Updated on 09/15/2011 1:51PM

Bienamado favored in strong Million field


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Whatever else has wavered in Chicago racing, the Arlington Million has remained an anchor. Surviving a catastrophic fire in 1985 and a two-year hiatus during Arlington's financially induced closing in 1998 and 1999, the Million has bounced back.

And a year after drawing its smallest field ever, despite a purse increase to $2 million, this year's Million, its traditional $1 million purse restored, brings together the best group of grass horses assembled this year in the United States. At least five of the best turf runners in the nation are among the 12 horses entered in Saturday's 1 1/4-mile race.

Two other Grade 1 turf stakes, the $700,000 Beverly D. for fillies and mares and the $400,000 Secretariat for 3-year-olds, support the Million, highlight of the Chicago racing season.

The strength of the turf division tilts toward the West Coast. Grade 1 winners Bienamado - the country's top-rated turf horse and a solid favorite Saturday - Senure, White Heart, and Redattore arrived from California Wednesday afternoon.

From the East Coast comes Hap, the likely second choice. The German-based globetrotter Silvano heads a four-horse European contingent. Quiet Resolve, Canadian horse of the year in 2000, will try to rebound from a subpar race in his last start, while Make No Mistake, winner of the Arlington Handicap, is the lone Midwest-based starter.

All eyes will be on Bienamado, the powerful chestnut bred and owned by Trudy McCaffrey and John Toffan. Bienamado wrenched his back when he was favored in last year's Million, and finished fourth. The injury may have cost him the race, and definitely cost him a shot at the Breeders' Cup Turf and a chance at a championship.

But Bienamado has come back stronger than ever under careful management by trainer Paco Gonzalez. Bienamado has not seriously been threatened in three grass races this season, and in his last start, the Grade 1 Whittingham on June 10 at Hollywood Park, he beat both Senure and White Heart.

"He's just a generous horse with a lot of talent," said Chris McCarron, Bienamado's regular rider.

Bienamado's high cruising speed will put him on or near the pace, depending on the tactics employed by Redattore, winner of the Grade 1 Eddie Read.

Before winning the nine-furlong Eddie Read, Redattore had won two races in the U.S., both at a mile. Redattore surprised trainer Dick Mandella with his stamina in the Read. Redattore stalked a fast pace in the Eddie Read, and has the speed to be prominently placed in the Million.

Redattore drew post 3 and Bienamado post 10, but a long run to the first turn mitigates the importance of post position.

Hap can give jockey Jerry Bailey his second straight Million win and trainer Bill Mott his first since Paradise Creek won in 1994 - if Hap can get the Million distance. Like Redattore, Hap is a reformed miler who has never been farther than 1 1/8 miles, but he has a completely different running style than Redattore. Hap waits in mid-pack and makes one big move, a tactic he employed in winning the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch at Belmont Park last month.

Bailey won the Million last year on Chester House, who gave trainer Bobby Frankel his first Million win.

This year, Frankel brings Senure, a late-blooming 5-year-old who is proven at the Million's distance. Senure was second in Bienamado's Whittingham win, and was placed first, via disqualification, after finishing second in the Grade 1 United Nations Handicap last month.

Trainer Neil Drysdale, seeking his first Million, saddles White Heart, a 6-year-old who has campaigned sparingly since his importation from Europe 1 1/2 years ago. White Heart won the 2000 Whittingham at 10 furlongs, and finished fourth in this year's edition in his most recent start. Drysdale, a master at bringing his horses back from layoffs, feels White Heart is thriving.

Silvano won the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth Cup in Hong Kong, and his trainer, Andreas Wohler, believes Silvano will be well suited to American racing.

Arlington's turf course was rated soft Thursday after overnight rains, and though clear skies are forecast for Friday, there is a chance for thunderstorms Saturday.

All Million starters carry 126 pounds. Post time is 3:40 p.m. Central, and the race will be televised live in a one-hour ESPN broadcast that airs at 4 p.m. Eastern, 3 p.m. Central and includes a tape-delayed showing of the Beverly D.

The Million is the middle leg of a pick three that starts with the Beverly D. and concludes with the Secretariat.