08/18/2010 4:00PM

A gentler Wigmore Hall stepping up in Secretariat

Four-Footed Fotos
Wigmore Hall's connections have plotted an ambitious schedule of international races for him in 2011, beginning with the Dubai Duty Free.

In the past performances for the Secretariat Stakes, you will see just to the left of the "3" designating Wigmore Hall’s age a "g." That "g," meaning "gelding," is the reason Wigmore Hall has made it as a racehorse in 2010.

Wigmore Hall, English trainer Mike Bell’s third starter at Arlington Park, managed to knock out a maiden win in his second start last year at age 2. But at Ascot last fall he was a disaster, running around the paddock like a wild horse and losing two shoes during a distant fifth-place finish in a race of no great consequence. Not long after, Wigmore Hall, sporting a grand pedigree of High Chaparral out of a Theatrical mare, endured the unkindest cut.

"He was a 'see-you-next-Tuesday' kind of horse until he was gelded," Bell said Wednesday. "He was a horror, a complete Jack the Lad, and he wouldn’t have been any good. We had no choice but to geld him."

Wigmore Hall would not race again until April, but he was given plenty of lessons during the winter, Bell said.

"We regularly took him racing in the horse box," he said. "We gave him a rude awakening. We showed him Wolverhampton and those icy winter tracks and told him that was where he’d end up if he wasn’t careful. We scared him into behaving. Now he lives in the yard opposite the horse walker, and if anything would set him off, that would. But he’s a little pussycat now. He’s a completely different horse than the one that was gelded."

Wigmore Hall also is quite good – perhaps good enough to take down heavily favored Paddy O’Prado on Saturday. Wigmore Hall has raced at or over the Secretariat’s 1 1/4-mile distance in all six of his starts this year and is a three-time 2010 winner, with two second-place finishes and a third. Wigmore Hall never has contested a graded race, but don't let that fool you.

"He's never been pitched in at this level, because when you've got a gelding, the exercise is to win prize money," Bell said. "I was trying to protect him, and if he'd have even won a Group 3, it would have hurt his rating."

The "rating" to which Bell refers is the rank of a horse established by a national handicapper, and the rating determines weight carried in a handicap. Because Bell was careful, Wigmore Hall slipped into the $226,000 John Smith’s Magnet Cup Handicap – among the richest and most prestigious handicaps in England – carrying just 114 pounds against older horses. Facing 18 rivals at York, he got up by a nose.

It was after that victory that Bell began thinking Secretariat. Rather than give the horse a final workout over his training grounds, he put Wigmore Hall in a conditions race Aug. 6 at Newmarket, where he beat Chabal, who had been disqualified from a Group 3 win in April.

"It was an impressive race," said Bell, who said he believes Wigmore Hall would be on a three-race winning streak had he not been an unlucky third at Royal Ascot in June.

Wigmore Hall shipped well and has settled into Arlington after arriving this week. No Jack the Lad business from this Secretariat contender any longer.

Karlsson second female to ride in Million

During the summer of 2007, Inez Karlsson began her riding career at Arlington Park, a former amateur boxer in Sweden who had migrated to Canada to work with Standardbreds. Karlsson was home in Sweden that summer when the Arlington Million rolled around. This year, she finds herself with a mount in the 28th Million – the only female jockey besides Julie Krone ever to ride in the race − and Rahystrada, 10-1 on the morning line, is not without a shot Saturday. Rahystrada won the Grade 3 Arlington Handicap last month, Karlsson’s second career graded stakes score.

Karlsson has a solid 41 victories at the meet entering this Arlington racing week. Back in her first Arlington stint, she went 1 for 25 and never entertained thoughts of getting into a race like the Million.

"I was just happy to be riding, taking things day by day," she said. "This is a bigger race, and you're out there riding with a lot of top jockeys in the country. But I’m trying to see it as a race just in general. You don't want to get too pumped up, especially on my horse, because he needs a quiet rider."

