08/16/2012 3:04PM

Arlington Million: Boisterous would benefit from soft turf

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Barbara D. Livingston
Boisterous has won six of eight turf starts on less than firm courses.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – Shug McGaughey was a cub back in 1981, the year of the inaugural Arlington Million.

“I was there for the first one,” McGaughey said. “I was training there, and they said they were going to run a million-dollar race, and I thought it was the craziest thing I ever heard.”

Thirteen years later, McGaughey had the Million at his mercy with Lure, the two-time Breeders’ Cup Mile winner and the best grass horse the Hall of Famer ever has trained. It poured buckets Million week 1994. Lure didn’t like it soft and stayed in the barn, and to date, the only Million starter on the McGaughey ledger is Good Reward, who caught a wet course he didn’t like and finished eighth in 2005.

[ARLINGTON MILLION DAY: Get PPs, watch video analysis, and read latest news]

The 5-year-old horse Boisterous doesn’t rate close to the likes of Lure, but it would be just like racing’s ironic twists if he provided a first Million for McGaughey, who on Saturday will be at Saratoga to saddle another grass horse, Point of Entry, in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer.

Boisterous should have a good chance as one of 11 horses entered in the Million, a 1 1/4-mile race on Arlington’s hallowed turf. Boisterous heads an American group that will number six, including Vertiformer, who was cross-entered in the American St. Leger but was confirmed as a Million starter Friday morning by trainer Wayne Catalano. Five more horses have shipped from across the Atlantic, a solid group lacking the kind of standout who would have a distinct edge on the likes of Boisterous. The richest of the Euros are Treasure Beach and Wigmore Hall, both of whom have been to Arlington before, but those horses are off form. More dangerous are lesser-known Columbian, Crackerjack King, and Afsare.

Boisterous, unlike Lure, relishes grass that’s taken water: He has made eight starts on courses rated less than firm and won six of them. It has been a wet August at Arlington and the course took significant rainfall Thursday morning.

“If it’s got a little bit of give, it does help him,” McGaughey said.

In the Fort Marcy Stakes, run on yielding turf, Boisterous outkicked the retired Desert Blanc, but in the Manhattan Handicap, run on much different going, he could not reach that foe.

“It was hard that day, and I didn’t think he had quite the kick that he has when it’s a little softer,” McGuaghey said.

Boisterous, owned by the Phipps Stable, and ridden for the first time by Jose Lezcano, lost the Arlington Handicap by a neck to Rahystrada last month, but had a far worse trip and was gaining late. Rahystrada, fourth in the 2010 Million and fifth last year, surprisingly seized the Arlington Handicap lead and wired the field but will employ different tactics in the Million with habitual front-runner Little Mike entered.

“We aren’t going to try that again,” said trainer Scooter Hughes. “I think we should be laying second or third.”

Little Mike has yet to race beyond 1 1/8 miles but has won his last two starts at that distance, including a front-running score in the Group 1 Turf Classic in May at Churchill Downs.

“Every time you ask a horse to do something for the first time you always have to cross your fingers,” said trainer Dale Romans. “His best two races are at a mile and an eighth, so maybe he can stretch his speed and go a little farther.”

The longshot Cherokee Lord tracked Rahystrada in the Arlington Handicap but does have ample early speed and could vie for the lead if sent from an outside post Saturday. Willcox Inn impressively won an Arlington allowance race last month in his first start of 2012 and might still be a race away from his best.

While the American horse Boisterous wants softer turf, English shipper Crackerjack King has come here hoping for a fast course. A perfect 7 for 7 in Italy, Crackerjack King has lost his only two starts in other countries, finishing 15th last year in the French Derby and fifth last month in the Group 1 Eclipse Stakes in England. His connections, however, believe circumstances and not stiffer competition led to the defeats.

“We were a little concerned with coming to Chicago, since he didn’t do well at all shipping to France,” said assistant trainer Lucie Botti, the wife of trainer Marco Botti and Crackerjack King’s occasional exercise rider. “He’s been bright since he got here. So far, so good, but he needs fast ground.”

Crackerjack King accelerated sharply to beat fellow Million starter Afsare last spring in Italy, but it’s tougher to project where Colombian ranks. He was eighth last out facing top-level competition in the Group 1 Prince of Wales Stakes at Ascot and has beaten competition similar to what he will face Saturday.

“He’s a handy horse and he turns well, but if it turns out to be firm ground that goes against him,” said trainer John Gosden, who won the 2010 Million with Debussy.

Firm ground is possible but good going more likely, though Saturday’s weather forecast calls for ideal conditions. Sunny skies and a high temperature in the mid-70s should swell the ontrack crowd, but those unable to attend can watch a Million broadcast airing on WGN TV Chicago and WGN America between 5 and 6 p.m. Central. HRTV also has a crew on site covering Million Day. A 12-race card, with the Million going as race 11, begins at 12:15 and, as usual, includes two more Grade 1’s, the Secretariat (race 8) and the Beverly D. (race 10). New to Million Day is the $400,000 American St. Leger, which kicks off the major stakes action in race 7, and begins a 50-cent pick five with a guaranteed $100,000 pool. A guaranteed $200,000 pick four spans races 9-12 and covers the Beverly D. and the Million. Both the Million and the Beverly D. are Breeders’ Cup Challenge Races, the Million linked to the BC Turf, the Beverly D. to the Filly and Mare Turf.