08/20/2001 12:00AM

Foreigners nearly pitch a shutout

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - The International Festival of Racing was supposed to become another afternoon of American muscle-flexing. In the days before the Arlington Million, Beverly D., and Secretariat, the European contingent was said to be so weak that a United States sweep would not be surprising.

So how could anyone have guessed that last-gasp heroics would be required to salvage just one triumph for the U.S.? On a day when bettors across America helped establish an all-time wagering record in Illinois, the biggest winners indeed were foreigners.

The Million winner, Silvano, is German through and through. The 5-year-old was bred in Germany, is owned by a German, is trained by a German, and was ridden by a German.

The Beverly D. winner, England's Legend, now is based in the U.S., but that seems more a connection of expedience than anything else. The 4-year-old filly was bred in France and is owned by a French baron who watched the race via simulcast at home. She is trained by French-born Christophe Clement, whose French-born assistant accompanied the filly to Chicago from New York. And her name speaks for itself.

The Secretariat winner very nearly wasn't an American, but a Canadian. Strut the Stage, owned by the Toronto powerhouse Sam-Son Farms, ran a tremendous race in the Festival finale, only to be beaten on the wire by Startac.

Into the Festival, European representatives were dimly optimistic at best, naming Silvano and Mizzen Mast as their top hopes. The timing of Arlington's showcase races, 10 weeks from the Breeders' Cup, is such that Euro horsemen have become reluctant in recent years to fly their top-class horses all the way to Chicago, primarily because that could mean two arduous overseas journeys within a relatively short period. For some years now, that trend has robbed the Festival of much of its so-called international flavor.

But this year, internationalism was back in style, with the most obvious manifestation being the show that followed the Million.

Andreas Suborics, the jockey of Silvano, was positively euphoric in victory. While waiting a good 10 minutes for his mount to be led to the infield presentation ceremony, Suborics kept leaping out of his saddle to lead and accept cheers from an appreciative crowd. Blissfully ignorant of the professional cool that so many American jockeys keep after such major triumphs, his youthful exuberance injected a refreshing element to the proceedings.

Silvano now has scored major victories in four countries, including the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup in Hong Kong in April.

"This win today was even better than in Hong Kong," trainer Andreas Wohler said. "He beat very good horses in impressive style."

Wohler said Silvano will be flown to New York this week to run Sept. 8 in the Man o' War at Belmont. However, perhaps because there are excellent opportunities to further the cause of internationalism in the Emirates World Series, Wohler said Silvano likely will skip the Breeders' Cup Turf to run in Japan or Hong Kong late this year.

As the third of 12 races in the Emirates series, the Million allowed Silvano to pull into a three-way tie for first atop the Emirates points standings with Captain Steve and Galileo.

Unexpectedly dominant

Since England's Legend was the 9-2 second choice in the Beverly D., her victory could not be termed unexpected.

But the way she won was.

Without a moment's look back, England's Legend streaked to the most dominant victory in Beverly D. history, leaving jockey Corey Nakatani unable to say enough good things about her. With Perfect Sting retired, and Astra having faltered badly in the Beverly D., the role of North America's leading filly-mare turf horse clearly has been grabbed with a vengeance by England's Legend.

"She's a very special filly," said Nakatani. "You can throw anything at her and she can handle it."

Tough beat

Surely the most gallant loser in the Festival was Strut the Stage, who took all the worst of things in the Secretariat. By looping most of the field on the final turn, jockey Todd Kabel sacrificed any notion of saving ground in return for securing a clear path for the horse with the most run.

It nearly worked. Only an incredible rally by Startac kept Strut the Stage from putting Sam-Son on the world stage again.

"We got beat by a runner," said Kabel. "That was a tough one."

Handle sets record

While nasty weather held down ontrack attendance on Million Day, business hit an all-time high at simulcast outlets.

All-sources wagering totaled $14,519,027, easily breaking the state mark for handle. The record was set July 13, 1996, when over $13.2 million was bet the day Cigar posted a record-tying 16th straight victory in the Citation Challenge at Arlington.

The ontrack crowd of 22,176 was third-lowest in the 19-year history of the Million, surpassing only 1993 (21,366) and 1994 (21,593). Arlington chairman Richard Duchossois spent much of the day good-heartedly complaining about the weather while slyly noting that "We'll just have to settle for world-class racing, won't we?"

* Even worse weather conditions Sunday pretty much ruined the feature race, the $60,000 Reluctant Guest Stakes, except for Binalegend and her connections and backers. Binalegend, at 4-1 the longest shot in a field of three, rallied from last to easily defeat favorites Moonlady (11-10) and Alybgood (4-5).

* Three allowance races will be run Wednesday, when action resumes following the usual two-day break. The richest of those is a $43,000 turf race in which Kiss the Devil, a well-regarded Kris S. filly trained by David Vance, figures as the favorite. The allowance races are the last three on a nine-race card that begins at 1 p.m.

* Nine-year-old Bet on Sunshine, with Calvin Borel to ride, has been named the 123-pound highweight in the lone stakes of the coming weekend here, the $100,000 Arlington Sprint. Bet on Sunshine already has captured two of the three runnings of the six-furlong race, dead-heating in 1997 and winning outright last year. Robin de Nest is expected to be the top challenger.