Locally based Tanner Riggs, named to pilot outsider Quite a Handful, also will be riding in his first Million.

Gosden's Million duo trains Wednesday

All six European horses for the three Million Day races have cleared quarantine and gotten out for morning exercise. John Gosden’s pair of Million runners, Debussy and Tazeez, arrived Sunday, a day later than Summit Surge, Pachattack, Biased, and Wigmore Hall. Debussy and Tazeez were only allowed to begin training Wednesday morning; the other four Euros were out for exercise Tuesday.

Romacaca strong local contender in Beverly D.

Local horses rarely have made a major impact in the three Grade 1 races at Arlington, which partly explains why Romacaca has been pegged at 20-1 on the morning line for the Beverly D. Yet given the sensational rate at which the owner-trainer team of Frank Calabrese and Nick Canani has won at this meet, Romacaca could be a shrewd longshot play.

"I'm a little surprised we're that high," said Canani, whose 44 percent win rate (45 for 103) is easily tops among Arlington trainers. "Any number of horses have a chance to win, including us."

Romacaca figures as the pacesetter in the Beverly D., which is run at 1 3/16 miles over a course where she has four wins and a second from five starts.

"They have to come to us," said Canani. "This is our home court, and the filly is really, really training well. The question is whether she can get the distance, but she's a stronger, more mature filly this year. I’m looking for her to run her race."

Fires set to ride in special race

Retired Hall of Fame jockey Earlie Fires, whose 6,470 career victories included an all-time high of 2,886 at Arlington, warmed up for his temporary return to the saddle by breezing two horses here Wednesday morning, one each for Spanky Broussard and Wayne Catalano.

"Hadn't been on a horse for about two years," Fires said. "I really feel good."

Fires will be among the participants in the "Young Guns vs. Cagey Veterans," a parimutuel race set for Friday. The "about" one-mile turf race will have 10 starters and will be the fifth of 10 on the twilight card, with post time set for 4:56 p.m.

Besides Fires, jockeys for the veteran team are Mark Guidry, Patti Cooksey, Zoe Cadman, and Otto Thorwarth. Cadman and Thorwarth are replacing Gary Stevens and Jean Cruguet, both of whom withdrew this week.

The younger jockeys set to compete are Michael Baze, Jesus Castanon, Junior Alvarado, Inez Karlsson, and James Graham. Besides the standard wagering menu, a head-to-head wager on the teams also will be offered.

Dean’s Kitten tries to emulate sire

If Dean's Kitten were the favorite in the Secretariat Stakes, owner Ken Ramsey said he may have made the trip down like he did in 2004, when he won the Secretariat with heavily favored Kitten’s Joy, the sire of Dean's Kitten.

"But we're just going to stay right here this time around and watch on simulcast," he said. "Hopefully, the son can emulate the sire. The mile and a quarter won’t hurt him. These horses are bred for the distance."

Dean's Kitten finished third before being disqualified to fourth in his last start, the July 17 American Derby. Ramsey, who bred and owns Dean's Kitten with his wife, Sarah, said he has appealed the stewards' decision. A hearing is set for Friday morning at Arlington.

* Besides the three Grade 1 events, the 12-race Saturday card also will include the Grade 3, $100,000 Stars and Stripes and the $60,000 Hatoof Stakes, both on grass. Free Fighter, winner of the Louisville Handicap, is the logical favorite in the Stars and Stripes (race 7) at 1 5/8 miles. The Hatoof (race 11) is for 3-year-old fillies at a mile.

* Arlington is offering a $300,000 pool guarantee on the pick three that combines the Secretariat, Beverly D., and Million (races 8-10). The minimum wager is $1.

– additional reporting by Marty McGee

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the age and credentials of the horse Wigmore Hall beat at Newmarket in his final prep for the Secretariat. The horse he beat, Chabal, is a 3-year-old, not an older horse, and he is not a Group 3 winner, having been disqualified from a first-place finish in the Group 3 Sandown Classic Trial in April.