Updated on 09/17/2011 11:02AM

Honor in War favored but not formidable


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Honor in War is a 4-year-old colt by Lord at War, bred to develop later in his career than many American horses of this era. His trainer, Paul McGee, points out that Honor in War never has run badly, and that after sitting on the cusp of a stakes career, Honor in War broke through with a decisive win May 3 in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve at Churchill Downs. His immediate goal this summer: the Arlington Million.

But when he starts as the favorite Saturday in the $250,000 , Honor in War still has something to prove. Honor in War has been consistent, yes, but his current high standing comes primarily from his 24-1 upset in the Woodford Reserve, where he beat a subpar Grade 1 field.

"I feel like if people think he's the horse to beat, then we at least belong in the race," said Graham Motion, trainer of Arlington Classic entrant Better Talk Now, surely echoing the thoughts of the nine other horsemen who entered to oppose Honor in War.

Better Talk Now is emblematic of the type of horse entered in the 1 1/4-mile Arlington Handicap, one of three stakes - along with the Grade 3 Modesty and $100,000 Round Table - here on Million Preview Day. Better Talk Now, who was gelded late last winter, comes off a narrow win in a listed stakes at Delaware Park, but he has the talent and upside to take a shot at the Grade 3 level.

"Obviously it looks like [Honor in War] is the favorite, but we did beat him this winter at Gulfstream Park," Motion said.

But McGee, who trains Honor in War for the Third Turn Stable, expects Honor in War to reinforce his position as a top American grass horse. Honor in War finished sixth in the Grade 1 Manhattan in his last start, but the race was run in a bog and should be ignored.

"He came out of the Manhattan real good, and he's doing very well now," McGee said. "He had a nice breeze over the [Arlington] turf course last week, and we're all set."

Shaanmer, trained by Christophe Clement, was eighth in the Manhattan, his second U.S. start, and was Group 1-placed last season in France. He has a legitimate chance to win, as does Mystery Giver, who trainer Chris Block believes got the wrong trip when he was beaten last month as the heavy favorite in the Cardinal Handicap here. "If he's ridden correctly, he's ready to run a big race," Block said.