08/15/2013 5:06PM

Arlington Park: European invaders ready to take it to the turf


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – In the past five years, European invaders have won seven of the 15 Grade 1 races on the Arlington Million programs, and they are 1 for 1 in the new American St. Leger Stakes. International shipping no longer presents the imposing hurdles of the past, and overseas connections have become increasingly savvy about choosing horses that will fit American races. Fourteen Europeans are bedded down in Barn 28 on the Arlington backstretch this week, and it will be surprising if several of them don’t prove to be major players Saturday. Here’s a race-by-race look at their chances.

Arlington Million

 Grandeur  and The Apache top the  six Euros in the Million. Let’s start with Grandeur, an atypical European shipper. The big thing is Grandeur spent nearly two months in California last year; we already know he’s adept at American turf racing. He showed great acceleration in all three of his Southern California starts, and probably should have won the only race there he lost, the Hollywood Derby. Grandeur’s goal all year has been the Million, and he comes here on an improving pattern. His second at York last out was a strong showing – the best of Grandeur’s career, trainer Jeremy Noseda said – and even from post 13, Grandeur stands a strong chance.

South African trainer Mike de Kock has sent three horse to Arlington: Archipenko ran a tough-luck second in the 2008 Million, and de Kock has a second and third in the Beverly D. The man means business when he comes. Based this winter in Dubai, The Apache already has answered questions most Euros face coming to the United States – he likes fast going and handles a left-handed-turning course. In Sajjhaa, who beat him twice at Meydan, The Apache ran into a mare in superb form, and there was no disgrace in losing to her. The Apache was fourth behind Grandeur in the York Stakes, but that first start since Dubai was just as a means to this end. No Lasix for The Apache, who is the ever so slightly suspect at the Million’s 1 1/4 miles.

There’s a significant drop-off in Euro quality from there.  Side Glance  had an encouraging turf work Thursday but was beaten nearly two lengths by The Apache in Dubai. He has never won beyond 1 1/16 miles. There’s some upside here (and Lasix), and Side Glance is the most appealing of the Euro longshots.

Godolphin’s  Hunter’s Light  is a tiger on synthetics, but turf is a different story. He’d need the best grass race of his life to be a major factor. At 4, Guest of Honour probably has improvement in his future, but would need a massive do se of it to hit the board. Guest of Honour was a half-length behind Mull of Killough  when they met last month at Ascot, and while Mull of Killough is a solid racehorse, he is 7 and entirely exposed, and simply not quite good enough for this spot.

Beverly D. Stakes

Little separates the Euro trio of  Duntle , Dank, and Gifted Girl, but the betting will  say differently: Duntle is the likely second choice to Marketing Mix, and Dank will take action. Gifted Girl might be three times Dank’s odds, and thus is the value.

Duntle was disqualified from victory in the Group 1 Matron in Ireland last fall, but that wasn’t a strong Group 1: Duntle won by a nose over Chachamaidee, a Group 2 sort. I’m A Dreamer and Joviality, first and third in the 2012 Beverly D. – Marketing Mix sandwiched between – both handled Chachamaidee in 2012. Duntle has won left-handed, won on fast ground, and her one-mile overseas form probably translates to the Beverly D.’s 1 3/16-mile trip. But she seems less likely to beat Marketing Mix than the 2012 Euros.

Dank was beaten a half-length and a head in Duntle’s June 19 Duke of Cambridge win before capturing a 1 1/8-mile Irish Group 2 of no great consequence. She’s a nice, solid 4-year-old who probably transfers her form to American soil, but like Duntle, she’s unlikely to take down Marketing Mix.

Gifted Girl hadn’t shown much before this year, but Oliver Cole, son of trainer Paul Cole who traveled here with the filly, said Gifted Girl never got right physically during 2012. This year? A different filly. She’s comfortably beaten Ladys First in her last two starts, and Ladys First finished between Duntle and Dank in the Duke of Cambridge. Gifted Girl’s only 2013 loss came to Thistle Bird, who nearly won the Group 1 Nassau Stakes on Aug. 3. Gifted Girl likes fast ground, she’s athletic, she goes left-handed, and she’s a more appealing Beverly D. play than the other Euros.

Secretariat Stakes

First Cornerstone is easily the most accomplished of the three Europeans, but his good form – a Group 2 win and a Group 1 fourth – came last season. This year, First Cornerstone was fifth in the Irish 2000 Guineas, and 15th in the French Derby.

A Team Valor colt that’s been based in Ireland, but stays here after the Secretariat, First Cornerstone has serious questions to answer. He gets Lasix, but it has been allergies, Team Valor CEO Barry Irwin said, that have troubled First Cornerstone. No one has determined what triggers them, but the symptom is thick mucus that impedes breathing. First Cornerstone has been fine recently, but Irwin said it’s difficult to be confident Saturday. Moreover, though First Cornerstone has broadened, he didn’t grow much from 2 to 3, Irwin said.

The French colt Visiyani has the same owner, trainer, and jockey as 2012 Secretariat winner Bayrir, but similarities end there. Bayrir already was a Group 2 winner of obvious high-level ability pre-Chicago; not Visiyani. Visiyani has won twice and was competitive in a pair of Group 3’s, but he’s nowhere near proven Grade 1-class. The horses he beat July 7 at Maisons-Laffitte returned with really poor performances, and Visiyani, who races Lasix-free, never has faced a rival of any consequence.

English shipper Yeager might be even less proven than Visiyani, but has more upside. Yeager disappointed Noseda in his first two starts, but is 2 for 2 since Noseda began employing a tongue-tie. Yeager gets Lasix, and Noseda said the work Yeager had last week at Newmarket (Secretariat rider Ryan Moore up) easily was a career-best.

American St. Leger Stakes

Dandino, the morning-line favorite, has the same connections – owner Australian Thoroughbred Bloodstock and trainer Marco Botti – as last year’s winner, Jakkalberry, but comparisons between the pair are imperfect. Jakkalberry already was proven over the American St. Leger’s marathon distance, while Dandino has made only three starts beyond 1 1/2 miles, not running especially well in any of them. It’s reasonable to assume Dandino will be fine at the trip, particularly on an American course, and he was purchased this past winter to run the two-mile Melbourne Cup this fall.

Dandino has finished second in three of his past four starts, all races he might have won, and that’s of some concern. A big positive, however, is the fact that Dandino already has been to North America, rallying furiously for second behind the Botti-trained Joshua Tree in the 1 1/2-mile Canadian International last fall.

Wigmore Hall is less certain to like the distance than Dandino, and generally has been considered a 10- to 12-furlong horse. Left-handed racing, fast turf, and international travel are fine: Wigmore Hall is making his fifth trip to North America and has been around the world. Dandino has regularly beaten him, though Wigmore Hall did have a very encouraging Polytrack blowout Thursday morning.

Bottom line: It will be surprising if one of these two – probably Dandino – doesn’t win.