05/22/2009 12:00AM

Giant Oak facing nine in strong Classic


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - The Arlington Classic lost its graded-stakes status in 2007. That doesn't square with the quality of the field assembled for the race Saturday.

Ten 3-year-old grass horses were entered in the Classic, first leg of Arlington's Mid-America Triple and one of four six-figure stakes on Saturday's program. The Classic goes as the last of 11 races, preceded by the Grade 3 Hanshin, the Grade 3 Matron, and the $200,000 American 1000 Guineas.

A $500,000 bonus offered this year to a horse who sweeps the Arlington Classic, the American Derby, and the Secretariat Stakes might have boosted a field that includes five horses that have won or placed in a graded stakes. Giant Oak has lost five races in a row since winning his first two starts last summer at Arlington - but it might be his time again now.

Giant Oak's last four starts came on dirt, and he finished second to high-class Musket Man last out in the Illinois Derby. But it's possible that turf or synthetic-surface racing could turn out to be Giant Oak's best game.

"He actually trains a lot better on Polytrack than on dirt," said trainer Chris Block.

Giant Oak debuted with a one-mile, two-turn Arlington grass victory, and got stuck in traffic in his only other turf try.

"If I had to guess, I'd say he would handle the turf fine," said Block, who named Eddie Razo to ride Giant Oak for the first time this year.

Kentucky shipper Orthodox exits an upset win in the Grade 3 American Turf on Oaks Day at Churchill Downs, and has won three of his five grass starts.

"He has natural speed, and he likes to come out of the gate quick," said trainer and co-owner John Glenney. "I'm hoping he'll sit a clear second or third."

Orthodox will break from post 2 under Jon Court. The horse whose pace he tracked last out at Churchill, Turfiste, will break from post 8. California invader Flashmans Papers is stretching out from sprints and could show speed.

El Crespo won the Grade 3 Palm Beach Stakes on the Gulfstream Park turf in March before finishing 10th on Polytrack in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland last out.

"He's a neck away from being unbeaten on the grass, and he's beaten double-digit lengths on anything else," said trainer Rusty Arnold. "He finally pounded it in my head he's a turf horse."

Proceed Bee merits respect at a price. Third in the Lane's End over Turfway Polytrack, he won his lone turf start last fall at Churchill.

Italian import Golden Mexico is 2 for 2 in his brief career, with a victory over subsequent stakes winner Afirmatif last month at Keeneland.

:: King: (DRF Plus)