08/16/2012 3:36PM

Arlington Park: American St. Leger distance suits Europeans

Four-Footed Fotos
Zuider Zee could benefit from the mile-and-5 1/2-furlong distance of the American St. Leger.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – It’s not enough that Arlington Park possesses a European-style turf course, with sweeping turns and grass cut long and forgiving. No, Arlington is compelled toward greater internationalization. Occasionally it has added the word “International” to its name. From 2008 to 2010 it hosted the American 1000 Guineas for 3-year-old fillies. And the latest internationalization of the suburban Chicago plant is the $400,000 American St. Leger, a Million Day turf race contested over one mile and 5 1/2 furlongs.

But don’t, if you’re on the international bandwagon, make the mistake of calling the St. Leger a turf marathon.

“It’s wonderful seeing someone trying to replicate a proper middle-distance race,” trainer John Gosden, who is based in England, said with a hint of mischief. “And by European standards, that’s what it is: middle distance. It’s not even long distance. A real long distance race is much farther.”

Gosden would know. His horse for the American St. Leger, the German-bred Zuider Zee, finished fourth of 18 in his most recent start, the Queen Alexandra Stakes at Royal Ascot, a race not recommended for viewers with short attention spans. Contested over two miles and 5 1/2 furlongs, the Queen Alexandra was won in a time of 4 minutes, 48.3 seconds.

“Zuider Zee didn’t quite stay the distance,” Gosden said. “What a surprise.”

The shorter trip – and softer competition – in the American St. Leger should suit Zuider Zee, but there’s one significant obstruction, and his name is Jakkalberry.

Jakkalberry, a half-brother to Arlington Million starter Crackerjack King, has won 9 of 23 starts while establishing himself as a lower Group 1-level performer. This past spring, he finished third in the Sheema Classic in Dubai, beaten only by Cirrus des Aigles and St Nicholas Abbey, two of the best 12-furlong horses in the world.

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“This should be a good trip for him,” said Lucie Botti, an assistant to her husband, trainer Marco Botti, who will saddle the Million Day runners. “There’s no doubt about him staying. But he does need fast ground.”

Lake Drop is a European import of a different sort, having arrived at trainer Graham Motion’s base at the Fair Hill training center in Maryland earlier this summer. He has raced only in Italy and has nothing near the form of Jakkalberry.

Ioya Bigtime looks best of the American horses. (His stablemate Suntracer will scratch as long as Ioya Bigtime is well.) In his first longer-distance race, he led most of the way winning the 1 1/2-mile Stars and Stripes Handicap on the Arlington turf course.

A win by anyone else in the American St. Leger would qualify as an upset of, dare one say, international proportions.

* Vertiformer was cross-entered in the Arlington Million and American St. Leger. On Friday, his connections decided he will run in the Million.

* There are three $65,000 overnight stakes races on an excellent Million Day program. The card starts with the $65,000 Straight Line, a one-turn Polytrack mile where Hammer’s Terror could be favored over Hogy. The Hatoof, at 1 1/16 miles on turf for 3-year-old fillies, was split into two divisions. Nayarra, who exits the Grade 1 American Oaks and makes her first start for trainer Graham Motion, will be the public choice in race 5 but could be challenged by Arlington Oaks winner La Tia. The Hatoof’s second division is less clear cut, with Illinois-bred Leading Astray installed as the mild 4-1 morning-line favorite.