08/10/2005 12:00AM

English Channel arrives, draws rail

Melhor Ainda, training under Ramon Dominguez at Saratoga on Wednesday, was made the 3-1 favorite on the morning line for Saturday's Grade 1 Beverly D. at Arlington Park.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - English Channel, one of a handful of horses to pull through the stable gate Wednesday afternoon following a charter flight from upstate New York, was assigned post 1 as the likely favorite for the third and final Grade 1 turf race Saturday at Arlington Park, the $400,000 Secretariat Stakes.

English Channel, to be ridden by John Velazquez, is one of eight 3-year-olds entered in the 1 1/4-mile Secretariat. The colt already has captured the first two races in the new Grand Slam of Grass series sponsored by Jacobs Investments, and if he wins the Secretariat and the Oct. 29 Breeders' Cup Turf, he will earn a total of $5 million in purse winnings and bonuses.

Meanwhile, one Secretariat starter was out for noteworthy action here Wednesday: Merger breezed a half-mile in company in 51.20 seconds over firm turf with the "dogs" placed far out onto the course. Merger, trained by Dermot Weld, is one of two European starters in the race.

The Secretariat is carded as the 11th of 12 races.

Plenty of talent in Beverly D.

The overall depth of the 16th running of the Grade 1 Beverly D. is evidenced by the Arlington morning line. While Melhor Ainda was made a lukewarm 3-1 favorite over her older Bobby Frankel stablemate, Megahertz (7-2), the odds are even more attractive on the multiple Grade 1 winner Wonder Again (8-1) and the classy Godolphin filly Sundrop (8-1).

By consensus, the buzz at Arlington is that while the Million, as always, will deserve most of the Saturday spotlight, the $750,000 Beverly D. might be the best race on the card. Indeed, having drawn 10 of the best filly-mare turfers in training, the race shapes up as easily the division's deepest so far this year.

Melhor Ainda, with Velazquez to ride, drew post 7 in the 1 3/16-mile Beverly D. She is bidding to become the first 3-year-old to win the Beverly D., which will be the eighth race Saturday.

Fourty Niners Son has stepped up

Five races and four months ago, Fourty Niners Son was an entry-level allowance horse. Saturday, he is in the .

And if Fourty Niners Son should win, it would give trainer Neil Drysdale his first Million victory after seven losing bids. Drysdale had the race won two years ago with Storming Home - until the quirky horse spooked at the finish, tossing Gary Stevens, fouling three horses, and getting disqualified from first to fourth.

Drysdale has trained other well-known horses with volatile temperaments; Fusaichi Pegasus and Labeeb come quickly to mind. But Fourty Niners Son has a completely different outlook.

"Mentally, he's a very laid-back horse," Drysdale said. "He's got a great attitude."

This is Fourty Niners Son's first road trip, and Drysdale had no qualms about shipping.

"It's not a concern," he said. "He's very relaxed about everything."

Last year at age 3, based in the Midwest and East with trainer Bill Mott, Fourty Niners Son won a maiden race in six starts. Racing on dirt last December, he finished a distant sixth in his first start for Drysdale. But it has been nothing but forward progress since. Starting in April, Fourty Niners Son won three consecutive allowance races, and though none of the wins came by even as much as a length, Fourty Niners Son always seemed to be in control.

"He was winning his allowance races very impressively - not by large margins, but very impressively," Drysdale said. "He's got a strong turn of foot."

In his stakes debut July 3 in the American Handicap, Fourty Niners Son finished third to Whilly and stablemate King of Happiness; three weeks ago, he was a closing second behind Sweet Return in the Eddie Read. In neither race did Fourty Niners Son have any pace at which to run, but he should on Saturday.

Fourty Niners Son is not a son of the sire Forty Niner, but of the Forty Niner stallion Distorted Humor.

"Well, he's Forty Niner's grandson, is what he is, that's the long and the short of that," said owner-breeder Tom Baxter, a Grand Island, Neb., cattleman whose family has prospered through the ownership of feedlots. As for the odd "u" in Fourty, no one is sure about that.

Two decades since infamous fire

Arlington has been airing local advertisements for Million Day focusing on the 20-year anniversary of the infamous fire of July 31, 1985. Arlington chairman Richard Duchossois, speaking at the Wednesday post draw, briefly touched on the herculean efforts that ultimately led to Arlington hosting the "Miracle Million" just 25 days after the fire.

"It was a matter of 'Do we go, or don't we go?' " said Duchossois. "That was a very special Million. It brings back a lot of fond memories for all of us. It reminds us how well a team can work together when they have a job to do."

Arlington has half of National Pick 4

The Million and Beverly D. make up half of the National Pick 4 being offered Saturday by the NTRA. The $1-minimum wager carries a $400,000 guaranteed pool; the takeout is 25 percent. The other races in the National Pick 4 are the Sword Dancer and Vanderbilt from Saratoga.

Arlington is offering advance wagering on the International Festival of Racing events on Friday, not including the National Pick 4.

Friday's feature race tough to figure

Seven horses, including a coupled entry from the Christine Janks barn, were entered in Friday's featured seventh race, a $45,000 stakes for fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles on dirt.

Both of the Janks horses, Sunset Kisses and For Gillian, have a chance, but the Friday feature figures to have a tepid favorite, and is very difficult to decipher.

Indy Groove finished sixth in the Breeders' Cup Distaff last fall, but has lost all three of her starts this season. Ghostly Gate has no Breeders' Cup appearance on her resume, but she's coming out of three grass races, and probably is a better horse on dirt. In her last main-track start, Ghostly Gate was third behind Isola Piu Bella in the Sixty Sails at Hawthorne.

- additional reporting by Marcus Hersh