08/09/2011 3:51PM

Arlington: Mission Approved figures elusive Million target

Justin N. Lane
Mission Approved went wire to wire in the Manhattan, and will try to do the same in the Arlington Million.

CHICAGO – The 29th edition of the Arlington Million largely will be billed as a rematch between Cape Blanco and Gio Ponti, the one-two finishers in the Man o’ War Stakes on July 9 at Belmont Park, but there is little doubt that to win Saturday’s Million, both horses will have to run down Mission Approved. And that, to the surprise of most, has proven to be a difficult task over the past year.

Mission Approved was plucked from relative obscurity by an even more obscure horseman, Naipaul Chatterpaul, via a $35,000 claim in June 2010. A month later, and a 50-1 shot, Mission Approved led every stride but the last in the 2010 Man o’ War, finally giving way to heavily favored Gio Ponti. On June 11, Mission Approved validated that performance with a front-running, long-layoff win over Bim Bam and Gio Ponti in the Grade 1 Manhattan Handicap. And even Mission Approved’s fourth-place finish in the Man o’ War wasn’t bad: Hounded by Cape Blanco, he lost the lead in midstretch but held decently to be beaten less than five lengths.

“I have a lot of confidence in this horse,” Chatterpaul said Tuesday afternoon after Mission Approved had drawn post 8 for the Million.

Mission Approved, Cape Blanco, and Gio Ponti were among 10 horses entered in the 1 1/4-mile Million during a drawn-out process at WGN television studios on Chicago’s northwest side. Cape Blanco, bidding to give trainer Aidan O’Brien his second Million win, drew post 7 and was made the 9-5 morning-line favorite by Arlington oddsmaker Joe Kristufek. His price could go shorter than that if bettors expect a repeat of the Man o’ War, in which Cape Blanco seized control of the race before the eighth pole and easily held clear Gio Ponti’s late run. Gio Ponti, meanwhile, drew post 5 and is the 2-1 second choice in his third straight Million appearance. He won the race in 2009 and finished a close second to Debussy in the 2010 edition, and a victory Saturday would make Gio Ponti the only two-time Million winner besides John Henry.

The morning-line suggests bettors will judge the top pair a cut above the rest: Mission Approved is the 6-1 third choice, followed by English invader Wigmore Hall at 8-1, the French horse Zack Hall at 10-1, and Arlington Handicap winner Tajaaweed at 12-1. Also at 12-1 is Colonial Turf Cup winner Rahystrada, with the others all serious longshots.

Mission Approved has carried an aura of flukiness since his near-upset in the 2010 Man o’ War, but he was bet to 9-2 last time and now has turned in three straight performances befitting a Grade 1 American turf horse. Chatterpaul said he would have preferred a draw closer to the rail, but post 8 shouldn’t be Mission Approved’s undoing Saturday. A 7-year-old With Approval horse, Mission Approved has been the first-call leader in his last 13 starts, and jockey Jose Espinoza might try to open more daylight on Cape Blanco than he did in the Man o’ War.

“He likes to be on the lead,” Chatterpaul said. “I wouldn’t take that away from him.”

Chatterpaul more than anyone should know what Mission Approved does and does not like. Indian-born but brought up in Guyana, Chatterpaul rode races before coming to the United States and working in various capacities before getting back into racing. He still gallops many of his own horses, including Mission Approved, who has only jogged over Arlington’s synthetic main track, but got in more serious morning exercise on the grass course Sunday, and will train on turf again later in the week. This is Mission Approved’s first trip west, and Chatterpaul himself never has started a horse outside New York, New Jersey, or Pennsylvania, but the trainer reports his horse settled easily into new surroundings, and Chatterpaul, smiling broadly during a champagne toast at the end of the draw ceremony, seemed quite content in unfamiliar surroundings himself.

Beverly D.: Stacelita 3-1 favorite

Eleven horses were entered in the $750,000 Beverly D. Stakes, perhaps the deepest of Saturday’s three Grade 1 turf races. The 3-1 morning-line favorite is Stacelita, who makes her first start under the care of trainer Chad Brown after racing for France-based Jean-Claude Roget in her first 15 starts. Stacelita’s biggest win came two summers ago in the French Oaks, but she finished a close third to males in the United Nations at Monmouth in her most recent race.

River Jetez, the race’s lone foreigner, drew post 6 and is the 4-1 second choice for trainer Mike de Kock. Cheetah, a sharp winner of the Dick Memorial at Delaware in her most recent start, is the 9-2 third choice, with four more horses clustered between 6-1 and 10-1 morning-line odds.

Secretariat: O’Brien sends a good one

Virginia Derby winner Air Support was withdrawn from the $400,000 Secretariat earlier in the week, but trainer Aidan O’Brien’s decision to send Treasure Beach for the 3-year-old race more than makes up for the defection.

O’Brien had Roderic O’Connor and Treasure Beach among the Secretariat pre-entries, but only Treasure Beach was entered Tuesday, and he might be the highest-class European ever to ship for the race. Treasure Beach, a Galileo colt, finished second by a head in the English Derby before winning the Irish Derby on June 26, and was installed as the 2-1 morning-line choice on the strength of that form. Banned, the Virginia Derby runner-up, landed post 7 and is the 3-1 second choice under Garrett Gomez. Third choice at 9-2 is Willcox Inn, winner of the first two-thirds of Arlington’s Mid-America Triple, the Arlington Classic and the American Derby, and a likely pace factor under Robby Albarado.

Arlington Million
Purse: $1 million; 1 1/4 miles (turf); Grade 1
1 Rahystrada S. Russell 12-1
2 Tajaaweed J. Graham 12-1
3 Dean’s Kitten J. Leparoux 30-1
4 Zack Hall C. Soumillon 10-1
5 Gio Ponti R. Dominguez 2-1
6 Proceed Bee C. Emigh 50-1
7 Cape Blanco J. Spencer 9-5
8 Mission Approved J. Espinoza 6-1
9 Wigmore Hall H. Turner 8-1
10 General Perfect G. Gomez 50-1
Beverly D.
Purse:  $750,000, 1 3/16 miles (turf); Grade 1
1 Stacelita R. Dominguez 3-1
2 Check the Label J. Leparoux 20-1 
3 Fantasia R. Maragh 6-1
4 Upperline J. Graham 20-1
5 Dubawi Heights J. Rosario 10-1
6 River Jetez C. Soumillon 4-1
7 Cheetah G. Gomez 9-2
8 Pachattack F. Geroux 10-1
9 Eclair de  Lune J. Alvarado 12-1
10 Romin Robin J. Santana 30-1
11 Never Retreat S. Bridghmohan 10-1
Secretariat Stakes
Purse: $400,000, 1 1/4 miles (turf); Grade 1
1 Newsdad J. Rosario 10-1
2 Ziyarid C. Lemaire 10-1
3 Treasure Beach C. O’Donoghue 2-1
4 Crimson China R. Maragh 15-1
5 Casino Host R. Dominguez 8-1
6 Suntracer S. Bridgmohan 15-1
7 Banned G. Gomez 3-1
8 Derby Kitten J. Leparoux 15-1
9 Willcox Inn R. Albarado 9-2
10 L’Aiglon  F. Geroux 50-1