08/09/2005 11:00PM

Class bunch assembled for Million


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - There are years when the comes around in August and one wonders where all the top-class grass horses have gone.

This is not one of those years.

Ten names, including that of the 6-5 morning-line favorite, Kitten's Joy, were drawn when entries for the Million were taken during an elaborate ceremony Wednesday at Arlington. Eight horses, headed by English Channel, were entered in the Secretariat, and a star-studded field of 10, led by the Bobby Frankel-trained duo of Melhor Ainda and Megahertz, went into the Beverly D.

The best U.S. turf horses proven over 1 1/4 miles are in the Million, and Kitten's Joy and jockey Edgar Prado might not wind up as short as the morning line suggests, even with the 6-1 co-third choice, Better Talk Now, all but certain to opt for the Sword Dancer at Saratoga on Saturday. Kitten's Joy, an easy winner of his only start this year at 4, arrived here Wednesday from New York along with the Manhattan Handicap winner, Good Reward, so all the Million horses now are in Chicago.

Kitten's Joy will break from post 1, a seemingly ideal spot for his stalk-and-pounce style, and while trainer Ralph Nicks expressed dismay when his horse, Dixie Handicap winner Cool Conductor, drew post 10, post position should not play a major role in the Million. The race starts on the far end of the far turn, meaning the field has the entire stretch to sort out positions.

Touch of Land, who picked up jockey Pat Valenzuela this week, has post 2, while the rest of the field, from inside to out, includes Fourty Niners Son (Corey Nakatani), Whilly (Felipe Martinez), Better Talk Now (Ramon Dominguez), Sweet Return (Alex Solis), Alost (Frederic Spanu), Powerscourt (Kieren Fallon), and Cool Conductor.

Sweet Return enters as the leading California turf horse, but fast-improving Fourty Niners Son is hot on his heels. Whilly, the other Californian, figures to set the pace.

"He'll definitely leave the gate like he has in the rest of the races, and kind of go for it," said Whilly's trainer, Doug O'Neill.

Powerscourt is the household name among the Europeans, having been disqualified from first to fourth in the 2004 Million, and blame fell squarely on the shoulders of the young rider Jamie Spencer. The veteran Kieren Fallon rides Powerscourt this year, but Powerscourt hasn't won a race in nearly 15 months. The French horse Touch of Land finished 11th in the 2003 Million, but is much better now, while Alost, another French invader, finished a closing fourth two months ago in the Manhattan.