08/12/2004 12:00AM

Europeans look tough in Million


NEW YORK - It takes a lot for a racetrack to steal the spotlight at this time of year from Saratoga and Del Mar, but that is precisely what Arlington Park will do Saturday. That is because Saturday is Arlington Million Day, a day when three rich Grade 1 turf events will be decided at one of the finest tracks in the nation.

The Arlington Million is one of the best international races in the world, and is, of course, the premier Grade 1 event on the card. But, the Grade 1, $750,000 Beverly D. has evolved into a producer of champions in the filly and mare turf division, and the Grade 1, $400,000 Secretariat Stakes is a top target for 3-year-old turf specialists.

The main event at Saratoga on Saturday is the $500,000 Sword Dancer Invitational Handicap on the turf. With the Sword Dancer being at 1 1/2 miles, it may not attract exactly the same type of horse the 1 1/4-mile Arlington Million would. But, the two races are still too similar to let those who schedule such stakes off the hook.

The $200,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap will also be run at Saratoga on Saturday. No conflict with the Arlington races here. The Vanderbilt is at six furlongs on dirt.

Notably, two of the Arlington stakes and the two Saratoga stakes are linked in the NTRA National Pick 4. These races will be televised on ABC from 4 to 6 p.m. Eastern.

Here are my three spotlight stakes, in order of preference:

Arlington Million

From among the American-based horses, Mr O'Brien is an admirable overachiever, Sweet Return is laudably consistent, and Sabiango comes off one of the most important wins of his career. But none of the Americans in the Million is really special, which leads me to look to the Europeans for the winner.

In doing that, Epalo jumps off the paper at me. The German-based Epalo has been first or second in 11 starts dating back 22 months, and two starts back, he crushed 15 opponents in a Group 1, $2 million race in Singapore. Epalo earned a good Timeform rating of 123 in that one, and that is competitive with the recent rating of Powerscourt. Powerscourt and the slightly lower-rated Vespone may be the most accomplished of the Europeans, but they also figure to be much lower odds than Epalo.

Beverly D.

Musical Chimes ran big winning the Mabee three weeks ago and I would never leave her out of a pick four play, even though she will be strongly bet. But, Musical Chimes may be more effective at eight to nine furlongs than the 1 3/16-mile distance of this race, so I'm going to try and upset her with Aubonne.

Aubonne came back a vastly improved performer this year in France. She won her first and third starts of the season, handling this distance and more, and considering the trouble she had in her middle outing, she probably should be perfect this year.

Alfred G. Vanderbilt

Speightstown will be a short price and will obviously take lots of beating here. But, with the likelihood of a wet track because of a forecast of heavy rain Friday, and with the much-improved speedster Mike's Classic breaking right to Speightstown's outside, this is no scenario to take a low-priced favorite.

I'm going with Clock Stopper. Clock Stopper did not have a straw in his path when he came up a nose short in the Smile Sprint Handicap last time out. But, he is in sharp form, he likes the track, and the barn is having a fine meet.

Here's my basic National Pick 4 play: Clock Stopper and My Cousin Matt in the Vanderbilt; Aubonne and Musical Chimes in the Beverly D.; Balto Star and Request for Parole in the Sword Dancer; and Vespone, Epalo, and Powerscourt in the Million. That's $24 for a $1 increment.