07/08/2009 11:00PM

Arlington Handicap attracts 13


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - They have come from New York and California, from Pennsylvania and Kentucky - to say nothing of the wilds of Will Rogers Downs in Tulsa, Okla. But there are surprisingly few of them in three of the four six-figure stakes races at Arlington Park on Saturday, races that were drawn here Wednesday.

Fact is, you could almost squeeze the fields for the Grade 2 American Derby, the Grade 3 Modesty, and the $200,000 Arlington Sprint into the same size starting gate it will take to hold the entrants in the Grade 3, $200,000 Arlington Handicap. That race, the last of 12 on a card with an early 12:15 p.m. first post, got a whopping 13 entrants, and is by far the deepest event on what should be an entertaining Million Preview Day.

The Arlington Handicap this year actually might provide a decent glimpse into the Aug. 8 Million. Stream Cat and Cosmonaut have run before in the Million, and between the two of them have captured the last three editions of the Arlington Handicap, with Stream Cat winning last year, and Cosmonaut taking back-to-back Handicaps in 2006-2007.

Lending serious depth to the 1 1/4-mile turf race are Kentucky shippers Silverfoot - fourth in the 2008 Million - and Thabazimbi, the latter a lightly raced Bill Mott trainee. Coming from Pennsylvania on Thursday will be Just as Well, who may vie for favoritism on the heels of a second-place finish in the Grade 2 Dixie when last he started. Thabazimbi (post 13), New York-based Cosmonaut (post 12) and Stream Cat (post 11) all landed outside posts, though there is a long run from the starting gate to the first turn in 10-furlong turf races here.

Saturday's race with the highest grade, the American Derby, got a field of seven. Chris Block, the trainer of likely favorite, Giant Oak, was hoping for at least that many, if not more.

"I wasn't wild about a five- or six-horse field," Block said. "I'd like to see a couple more in there to spread things out a little. Strange things can happen in short fields."

As the winner of the Arlington Classic here in his most recent start, Giant Oak is the only candidate to sweep Arlington's Mid-America Triple, a sweep that carries a $500,000 bonus this year for the series that concludes with the Secretariat next month. Even with the bonus, the $300,000 American Derby suffers from falling one week before the $750,000 Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs, and the field for Saturday's race - which includes Will Rogers-shipper Dakota Gypsy - has only three stakes winners. Among them is one of two California-based horses in for Million Preview Day, Oil Man, who won the Cinema Handicap in his most recent start. A European import trained by John Sadler, Oil Man may find himself in a position similar to Giant Oak's on Saturday - rating behind a false pace and hoping for the best.

And the American Derby is not the only paceless stakes with a closer expected to win. The $200,000 Modesty looks the same way. There are only six in this prep for the Beverly D., but maybe that won't hurt likely favorite Pure Clan, who won the five-horse Regret Stakes last summer at Churchill Downs closing into a slow pace. Pure Clan is one of four graded or group stakes winners in the field; the others are likely pacesetter Tizaqueena, former Brazilian star Colina Verde, and Dynaforce, who would benefit from wet course conditions.

The $200,000 Arlington Sprint, a 5 1/2-furlong Win and You're In race linked to the Breeders' Cup Sprint, drew a surprisingly short field of seven. The likely favorite here is Chamberlain Bridge, whose trainer, Bret Calhoun, won this race last year with Mr. Nightlinger.

There are two overnight stakes on Saturday's card, and those two (races 9 and 10) are hooked together with the Arlington Sprint (race 11) and the Arlington Handicap (race 12) in a $100,000-guaranteed pick four.