07/21/2003 11:00PM

Honor in War tops prep for the Million

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A sneak preview of the biggest weekend of the Arlington Park meet is set for Saturday, when the main local preps for the Arlington Million and Beverly D. will be run at the Arlington Heights, Ill., track.

The $250,000 Arlington Handicap, a Grade 3 race contested at the same 1 1/4-mile distance as the Million, and the $150,000 Modesty, a Grade 3 race run at the same 1 3/16-mile distance as the Beverly D., both will take place Saturday. Adding to the allure of the Saturday stakes package is the $100,000 Round Table Stakes, a 1 1/8-mile dirt race for 3-year-olds.

The Million and Beverly D., both Grade 1 events that typically attract some of the most accomplished turf horses in North America and beyond, will be run Aug. 16, along with the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes, a turf race for 3-year-olds. The main prep for the Secretariat, the American Derby, was won Sunday by Evolving Tactics.

Here is a rundown of the Saturday races:

* Honor in War, winner of the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve at Churchill Downs two starts ago, will carry 120 pounds as the starting highweight in the Arlington Handicap. Having moved to Arlington from Churchill and into the day-to-day care of Randy Martin, assistant to trainer Paul J. McGee, Honor in War has been exceptionally sharp in recent weeks and is likely to be a solid favorite under jockey David Flores.

Honor in War most recently finished sixth by 3 1/2 lengths in the Grade 1 Manhattan, a race run over an extremely soft track on the Belmont Stakes undercard. Flores said afterward that Honor in War struggled throughout that June 7 race.

Arlington officials have projected a field of about seven older horses for the Arlington Handicap. The other probables are Candid Glen, 118 pounds; Mystery Giver, 118; Gretchen's Star, 115; Act of War, 114; Better Talk Now, 114; and Extra Check, 114.

The Arlington Handicap typically produces a starter or two for the Million, although no Arlington 'Cap winner has ever won the Million.

* Owsley, shipping in from New York for trainer Randy Schulhofer, is scheduled to be the starting highweight in the Modesty, which appears likely to get a short- to medium-size field of fillies and mares.

Owsley, who has earned more than $775,000 for owner Arthur Hancock, was assigned 120 pounds, the same as Quick Tip, who is not expected to run. Other known starters include Bien Nicole, 119; Flager, 114; and Beret, 113.

Bien Nicole, a winner in 11 of 21 starts, has been a Midwest sensation over the last two seasons, winning stakes in four different states for trainer Donnie Von Hemel.

Flager took Churchill fans by surprise when she made her North American debut June 28. An Argentine import trained by Bobby Barnett, Flager lagged well behind an early pace before storming to a 10-length victory in second-level allowance company.

The winner of the Modesty can be expected back for the $700,000 Beverly D., which already is the target of Ipi Tombe, Dimitrova, and several standouts based in New York and California.

* Midway Road, the Preakness runner-up, who was a troubled third in the June 21 Ohio Derby in his last start, and Saint Liam, runner-up in the recent Iowa Derby, lead the nominees to the Round Table, but Arlington officials are unsure whether either will ship in for the race.

Their absence would leave favoritism to local runners Absent Friend, Battle Tank, and Wiggins.

Chirimoya drops in for feature

The nine-race Thursday card at Arlington is highlighted by a $32,000 entry-level allowance in which Churchill shipper Chirimoya will try to break a frustrating string of near-misses for trainer Lynn Whiting.

From 23 career starts, Chirimoya has won just once while finishing second eight times. A 4-year-old filly by Cobra King, she seems to be taking what amounts to a drop in class after having run competitively at the Keeneland and Churchill meets.

The feature is carded as the eighth race on a program that begins at 1 p.m. Central.