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Inconsistent Mystery Giver belongs
ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Chris Block sat on his stable pony Wednesday morning just shy of Arlington's clubhouse turn, and turned to the rail with a smile as Mystery Giver barreled past in a strong gallop.
"That's perfect for him," Block said. "That's as good as he can gallop."
Mystery Giver's major work for the Arlington Million already is done. Now it is up to the horse - and Mystery Giver can be fickle in displaying his ample talent.
He ran in this race two years ago, and there were voices saying this Illinois-bred from a regional stable didn't belong. Mystery Giver did nothing to quiet them, finishing ninth.
"This year is different," Block said. "I didn't really feel he belonged in the race last time. He's a different horse now."
At his best, Mystery Giver truly does fit in this field. Consider that in May, he finished third in the Grade 1 Turf Classic at Churchill, a nose behind Sweet Return, who is the Million's 7-2 morning-line favorite. The race before, Mystery Giver had rolled from the back of the field, drawing away in the final half-furlong to win the Grade 2 Mervin Muniz by three-quarters of a length.
Then came a thudding fall. In June, at odds of 1-2, Mystery Giver finished sixth in an Illinois-bred stakes race he should have won. The pace that day was slow, and Mystery Giver pulled and pulled on the backstretch until he had run himself out of energy. Herein lies the key to this horse. If a rider can reach and take a snug hold of Mystery Giver out of the gate, his energy can be harnessed for the stretch.
"He's going to pull on you for a little while, but then he'll be okay, and settle into his stride," Block said.
Three weeks ago, Carlos Marquez Jr. was able to get Mystery Giver back at the start of the Arlington Handicap. But the pace there was slow, Mystery Giver had to steady on the far turn and then go wide, and he was beaten a nose by Senor Swinger, who also runs back in the Million. Saturday, Rene Douglas, who has won and lost on Mystery Giver, takes over.
"Rene's coming in tomorrow to talk things over," Block said.
Block called Mystery Giver's June loss in the Cardinal Handicap "embarrassing." It would also be utterly forgiven if the horse he trains for his parents and brother wins the big one at Arlington.
Simple Exchange small in size, big in drive
The German-bred, French-owned filly Aubonne had barely finished a feathery three-furlong breeze when Simple Exchange, the only International Festival horse to use the turf course Wednesday morning, took to the track. Simple Exchange, the American Derby winner, jogged the wrong way and went onto the turf course on the backstretch with his workmate, a gray horse from the Jeff Thornbury barn named Gimme an A. The pair began galloping about seven furlongs from the finish, but was timed for only a three-furlong breeze, both in 36.80 seconds. Gimme an A, an allowance-class horse, looked the more impressive of the two, but that was not of concern to Simple Exchange's people.
"That's him," said Jeff Byrne, who along with rider Liam Carthy is overseeing Simple Exchange for trainer Dermot Weld. "You're never going to see that much from him in the morning."
When the American Derby was moved up a week this year, it allowed Simple Exchange to remain at Arlington for the Secretariat. Weld likes both races, but despite three wins in the last five American Derbies, Weld has yet to win the Secretariat. In the past, when the races were four weeks apart, U. S. Department of Agriculture quarantine rules forced Weld's Irish horses to make two trans-Atlantic trips. This year, Simple Exchange has been training here for almost month, plenty of time to become acclimated to American-style training. But Byrne said the colt accomplished that in his first few days here.
"He's so laid back," Byrne said. "Nothing bothered him at all."
Simple Exchange is little more than a pinto of a colt, and he was fully a head shorter than his workmate Wednesday. "He has a big heart, though," said Byrne. "That's what counts."
Hennie's Song an attraction on Friday's card
The drama toward Million Day starts to build the evening before, when racing is conducted in the Midwestern twilight. Of course, the level of competition is not nearly as strong as it will be the following afternoon, but there are some interesting races and faces on the Million Eve card.
In particular, an unbeaten Godolphin runner should catch many sets of eyes: Hennie's Song, an Unbridled's Song filly who will make her first start under the famed royal blue silks in the eighth and featured race, the $50,000 Mariah's Storm Stakes. Privately purchased following her fifth win from as many starts, Hennie's Song shows just one Arlington workout since having her training interrupted last fall in New York.
Five other fillies and mares are entered in the Mariah's Storm, which goes at 1 1/8 miles on the main track.
First post is 3 p.m. Central.
Crimson Palace to conquer another continent?
Charlie Appleby, head traveling lad for Godolphin, was optimistic that the powerhouse stable's Beverly D. starter, Crimson Palace, will be assisted by the cool weather and not-too-hard ground expected here Saturday. Generally, horses based in Europe tend to prefer a cooler climate and a turf course with at least a little give.
"Not too firm, and she will be fine," Appleby said at the Wednesday post position draw. "She has been training well since we arrived here."
An upset in the Beverly D. would be a notable milestone, since she already has won on three other continents: Africa (at Kenilworth in South Africa), Asia (at Nad Al Sheba in Dubai), and Europe (at York in England).
Small field to Up Anchor's liking
Up Anchor, an 11th-hour entrant in the Secretariat Stakes, joins Cool Conductor as the only horses to have run in all three events this summer in the Mid-America Triple, Arlington's annual series for 3-year-old turf horses. Owned by Dennis Foster and Raleigh Ralls, Up Anchor figures as the longest shot in the Secretariat after running fourth in the Arlington Classic and fifth in the American Derby.
Trainer Paul J. McGee said the small field was a primary factor in deciding to run Up Anchor.
Million on ABC-TV
For the first time since 1991, the Million will be telecast live on network television. ABC-TV has packaged the Million and Beverly D. with the two Saturday features at Saratoga, the Sword Dancer and Vanderbilt handicaps, in a two-hour show that begins at 3 p.m. Central.
Brent Musburger, a Northwestern graduate who started his career in Chicago, will host the show. Musburger will be joined by Randy Moss and Jeannine Edwards.
* A special one-hour edition of "Horsin' Around TV" will air Saturday at 9:30 a.m. Central. Produced and hosted by Joe "Skull" Kristufek, the weekly magazine show will focus primarily on the International Turf Festival.
- additional reporting by Marty McGee