08/16/2001 11:00PM

Handicapping Arlington's Grade 1's

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The International Festival of Racing at Arlington is one of the best days of racing on the sport's annual calendar. The card features five stakes including three grade 1 races totalling $2.1 million in purses. The day also draws national attention to one of horseracing's greatest venues, Arlington Park.

If beautiful Arlington Park or the great city of Chicago are not enough to get your attention, maybe three great betting races with full-fields on the grass will be enough to arouse your interest.

After a failed $2 million experiment last year resulted in one of the smallest and weakest Arlington Million fields ever, the purse of the Million returns to $1 million for this year's 19th running. The result is a phenomenal 12-horse field featuring some of the best turfers from the East, West, Midwest, Canada, and abroad. With no Breeders' Cup race at 1 1/4 miles, the Million is again shaping up as the unofficial championship race at its distance on the turf.

With a purse of $700,000, the Beverly D. can stand on its own as one of the better races of the summer. Nine well-matched distaffers will battle it out in a race that should give us our first clear look ahead to the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf.

The card is rounded out by the Secretariat Stakes at 1 1/4 miles on grass for 3-year-olds. This is our first chance to see how sophomore turfers from all over the U.S. and Europe stack up against each other.

SELECTIONS:

THE BEVERLY D.

Arlington, Saturday - Race 6

Fillies & mares, 1 3/16 miles turf

Grade 1, purse: $700,000

1) Astra

2) The Seven Seas

3) Only to You

ARLINGTON MILLION

Arlington, Saturday - Race 8

1 1/4 miles turf

Grade 1, purse: $1,000,000

1) Bienamado

2) Silvano

3) Quiet Resolve

The Secretariat Stakes is the third and most often forgotten of Arlington's grade 1 races. Nevertheless, it is sometimes one of the best betting races of the year for fans of turf racing. This year's edition is no exception.

SECRETARIAT STAKES

Arlington, Saturday - Race 10

3-year-olds, 1 1/4 miles

Grade 1, purse: $400,000

1) Sharp Performance

2) Package Store

3) Navesink

I am betting against the East Coast horses in the Million and Beverly D., but the 3-year-old Eastern turfers, as a group, have been far superior to horses from elsewhere so far this year.

The best of the bunch is Sharp Performance, who looks like a candidate to handle older competition this fall based on back-to-back wins at this distance at Belmont Park. His June 9 Belmont allowance win in 2:00.56 was run in a faster time than the grade 1 Manhattan Handicap was run on the same card. The Manhattan included older horses like Forbidden Apple and King Cugat. Sharp Performance's July 15 win in the G3-Lexington was a dominating effort resulting in a 101 Beyer. Sharp Performance, trained by David Donk and ridden by Chris McCarron, adds Lasix for the Secretariat and looks like the best bet on the entire Million Day card.

Package Store has been beaten by just two horses in his three-race turf career, and they are the above-mentioned Sharp Performance (by a length) and the multiple stakes-winning Proud Man (by a neck). The most impressive thing about Package Store has been his versatility, as he has been successful both as a closer, and as a front-runner.

Navesink has four wins and a third in an all-turf career up and down the East Coast. His lone loss came to Proud Man and Package Store in the G3-Hill Prince, and he looks like the best of the rest in this very good field.

WEEKEND PLAY ($100)

Bet it all on Sharp Performance.

$100 to win on Sharp Performance