07/24/2005 11:00PM

Cool Conductor ready for Million

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CHICAGO - Saturday's Million Preview Day at Arlington will live up to its name this year, since the winner of the Arlington Handicap, Cool Conductor, is expected to be back in Chicago for the Aug. 13 Arlington Million.

And he will not be overmatched in the Million, this country's premier 1 1/4-mile grass race. An easy, uncontested lead enhanced Cool Conductor's performance here Saturday, but he beat a good horse, Vangelis, by more than three lengths while running his final quarter-mile in 22 seconds and change, which is about as fast as equinely possible at the end of a 10-furlong grass race. Cool Conductor's final time was a modest 2:02.20, but he earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 106, and came out of the Arlington Handicap in excellent shape.

"When he got out of the test barn, it looked like he was ready to run again," said trainer Ralph Nicks. "That's one of the good things about him - he bounces back much faster than most racehorses."

In fact, Cool Conductor, still improving at 4, runs better when his races come closer together. In the Million, he will be making his third start in six weeks, but as Nicks pointed out, "He did that last fall, and in the third one he won the Hawthorne Derby coming back in six days."

Nicks is a former Bill Mott assistant, and until this past spring, Cool Conductor was a Mott horse. But while Nicks got the win in the Arlington Handicap, Mott, with his Kentucky assistant Kenny McCarthy deputizing, won the other two graded turf stakes here Saturday, taking the American Derby with Gun Salute and the Modesty Handicap with Noisette. Jockey Cornelio Velasquez, in a remarkable sweep, rode all three winners.

Reached Monday in New York, Mott said Gun Salute would probably return for the Grade 1 Secretariat, but that the Beverly D. Handicap was over the head of Noisette, for whom there are no immediate plans. Gun Salute, turning in the best performance of his career, handed Purim the first loss of his career, winning the American Derby by a nose.

"I suppose [the Secretariat] would be the logical spot," Mott said. "He was grinding away at them all the way, and the distance didn't seem to bother him. That'd be the best group he's beaten so far."

Trainer Tom Proctor said he was pleased with Purim's race, and both he and jockey Mark Guidry believe Purim might have won had his trip unfolded differently. Purim, making only his fourth start, broke from

post 2, and briefly became overeager when the horse on the rail, General Jumbo, rushed to take the lead going into the first turn.

"If he goes forward from this race, we're in really good shape," Proctor said. "Right now, I ain't got a clue what I'll do with him."

The Secretariat is an option, as is the Del Mar Derby, and Proctor even is considering a return to dirt, on which Purim easily won his career debut.

"I'll work him back in 14 or 15 days," said Proctor.

Suave sharp in comeback win

Suave, who won almost a half-million dollars last year at age 3, made a belated 4-year-old debut here Saturday, scoring a sharp victory in a third-level allowance race over one mile on dirt. Typically an off-the-pace runner in shorter races, Suave went straight to the front from post 12 Saturday, dueling through a fast pace before opening up a clear lead in the stretch to win by three lengths. Suave was clocked in a strong 1:34.60.

"I thought he was very impressive," said trainer Paul McGee.

Suave's training has proceeded in fits and starts this year. He had been close to a comeback earlier in the season, McGee said, but couldn't quite get over the hump.

"He's had a quarter crack on a back foot that's been nagging at him all year," McGee said. "It's not that big a deal, but I just haven't been able to get it right."

Suave was nominated to Saturday's Washington Park Handicap, but is highly unlikely to run there, and will not find a similar spot at this meet.

"I'm not really sure what we're going to do with him yet," said McGee.

Perfect Drift looks dominant

Perfect Drift hasn't won a stakes race in 14 starts and 22 months, but he figures to be an overwhelming favorite here Saturday in the Washington Park Handicap.

A Grade 2 with a $300,000 purse, the Washington Park drew nominations from horses like Congrats on the West Coast and Offlee Wild in the East, but no horse like that is expected for the race, leaving Perfect Drift, who won the 2003 Washington Park by five lengths, as the star attraction.

Other probable starters are Billy Allen, who is a rare European dirt horse, Azucar, Cryptograph, and Fantasticat. Arlington racing officials also hope to lure Freefourinternet, Home of Stars, and Mambo Train.

Nicole's Dream as good as ever

In an overnight stakes race Sunday, the amazing Nicole's Dream came within a fifth of a second of the Arlington course record for five furlongs on turf. And that was without even running hard.

Nicole's Dream, in a typically dominating performance, won by almost six lengths, and was timed in 56.41 seconds while carrying 128 pounds.

Nicole's Dream could race in late August at Monmouth Park, but the long-term goal, said trainer Larry Rivelli, is a $1.2 million turf sprint in December in Hong Kong.

"You have to be invited, but we were invited last year, so I assume we will be again," said Rivelli. "It's against the boys, and on a straightaway, but I think now is the time to try it. I think she's better than she's ever been."

Beau Happy stepping up

A high-end one-mile turf allowance race for fillies and mares tops the card here Wednesday, and the racing week is expected to open under entirely more favorable weather conditions than were seen last weekend, when the temperature topped out at over 100 degrees. A high temperature in the low 80's was forecast for Wednesday.

Eight were entered in the featured seventh, but Catboat is a main-track-only horse. Beau Happy, a rapidly improving Illinois-bred, makes her first start since winning the $88,000 Lincoln Heritage Stakes over statebred turf horses on June 17, and stands a decent chance of winning her fourth race in a row.

"Open company's a step up, but she's doing just as good as she was before the last one," said trainer Mike Stidham.

My Dear Lady and Final Discount look like the other major contenders, provided the race stays on grass.