08/15/2013 4:18PM

Arlington Park: Secretariat looking like anybody’s race

Barbara D. Livingston
Jack Milton (left) with stablemate Verrazano at Saratoga.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – If there’s a standout 3-year-old turf horse lurking somewhere in North America, he’s not readily apparent among the entries for the Grade 1, $500,000 Secretariat Stakes on Saturday at Arlington.

Jack Milton probably will be favored to give trainer Todd Pletcher his second Secretariat win, but his edge on the competition – if one exists at all – is slight.

Jack Milton didn’t debut until January, but he has made a favorable impression from the start and has run well in each of his five races, all on turf. Jack Milton, a son of War Front, beat top Canadian 3-year-old Up With the Birds in the Transylvania Stakes at Keeneland, finished a closing second to Secretariat rival Rydilluc in the $460,000 Penn Mile, and most recently came home third, beaten a neck with a troubled trip, in the Grade 2 Virginia Derby, his first try at the Secretariat’s 1 1/4-mile distance.

“I think he’s still progressing,” said Pletcher, who won the 2009 Secretariat with Take the Points. “He’s still learning how to run a little bit, how to polish a race off. He’s had a tendency to idle, and he was a bit unlucky last time in Virginia. I do think his Virginia Derby was indicative that he’s capable of winning a race like this. He seems like he can settle and deliver a kick.”

While Jack Milton ran his race in the Virginia Derby, Rydilluc did not, toiling, trainer Gary Contessa said, on a wet turf course he disliked. A front-running winner in his first four grass races, Rydilluc failed to make the front at any point in Virginia and faded to eighth as the 5-2 favorite.

“Absolutely, the horse didn’t handle wet turf,” Contessa said. “The mile and a quarter had nothing to do with it, but we still have to answer that distance question.”

Rydilluc was scratched from the Hall of Fame Stakes last weekend at Saratoga when that race was moved from turf to dirt because of rain. Instead, Contessa gave Rydilluc a fast five-furlong turf work Sunday.

Rydilluc is drawn outside of the race’s only other apparent pace player, the overmatched Golden Jason. If Golden Jason fails to show early speed, or quickly backs out of contention, Rydilluc could get a soft front-end trip.

The same French connections who won the 2012 Secretariat with Bayrir are back this year, but the horse they’ve brought, Visiyani, has so far displayed nothing like Bayrir’s ability.

First Cornerstone, a Team Valor colt in from Ireland, has run the best races of the three Europeans but has suffered from allergies that have compromised his performance this year, according to Barry Irwin, the chief executive of Team Valor Stables. Yeager, the third European, also has faced suspect opposition but is an improving horse who had a strong racecourse work last week, trainer Jeremy Noseda said.

Draw Two was a closing fourth in the Virginia Derby, and with just five starts, he remains a horse with upside. Tattenham, who will be making his stakes debut, falls into the same category for trainer Bill Mott. More fixed, perhaps, is the form of the late-running Admiral Kitten, who rallied for second in both the Arlington Classic and the American Derby here earlier in the meet – one of many horses with a chance to step forward and win the Secretariat.