08/10/2012 4:31PM

Arlington Million field swells to 11 at pre-entry time

Tom Keyser
Little Mike's Turf Classic win at Churchill Downs (above) is the only North American Grade 1 win this year by an Arlington Million pre-entrant.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – A couple of somewhat unexpected local participants bumped the prospective field for the Aug. 18 Arlington Million up to 11 when pre-entries for the four Million Day stakes races were taken Friday at Arlington.

Joining the likely Million field were Arlington-based Willcox Inn, the former winner of two-thirds of the 2011 Mid-America Triple here, and Cherokee Lord, a solid older campaigner who was a respectable fifth last out in the Arlington Handicap. A third Arlington horse, Vertiformer, was cross-entered in the Million and the $400,000 American St. Leger, a new race on the Million program.

Five overseas runners – Asfare, Colombian, Crackerjack King, Treasure Beach, and Wigmore Hall – were among the Million pre-entries. In all, 15 European-based horses are expected to ship to Arlington with the first arrivals due Friday, the last on Tuesday. Trainer John Gosden chose Colombian for the Million over his other possible runner, Questioning, and has a horse pre-entered in all four races. Trainer Dermot Weld, on the other hand, had several possible runners for the Million Day stakes but elected not to participate at all.

The late local entrants jumped into the fray in part because this is not a vintage Million. The 11 entrants have combined to win just two Grade or Group 1 races in 2012; Little Mike was a front-running winner of the Grade 1 Turf Classic at Churchill on Derby Day while Crackerjack King beat Asfare by a couple lengths in the Group 1 Premio Presidente della Republica on May 13 in Italy.

The Million pre-entrants have combined to win just 10 races from 38 starts in 2012, and two Europeans, Treasure Beach and Wigmore Hall, are a combined 0-0-1 from 10 starts this season. Wigmore Hall is making his third trip to Chicago, having finished second in the 2010 Secretariat and fourth last year in the Million. Treasure Beach just raced on Thursday at Leopardstown in Ireland, finishing fourth in the Group 3 Ballyroan Stakes. Treasure Beach won the 2011 Secretariat but looked little like that capable runner when he finished fifth July 14 in the Man o’ War at Belmont Park.

Little Mike, who will race beyond 1 1/8 miles for the first time in the Million, scored the biggest 2012 win among the American runners when he led all the way on wet turf to capture the Turf Classic. Rahystrada and Boisterous finished one-two in the Arlington Handicap here last month, a race in which Vertiformer was fourth and Cherokee Lord fifth. Willcox Inn was a sharp one-mile allowance-race winner July 22 at Arlington while making his first start of the year. Last year he won the Arlington Classic and American Derby over the local lawn before checking in fourth in the Secretariat.

“He came out of that race great, but my only question is I still do not know if the mile and a quarter is as good for him as a mile and an eighth,” trainer Mike Stidham said of Willcox Inn.

It costs $5,000 to pre-enter the Million (and another $10,000 to start), and the list of pre-entries – barring injury – typically mirrors the actual Million starting field.

The Grade 1 Secretariat got a good boost when trainer Christophe Clement pre-entered Summer Front, who is 5 for 5 on turf and was especially impressive winning the Duluth Stakes July 22 at Saratoga. The 1 1/4-mile Secretariat will be his first turf try beyond one mile.

Silver Max, already a seven-time turf winner in 2012, tops the Secretariat field. One of three pre-entrants from trainer Dale Romans, along with Cozzetti and Finnegan’s Wake, Silver Max has ripped off six straight wins, five in stakes, and most recently captured the Virginia Derby. Three Europeans – Bayrir, Daddy Long Legs, and Dark Stranger – were pre-entered in the Secretariat, with Bayrir, a French horse, the most proven of the trio.

There are four more Euros pre-entered in the Beverly D., including the German horse Kapitale, English runners Joviality and I’m a Dreamer, and Ireland-based Up. Aidan O’Brien trains Up and has a horse pre-entered in all three of the Grade 1s.

And finally, with word that the $400,000 St. Leger was struggling to attract entrants, seemingly anyone anywhere with a horse who might stay 1 3/4 miles pre-entered the race. A total of 14 pre-entries were taken, though a significantly smaller number could actually start. Stars and Stripes Handicap winner Ioya Bigtime heads the North American-based group with three European horses – Bridge of Gold, Jackalberry, and Zuider Zee – also expected to start.

Entries for the four races will be taken on Tuesday.