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Firmer U.S. turf may suit Danak
ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - There was the usual mid-Million-Week mild chaos around Arlington Park's quarantine barn Tuesday morning, as the group of foreign horses that arrived Sunday night waited to clear quarantine restrictions that kept them from training among the regular equine population. The call from the U.S. Department of Agriculture came in not long past 8 a.m., and by 9, the Sunday arrivals had gotten their first look at the Arlington racetrack.
One of the newcomers was Danak, who might have the best chance among three overseas entrants in Saturday's Million. Danak is based in Ireland with trainer John Oxx, who has sent one horse to the International Festival of Racing: Timarida, winner of the 1996 Beverly D. Accompanying Timarida on that trip was a traveling lad named Jimmy O'Neill, the same chap who took Danak out for his mild Tuesday exercise.
"He did fine, no problems," O'Neill said. "He's a very straightforward horse."
Danak is just a 4-year-old and has made only six starts. He won his first five races, but finished fourth last out in the May 27 Tattersalls Gold Cup, a race that presented a major step up in class, and at 1 1/4 miles, it was a much longer race than the miles Danak had been running - and winning - in his previous starts. But that fourth-place finish was not bad. Danak was beaten just over five lengths in a solid Group 1 field, and any of the three in front of him - Notnowcato, Dylan Thomas, and Youmzain - would be accorded a strong chance Saturday at Arlington.
"It was a pretty good run," O'Neill said. "He'd improved race to race, and that's why we tried him in the Group 1, to see where he'd fit in."
O'Neill said Danak does best on firmer turf, one reason Oxx elected to ship here rather than staying closer to home.
"It's been a wet summer, and there aren't too many races for him," O'Neill said.
Doctor Dino may be close to Danak in terms of ability. He was third of 13 last out in the Group 1 Singapore Cup and was a Group 3 winner last year in France. Pressing, the third overseas horse for the Million and also a 4-year-old, finished second of six in an Italian Group 1 earlier this year, the best race of his six-start career.
Pletcher sends two in Secratariat
Todd Pletcher said he can't remember one of his horses returning a higher win mutuel than the $76 that Red Giant paid in winning the Julyo21 Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs.
"I thought he was a bit of an overlay at that price," Pletcher said. "He'd really done nothing wrong since we put him on the grass. Anybody who saw his previous race at Monmouth Park," a last-ditch victory in the June 17 Restoration Stakes, "they had to respect what he could do. He was really flying the last 50 yards of that race."
Red Giant is one of two 3-year-olds, along with Pleasant Strike, that Pletcher will run Saturday among a prospective field of eight in the $400,000 Secretariat Stakes, one of the three Grade 1 turf races in the International Festival of Racing. Although the Secretariat offers less than half the purse money of the $1omillion Virginia Derby, the 1 1/4-mile race has far more tradition and often is the target of some of the world's best 3-year-old turf horses.
"Obviously, we're taking a huge step up in this spot," Pletcher said.
Garrett Gomez will have the mount on Red Giant, replacing Horacio Karamanos, the Colonial kingpin who rode the Giant's Causeway colt in Virginia. Rene Douglas retains the mount on Pleasant Strike, who has been based at Arlington the last few months and easily won the June 23 Arlington Classic. He was then fourth as the favorite in the American Derby last month.
"He seemed to come out of that last race real well," Pletcher said. "He's run well over the course before, but obviously he's going to have to step up his game."
Pletcher also has Sunriver for the Arlington Million and Honey Ryder for the Beverly D. The Pletcher shippers were scheduled to be flown Thursday to Chicago.
With known jockey assignments, these are the eight 3-year-olds expected for the Secretariat: Admiralofthefleet, Mick Kinane; Fleeting Shadow, Patrick Smullen; Going Ballistic, no rider; Lattice, Robby Albarado; Mostacolli Mort, Victor Espinoza; Pleasant Strike, Douglas; Red Giant, Gomez; and Shamdinan, Julien Leparoux.
Torres returns to saddle
Francisco Torres rode for the first time in 2007 last weekend at Arlington Park, winning an overnight stakes race aboard City Number on Saturday, his first day back. That was Torres's only win in nine mounts last weekend.
Torres last rode in October at Hawthorne, but old demons returned to haunt him after an excellent 2006 Arlington season. Torres said he spent six months in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinic in North Carolina, only leaving the facility in May.
Torres, who turns 38 this month, first came to prominence in Chicago as a successful 16-year-old apprentice rider, but consistently has had problems with alcohol since getting his first positive test in 1994. He was ruled off the grounds at Churchill Downs in 2000 because he failed to submit to a breathalyzer, a ban that eventually led Torres to Saudi Arabia, where he worked as a contract rider. Back in the states, Torres mounted a comeback in 2004, but had to sit out another year for falsifying a part of his license application. He came back at Louisiana Downs in 2006, and had a strong meet here last summer, winning 98 races and finishing second in the jockey standings.
Torres said he went to Indiana after leaving rehab and began working horses at the farm of trainer M.C. Roberts, returning to Chicago less than a month ago. Arlington stewards "wanted to see verification of what I've been doing," Torres said, and he had to submit to various testing regimens but was granted a license and is being represented by Randy Romero Sr.
Torres said that while his Saturday win felt good, he got tired riding City Number to victory and that his fitness level should improve in coming days.
"I hope by the end of this week, I'll be 100 percent."
- additional reporting by Marty McGee