08/12/2004 12:00AM

Bedanken has calm day before the storm

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Wednesday was a walk-day for Bedanken, a midweek break before Saturday's whirlwind. Bedanken can afford a day off. She has had two perfect Arlington prep races for the Grade 1 Beverly D., the biggest race of her career, and Bedanken is doing everything right now.

Just two months ago, she had come apart. Bedanken was sweating out her early summer at Lone Star Park. That is where her trainer, Donnie Von Hemel, was stabled, and there were opportunities in Texas. But the grass at Lone Star is cut short, the course hard and fast. Bedanken wanted no part of it. The horse that never ran a bad race - her record was 12-9-1-2 as of April - finished a disappointing third, then a terrible eighth.

Enter Arlington Park. Donnie Von Hemel isn't stabled here, but his father, Don, is. Bedanken came in June, and on July 5, she won an overnight stakes race with a rush of stretch speed. Three weeks later, now facing better horses, everything worked against Bedanken, who was hung wide around the first turn and wound up on the lead in a false-paced race. But at the top of the Arlington stretch, she did it again, running away from her rivals with a quicksilver turn of foot.

The real Bedanken is indeed back.

"She's doing as well as she's ever done - as good as a horse can do," Don Von Hemel said Wednesday morning. "She's full of herself every time she goes out to train. Winning those two races up here really got her back on track. She got her confidence back."

Last summer, the elder Von Hemel looked after Bien Nicole for Donnie, and she finished second in the Beverly D. Bien Nicole was all pace when she raced; Bedanken will do whatever her rider, Don Pettinger, asks. And what she usually does is win - 11 times in 16 starts.

"I'd be real surprised if she didn't run a bang-up race," Von Hemel said.

Cigar perfect spot for Apt to Be

The saddle will scarcely have been removed from Mystery Giver after the Arlington Million when trainer Chris Block must get back to work. The Million goes as race nine, and in the 10th, the $50,000 Cigar Stakes, Block trains the horse to beat, Apt to Be.

"How about that," Block said Thursday morning. "I was hoping that race would be earlier in the card."

Apt to Be won't care. In fact, the one-mile Cigar is tailor-made for him. Apt to Be specializes in one-turn miles at Arlington, where he has won eight times in 13 starts, much to the delight of his owner, Arlington chairman Dick Duchossois. He was beaten three-quarters of a length July 21 by return rival Sea of Tranquility, but Apt to Be had been fighting a quarter crack in the weeks before that race.

"He missed a lot of training," Block said. "He needed the race."

Besides Sea of Tranquility, Intelligent Male, winner of the Claiming Crown Jewel in his last start, could give Apt to Be a run.

The Cigar is one of three overnight stakes on the 12-race Million Day program. Race 3 is the Smart Deb for 3-year-old fillies, a race that includes Maple Syrple, the Godolphin Racing-owned filly who finished second to Ashado in the Grade 2 Schuylerville in July 2003 before being privately purchased.

Maple Syrple has raced only once since the Schuylerville, finishing third in a listed English turf stakes, and she should appreciate a return to dirt. Silver Crown and Questionable Past stand between her and victory.

The Forward Pass for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs goes as race six, and is headed by Intrinsic Worth, a last-to-first stakes winner here at the meet's inception.

West looks best again this year

As a sort of neutral battleground with its Midwestern locale, Arlington and the Million long have provided a fair setting for the never-ending rivalry between horses from East and West.

Overall, California has the historical edge, although New York horses enjoyed a very productive run during the mid-1990's when horses such as Star of Cozzene, Paradise Creek, and Awad prevailed. But California training icons Ron McAnally, Charlie Whittingham, and Bobby Frankel have helped give the West a very unofficial eight wins in the Million, slightly more than what New York (6) and Europe (6) have amassed.

This year, it appears that California may have an edge again: McAnally (with Sweet Return), Frankel (Vangelis), Bob Baffert (Sabiango and Senor Swinger), and Paulo Lobo (Hatif) give the West several strong chances.

Goldfine still roots for 'Swinger'

Senor Swinger has been out of Mickey Goldfine's barn for nearly 18 months now, but that won't keep him from rooting for the gray colt in the 22nd Arlington Million.

Senor Swinger, then owned by Bob Ackerman and Barry Golden, became a hot classics prospect for Goldfine at Gulfstream Park in the early months of 2003, when Bob Baffert ultimately bought him on behalf of Bob and Beverly Lewis. After it became apparent that Senor Swinger would fare better on grass than dirt, Baffert kept playing to his strength, and now the 4-year-old colt's earnings are $670,688 and counting.

Goldfine was here three weeks ago when Senor Swinger posted his narrow win in the Arlington Handicap, and he plans to be here Saturday for the Million.

"I hope he runs huge," said Goldfine.

Last Million eventful for Drysdale

A victory by Musical Chimes in the Beverly D. might help offset the bitter memory of what happened to her trainer, Neil Drysdale, last year.

Drysdale was the trainer of Storming Home, who appeared to have the Million won when he appeared to suddenly spook from some sort of reflective object near the inner rail. In the terrifying moments that followed, Storming Home veered sharply into the paths of two rivals, leading to his disqualification from first to fourth. Sulamani was declared the winner.

Jockey Gary Stevens, who rode Storming Home, suffered a punctured lung and other injuries in the resulting spill and took about a month to recover. Stevens now is riding in France.

- additional reporting by Marty McGee