08/11/2011 3:37PM

Arlington: Look beyond just size in Secretariat


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – Treasure Beach, the most accomplished European 3-year-old ever to ship to Arlington Park for the Secretariat Stakes, will not be trembling to look at his main competition in the paddock here Saturday afternoon.

Stack Banned and Willcox Inn atop one another, and you’d just about come up with a single tall horse. But as far as turf talent is considered, size doesn’t matter.

Banned won the American Turf and Jefferson Cup before finishing second by a neck in the Virginia Derby, and Willcox Inn is two-thirds of the way to the fourth sweep of Arlington’s Mid-America Triple, and one of the Americans just might have a chance to take down Treasure Beach in the $400,000 Secretariat.

Ten were entered, but Crimson China runs instead at Saratoga and will be scratched, leaving a field of nine in the 1 1/4-mile grass race. Bettors figure to judge Treasure Beach the most likely winner, and with good reason. Europeans have won the Secretariat just twice (Treasure Beach’s trainer, Aidan O’Brien, has one of those wins), but the overseas shippers have tended to be second-tier types back home. Not Treasure Beach. But for the amazing late surge of Pour Moi in the English Derby, Treasure Beach would come to Chicago a dual-classic winner overseas, since in his next race he scored a three-quarter-length victory in the Irish Derby. In his 2011 debut, Treasure Beach edged top-class Nathaniel in the Chester Vase, and Treasure Beach already has earned more than $1.5 million this year.

All that said, Treasure Beach, who races on Lasix for the first time, could be beatable. He was not at his best July 14 at Longchamp, coming home one-paced for fourth in the Grand Prix de Paris, and Treasure Beach returns just one month later for his fifth start in three months, this time with an overseas shipping experience further taxing him.

Willcox Inn, on the other hand, races out of the stall he has occupied since May, and Willcox Inn has hit peak form this summer at Arlington. He won the Arlington Classic by more than two lengths and the American Derby by four, showing no signs of an inferiority complex about his height.

“When [trainer Mike Stidham] first saw him at the sale, he said we were either buying a Shetland pony or a racehorse,” said assistant trainer Hilary Pridham, who helped select Willcox Inn for purchase.

A racehorse it was. Willcox Inn beat Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom in his career debut last year at Arlington, finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, and after a somewhat slow start to his 2011 campaign has come on strong. Willcox Inn has tactical speed in what seems like a paceless race and is well drawn on the outside to deploy it.

“That’s what’s good about drawing the 9-hole,” Stidham said. “If they’re all grabbing a hold and he backs up the lead in their face, that’s fine with me. And if someone wants to go from the inside, we can track him.”

Banned has a few inches on Willcox Inn, though he’s hardly a giant. But like Willcox Inn, Banned covers a lot of ground with a single stride, and he narrowly missed beating Air Support last month in a strong edition of the Virginia Derby.

“He’s progressing well, holding his form, and we hope for the best,” trainer Tom Proctor said. “He can run however the race sets up, whatever he and the jockey are comfortable with.”

A wet turf course, which is possible, wouldn’t please Willcox Inn’s connections, though he won the Arlington Classic over yielding ground. Banned has two wins on wet turf and no apparent course preference.

Casino Host, Newsdad, and French shipper Ziyarid have an outside chance. Casino Host floundered over a yielding Belmont course two starts ago, but was third, beaten less than a length by Banned, in Virginia,

“We thought he was one of our best 2-year-olds last year,” said trainer Chad Brown. “Physically, he’s finally maturing.”