08/03/2004 11:00PM

Herculated's feet are feeling better


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - There were 11 horses entered Wednesday in Saturday's Sea o'Erin Breeders' Cup Handicap, and at least one of them does not have sore feet.

That is Herculated, who battled foot problems through late spring and early summer, but is finally ready to return to racing in the $100,000 Sea o'Erin, a one-mile grass race. Herculated had an excellent winter at Fair Grounds, and his second-place finish to Mystery Giver in the Grade 2 Mervin Muniz Handicap marked him as a horse to watch in the older turf division. But just as quickly, Herculated lost his form, racing poorly in the Dixie Handicap on the Preakness Stakes undercard, and he has not seen action since then.

But he has been breezing, and breezing well.

"He's had four or five good works now," said trainer Mike Stidham. "It looks like he's back where he was at Fair Grounds."

Herculated's feet, Stidham said, are thin-walled and susceptible to bruising, and they did not stand up to the going in the Dixie, which was run over an unusually firm turf course.

"It got to where we couldn't even train him for a few weeks," Stidham said.

Herculated was fitted with glue-on shoes - shoes that are affixed to the foot without nails - and they have helped his tender hooves. And if Herculated has come most of the way back, he ought to have a great chance to win the Sea o'Erin.

But even with a strong performance, Herculated must get past Warleigh. Warleigh, a graded-stakes class middle-distance grass horse, has been training at Arlington for more than a month, pointing for this start.

The others in the Sea o'Erin are Mr. Krisley, Justlikedawg, Gwaihir, Major Rhythm, Intern, Garesche, Holy Conflict, Just Gossip, and False Promises.

Million looks to have full field

The prospective fields for the three Grade 1 turf races here next Saturday - the Arlington Million, Beverly D., and Secretariat - continue to ebb and flow. But what seems certain at this point is a solid contingent of European-based horses, especially for the Million.

There may be six European horses in the Million, which could easily attract a full field of 14, and among them are some contenders with proven Group 1 class. Powerscourt began his 2004 season with a six-length win in the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup, and though he has lost all three of his starts since then, he will be among the favorites in the Million. Powerscourt is one of three horses being sent here by trainer Aidan O'Brien, all of which will be ridden by Jamie Spencer. O'Brien also has Necklace for the Beverly D. and Moscow Ballet for the Secretariat.

The German-based Epalo also has a Group 1 victory this season, his in the Singapore Cup in May. Epalo, trained by Andreas Schutz, prepped for the Million last weekend with a narrow loss in Germany.

Magistretti, Gateman, Scott's View, and Vespone, a multiple Group 1 winner last season, are other possible European starters.

Trainer Bobby Frankel also has jumped into the Million fray, telling Arlington racing officials Wednesday morning that he would send Vangelis to the race. Frankel also may have two horses for the Beverly D., Light Jig and Commercante.

The Frankel-trained Greek Sun is only considered a possible starter in the Secretariat, which has suffered defections this week. The connections of Artie Schiller, Street Theatre, and a couple of Europeans have opted for alternative spots, and Greek Sun could wind up remaining in California.

So, too, could Toasted, winner of the Arlington Classic but third in the American Derby here in his last start. Still, trainer Laura de Seroux said Wednesday she would consider sending Toasted to the Secretariat, especially if wet conditions are forecast. Ballingarry is less likely to come for the Million than Toasted for his race, but de Seroux said: "They both love it soft."

The budding turf star Kitten's Joy and the American Derby winner Simple Exchange top the list of Secretariat probables.

Bedanken only definite among locals

Bedanken is the one locally based horse who is definitely in the International Festival of Racing, and she will have a solid chance in the Beverly D. based on her impressive win in the Grade 3 Modesty.

There will be another Chicago horse in the Grade 1's - provided he continues to keep his head in his feed tub. The trainer Chris Block said he is leaning toward running Mystery Giver in the Million, provided the horse breezes well and continues to eat to Block's satisfaction. Mystery Giver has a history of picking at his feed and losing weight. He has been doing fine, but Block is taking nothing for granted.

The Illinois-bred Mystery Giver began the Arlington meet with a flop in the statebred-restricted Cardinal Handicap, but he ran huge when he was second last month in the Arlington Handicap, a race he would have won with better luck. But that is Mystery Giver - prone to mixing brilliance with frustration.

Block has ample respect for the horses who are supposed to run in the Million, but he is less concerned with the competition than with a three-week break between races for Mystery Giver.

"That's the most important thing," Block said. "We'll wait and decide next week."