08/05/2009 11:00PM

Calhoun runners strong in Top Flight


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - At $50,000, the Top Flight Stakes offers a purse comparable to a Saratoga maiden race, but don't let that fool you. The Top Flight, the first of two 2-year-old stakes here on Saturday's Arlington Million undercard, looks loaded with talent. The Top Flight for fillies goes as race 5, while the Spectacular Bid for males is race 11.

Twelve were entered in the seven-furlong Top Flight, a prep for the Arlington-Washington Lassie, and the Bret Calhoun-trained entry of Winning Tale and Deceptive Glory could be favored. Deceptive Glory was the fastest 2-year-old maiden winner - filly or colt - of the Arlington meet, coming between horses with a sharp stretch move at 4 1/2 furlongs on July 4. Her time of about 51 seconds earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 92, and she was just as impressive visually.

"We've been high on her from the day she came into the barn," said Calhoun. "She's an average-sized filly, but she acts like she wants to go farther. She's been straightforward all along."

Winning Tale, Calhoun's other horse, finished second in her debut, but also was impressive winning a maiden race in her most recent start.

Thing is, both Calhoun fillies - as well several other speedballs in what should be a fast-paced race - are stretching out to seven furlongs, a distance with far different demands than a short sprint. Upperline won her debut at seven furlongs here July 15, and not only is she proven at the distance, Upperline has worked strongly since, and has room to improve Saturday.

"She's done very well, and she's very talented," said trainer Mike Stidham. "With the way those races always go with a lot of speed, I love having Garrett [Gomez] on her. He'll get her to settle and finish, and clear sailing is all she needs."

In the Spectacular Bid, Dixie Band has the look of a standout. He won what appeared to be the meet's deepest 2-year-old colt race with speed to spare on June 21, and has been working steadily for trainer Wayne Catalano.

Besides the two undercard stakes for 2-year-olds, Arlington also has carded a pair of $50,000 races for 3-year-olds.

The Hatoof (race 6), a 1 1/16-mile turf race for fillies, clearly is the deeper of the two. Romacaca, a three-length winner as the favorite in a similar race here four weeks ago, is an obvious contender, but the competition has broadened considerably. Capable-looking shippers such as Prytania, Afternoon Stroll, Seniga, Super Poni, and Spring Party are part of an overflow field.

The Forward Pass (race 3), a seven-furlong Polytrack race, drew just seven horses, with Steve Asmussen and Dale Bennett both running uncoupled entries. Retap, making his first start in nearly six months, should draw plenty of notice.

Baird riding in his first Million

E.T. Baird is embroiled in a duel for leading rider here with Junior Alvarado and James Graham, and that despite riding about 120 fewer horses at the meet than Alvarado, and nearly 200 fewer than Graham. No one has won more stakes at the meet than Baird, who, along with Eddie Razo, has four such victories, and Baird has a graded stakes win with Just as Well in the Arlington Handicap.

It is Just as Well that has taken Baird to his first Arlington Million, a pretty great honor for a local Chicago jock. But Baird is 42, won his 2,000th race earlier this meet, and has overcome all kinds of injuries to have a career-best Arlington stand this summer. Do not expect him to have butterflies when the gate springs in the Million.

"What it boils down to is your on a horse and you ride your race," Baird said. "That's what it means to be a professional."

Baird can only hope that his Million debut gets off to a better start than his lone ride in the Kentucky Derby in 2008. The result that day was solid enough, a fifth-place finish aboard Million starter Recapturetheglory. But in the paddock before the Derby, Baird got thrown and hit the ground hard. That pain he felt in his side as the horses went to the track turned out to be three broken ribs. But concentration on the task at hand overpowered the pain.

"The mind is a powerful thing," Baird said.

A great pair of hands, and an excellent sense of pace - those have helped Baird this summer, as well.

Black Mamba first since Let's Elope

The only previous time a horse from Down Under raced in the Beverly D., she ran spectacularly. Let's Elope, an Australian-bred, finished first under Patrick Valenzuela in a highly controversial 1993 running, only to be disqualified to third for interference in the stretch run. Her tough luck gave the victory to Flawlessly, who was booed lustily in the winner's circle after the stewards' decision was announced.

This year, another horse from that faraway part of the world will go postward in the Beverly D.: Black Mamba, a 6-year-old New Zealand-bred trained by John Sadler. Black Mamba raced 10 times in her home country before making her U.S. debut in California on Aug. 5, 2007.

Templer excited to be in Beverly D.

For a guy who grew up going to the races with his father in Chicago, Richard Templer can't wait for Black Mamba to compete in the Beverly D.

"I'm really excited," said Templer, who races as Doubledown Stables. "I've been looking forward to running in this race for a long time."

A year, to be precise. Templer hoped to have Black Mamba run in last year's Beverly D., but elected to keep her in California for Del Mar's Grade 1 John Mabee, in large part because she was the 4-5 favorite. She won.

"It looked like a better spot," Templer said. "It worked out pretty well."

Templer now splits his time between Chicago and Boca Raton, Fla. He has a dozen racehorses in California with trainer John Sadler, many, like Black Mamba, imports from Australia and New Zealand.

Templer also enjoys playing blackjack, which inspired his stable name.

"It sounded better than calling it 'Busted,' " he said.

Weld changes his tactics

Whenever trainer Dermot Weld sends a horse from Ireland to Chicago in the summer, it's invariably a 3-year-old. In recent years, Weld, who won the 2008 Secretariat Stakes with Winchester, also has shipped to Arlington such notable 3-year-old turfers as Pine Dance, Jazz Beat, Evolving Tactics, Simple Exchange, and Perfect Casting.

This year, however, the Weld shipper is the consistent filly Mad About You, one of three European runners in the Beverly D. Stakes. Mad About You will be ridden by Patrick Smullen.

* A "mystery mutuel voucher" giveaway will be held for the first 2,500 fans here Saturday. Gates open at 10 a.m.

- additional reporting by Marty McGee and Jay Privman