08/08/2004 11:00PM

Cast for Million Day gradually starting to gather in Chicago

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - You would hardly know it from perusing the local equine population, but they are going to run three Grade 1 grass races at Arlington Park on Saturday.

Soon, they will even have the horses to prove it.

For now, Arlington's International Festival of Racing remains mostly an out-of-town affair, since among the 32 candidates for the three races, only six of were at Arlington as of midday Monday. Ten Europeans are expected for the three races, the Million, the Beverly D., and the Secretariat, and four were on the grounds Monday morning, with the remainder of the overseas travelers due later in the day. Flights from California and New York will ferry the American ship-ins Wednesday. Mr O'Brien is coming by van from Maryland, Mobil by van from Woodbine. And then we will be just about ready for some horse racing.

One of the Europeans, Simple Exchange, has been at Arlington for three weeks. He won the American Derby running "off the plane" for trainer Dermot Weld, and by now is a seasoned American trainee. For the rest of the Europeans, who must clear quarantine before they can leave Arlington's quarantine barn to train with the general population, the first day or two here will require adaptation. European horses are totally unfamiliar with the helter-skelter, controlled chaos that is a morning's training regimen in this country.

"He was looking this way, and that way," said Elke Schutz, the wife of trainer Andreas Schutz and the morning rider for Epalo, the German horse that has come trying to win the Million. "There were horses coming from in front of him. They were coming from behind him. He didn't really know what to do."

Epalo seeks to follow in the footsteps of Silvano, the German horse that won the 2001 Million. Last year, Paolini, another German, was placed second after Storming Home's dramatic finish-line disqualification. Epalo won the Singapore Cup in May, his first Group 1, and he won it by five lengths. An improving 5-year-old who is 3 for 4 at the Million's 1 1/4 miles, Epalo ships in search of the firm turf that is difficult to find in Europe.

"The problem is he needs good ground, and it is not easy to find it in Germany," said Schutz, who will be joined here later Monday by her husband.

Three other Europeans are to run in the Million, and one of them, Powerscourt, could even be favored. Powerscourt got his Group 1 win this year in the Tattersalls Gold Cup, which he won by six lengths in May. He has lost three times since, all in Group 1's, and boasts a good second to the top-class Rakti in the Prince of Wales's Stakes on June 16 at Royal Ascot.

Vespone is owned by Godolphin and trained by Saeed bin Suroor, the connections that took last year's Million with Sulamani, who was moved to first by Storming Home's disqualification. Vespone was among Europe's best 3-year-olds last season, but is winless in five starts this year. Magistretti, another European without a win this season, has never won a Group 1, and would need the race of his life to win on Saturday.

Since pre-entries were due last Friday at a cost of $5,000, the Million field basically is set, barring injury. The North Americans pre-entered are Hatif, Kicken Kris, Mobil, Mr O'Brien, Mystery Giver, Sabiango, Senor Swinger, Sweet Return, and Vangelis.

The Beverly D. lost one probable starter, the Florida-based Stay Forever, over the weekend, and trainer Bobby Frankel now appears unlikely to send Light Jig from California. Frankel still intends to run Commercante, who is based at Saratoga, and the Beverly D. could have a field of 12. Expected to start are Aud, Bedanken, Musical Chimes, Noches de Rosa, Quero Quero, Riskaverse, Shaconage, and Tangle, and the Europeans Aubonne, Crimson Palace, and Necklace. Musical Chimes, winner of the Grade 1 John C. Mabee in her last start, figures to be favored.

Meanwhile, the Secretariat, once the most promising of Saturday's three stakes, continues to suffer defections. Mustanfar, whom Arlington racing officials had hoped to lure to the race, instead ran Monday at Saratoga. Toasted, trainer Laura de Seroux said Monday morning, was only 50-50 to come from California. Frankel is expected to send Greek Sun from California, but even his participation is uncertain, and if Greek Sun fails to show, the Secretariat could have as few as five horses.

Kitten's Joy is a big reason for the small field. His powerhouse win last month in the Virginia Derby was his sixth in seven grass races, and on paper, Kitten's Joy is fast enough to be a contender in the Million, to say nothing of the Secretariat. Leaving out Greek Sun and Toasted, the horses expected to try him Saturday are Cool Conductor and three Europeans: Hazyview, Moscow Ballet, and Simple Exchange.

The European horses have caught a break in the weather. The forecast this week is for strangely cool days, with highs around 70 degrees, and rain possible later in the week. The advance forecast for Saturday predicts partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the low 70's.