08/17/2012 3:32PM

Arlington Park report: Catalano pleased with turf, Vertiformer confirmed for Million

Four-Footed Fotos
Vertiformer will run in the Million not the American St. Leger, trainer Wayne Catalano said.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – After checking out the turf course early Friday morning, trainer Wayne Catalano deemed it firm enough to suit Vertiformer, and further said that Vertiformer, who was cross-entered in the Arlington Million and the American St. Leger, would start on Saturday in the Million.

“I walked it at 7 and it was good,” Catalano said. “It should be real nice by tomorrow.”

Vertiformer vastly prefers firm turf to soft, his connections believe, though it’s unclear whether he has the chops to contend at the Group 1 level. Bred and owned by Joseph Allen, the 5-year-old Dynaformer horse raced six times in France during 2010, winning a pair of listed races and finishing fifth in a Group 3. Away from the races for about 19 months, he returned this past spring at Keeneland, and most recently was a somewhat troubled fourth in the Arlington Handicap.

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

“He walked out of the gate, and he was coming late,” Catalano said. “I think with a perfect trip you would have seen a much different horse.”

Vertiformer might have been second or third choice in the American St. Leger, but is a 20-1 shot on the Million’s morning line. But Vertiformer has never raced beyond 1 1/4 miles, making the one and 1 11/16-mile distance of the American St. Leger an uncertainty, besides which there’s the lure of such a prestigious race.

“There’s only one Million,” said Catalano.

As for the Arlington turf, it began Friday officially listed as yielding after a rainy Thursday morning. A walk around the course confirmed that there is give in the ground, but the going at least is on the good side of yielding, and with cool, sunny, and windy conditions, there was a decent chance it will be upgraded to “good” before the end of Friday’s card. The same sort of weather is forecast Saturday, and though the course probably won’t be firm for the Million Day grass races, it should not significantly disadvantage anyone.

O’Brien runners stretch their legs

Aidan O’Brien’s trio of Million Day runners got in their one day of training before Million Day on Saturday, but did so with far less fanfare than last year, when O’Brien had Cape Blanco as the favorite for the Million and Treasure Beach the favorite for the Secretariat. Both horses came through with wins, but the bar will be set lower for this year’s invaders.

Treasure Beach is back to try the Million but has failed to win in six starts since his Secretariat. Up, a 3-year-old filly tackling elders in the Beverly D., is solid but unexceptional, while North American horseplayers won’t have high hopes for Daddy Long Legs, having watched him flounder in two previous trips to the U.S., albeit for dirt starts in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Kentucky Derby.

T.J. Comerford, assistant to O’Brien, said that the horses had made the trip well and all had an uneventful one-lap gallop Friday, their first morning out of quarantine. Treasure Beach tends to sweat before he trains and races, and got very hot on his first day out here in 2011, but stayed calmer Friday.

“This morning he was very good,” Comerford said.

Treasure Beach began 2012 promisingly enough, finishing a solid fourth in the Group 1 Sheema Classic in Dubai, but he went to Hong Kong and finished ninth in April, came to Belmont and was fifth as the odds-on favorite in the July 14 Man o’ War Stakes, and on Aug. 9 came home fourth of eight in the Group 3 Ballyroan Stakes in Ireland.

“Look, he’s a horse who has lost his way, but he is a form horse,” Comerford said, meaning that Treasure Beach, at his best, is good enough to factor in the Million. “He trains well enough, but whether he still wants to do it, we’ll have to see.”

Comerford said that he believes Up, who is winless in six starts, “has a big race in her,” and pointed out that the filly was away poorly when she finished a closing fourth start last fall in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf.

Daddy Long Legs showed a lot of speed when he finished fourth in his most recent start, the Irish 2000 Guineas on May 26, and it’s reasonable to expect the colt to show pace again in the Secretariat.

“He’s good in the gate, and he comes out strong,” Comerford said.