Anna, the 2-year-old filly champion of 2006 who is 8 for 11 on the grass, though in easier and shorter spots than this, and Rosinka, who split Lahudood and Wait a While in last fall's Grade 1 Flower Bowl.

The Million itself drew eight, including the winners of Grade 1 or Group 1 races in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, France, Italy, and Hong Kong. The morning-line favorites are globetrotting Archipenko at 2-1 and the 5-2 O'Brien-trained Mount Nelson, a Rock of Gibraltar 4-year-old who won the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown last time out. There's a pricier foreign invader in the 10-1 French colt Spirit One, just two lengths off Duke of Marmalade in the Prix Ganay. Those three will give us a handle on where Einstein, the only dual Grade 1 grass winner in the U.S. this year, might stack up against world-class competition. Stream Cat is an intriguing bomb: He has never competed at this level before but looked like a new horse in his 5-year-old debut, thrashing Cosmonaut off a nine-month layoff in the July 11 Arlington Handicap, the local prep for the Million.

I was at Arlington that day for the first time in a couple of years and was reminded what a spectacular racing facility it is. It may not have Saratoga's rickety charm or Del Mar's seaside vistas but it's a more comfortable, grand, and immaculately maintained plant than either. Arlington is not a practical model for anyone else to emulate, as it was lavishly constructed with Dick Duchossois's private fortune as a monument to himself and Illinois racing, but it's a lovely bonus for the sport and Chicagoland fans that he did it. The Secretariat may not be a genuine Grade 1, but the Million and Beverly D. sure are, and so is Arlington Park.