07/18/2006 11:00PM

At last, Preview worth viewing

Trainer Dermot Weld has won the American Handicap two of the last three years.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Arlington Park has hosted a so-called Million Preview Day since 2001, though the first Million Preview seasons included the Round Table Stakes, which wasn't a preview for any race on the Arlington Million card. Two years ago, the American Derby, the local prep for the Grade 1 Secretariat, took the Round Table's place, but in reality, many of even the best horses in the Million Preview stakes weren't going to be anywhere near the Grade 1's here in early July. But guess what - the three Million Preview stakes drawn Wednesday and scheduled for Saturday appear to represent a leap forward, with some really good horses and a couple of surprisingly big fields.

The American Derby, which typically attracts a field of modest size, has come up a barn-burner of a race. This is all the more surprising given that this year, the national 3-year-old grass picture includes not one but two $1 million races at Colonial Downs, the more recent of which came last Saturday. But the American Derby drew a full gate of 14 entries, and the field is not filled with mere chaff, either.

Among the entries is Golden Arrow, an Irish horse whose resume will not overwhelm anyone. But Golden Arrow, who arrived here Sunday, is trained by Dermot Weld, and Weld has won the American Derby two of the last three years, and three of the last six.

Golden Arrow will offer a price Saturday, as will every horse in the wide-open race. Also entered to run are Kingship, the winner of the Arlington Classic; Storm Treasure, who finished off the board as the Arlington Classic favorite; Stream Cat, from the barn of Patrick Biancone; a pair of horses trained by Bill Mott, Union Avenue and Desert Wheat, who makes his first start for Mott; and New York invader Outperformance, who is as talented as any runner in the American Derby, but is saddled with post 14 on Saturday.

The Arlington Handicap drew the shortest field of the three stakes, but includes Rush Bay, an up-and-comer who could be pointed toward the Million with a good showing, and Red Fort, who is among the top echelon of California turf horses.

There are 10 horses in the Modesty, a prep for the Beverly D., including a coupled entry trained by Laura de Seroux; another Biancone horse, Louve Royal; and solid locals such as Atlantic Frost. Florida-based Marty Wolfson has Potra Clasica for the Modesty and Can't Beat It for the American Derby.

Breakdowns draw more attention

Brian Williamson summers at Arlington, winters at Hawthorne, and probably never expected to be interviewed for a story that appeared in The New York Times. But this summer has been a bizarre one at Arlington Park.

With local media continuing to churn out stories on the breakdown rate this summer at Arlington, The New York Times saw fit to jump in with a story that appeared in Wednesday's paper. Williamson was interviewed because he trained Easy Strider, who broke down in a race Saturday and was euthanized. It was the first breakdown in nine racing days here. Easy Strider, a 2-year-old, suffered a horrible and rare injury, fracturing the tibia in a hind leg.

"It was up above the hock, really unusual," said Williamson.

Williamson said Easy Strider had no history of physical problems that pointed him out as a high-risk racehorse. But neither did Williamson rush to blame the Arlington racetrack, the subject of great scrutiny since the rash of catastrophic injuries gained notoriety last month.

The track was inspected several weeks ago by noted trackman Joe King, who was brought in as a consultant by Arlington, and it underwent another inspection last week, this time at the behest of the Illinois Racing Board. The racing board hired Charles E. Coon and Sons, said by the racing board to possess 50 years of experience in racing surface expertise, to conduct a survey of the track surface beginning last Wednesday. A two-day analysis turned up the same thing that King and Arlington's own trackman, Javier Barajas, found in their investigations - nothing.

The racing board is in the midst of three days of hearings in downtown Chicago surveying the state of the sport in Illinois. The hearings, chaired by board member John Simon, were held Tuesday and Wednesday and will conclude Monday.

Round 2 in Fairmount Derby?

The newly created $250,000 Fairmount Derby figures to be the site of a rematch between Casino Evil and Barely Union Scale, who finished a nose apart last Saturday in the Round Table Stakes, with Casino Evil narrowly prevailing.

Both horses exited a tough race in good physical condition, their trainers said, and both are being pointed in the direction of a trip to Fairmount next month.

"That's my tentative plan," said Casino Evil's trainer, Mike Tomlinson.

Tomlinson is mostly based in Kentucky, but Casino Evil has been training at Arlington and will remain here in advance of his next start, Tomlinson said.

Trainer Tom Swearingen said he was leaning toward a Fairmount trip with Barely Union Scale, who ran quite well in defeat and appears to have a bright future in the Illinois-bred stakes ranks.

Nicole's Dream heading to Calder

Nicole's Dream won Sunday's J J'sdream Stakes by only three-quarters of a length, but she broke her own course record for about five furlongs on turf with a clocking of 55.79 seconds. In second place, three lengths clear of third, was Buckys Prayer, a Great Lakes Downs shipper who is a talented turf sprinter in her own right.

Nicole's Dream came out of the race well, said trainer Larry Rivelli, and remains on track to start in the $250,000 Distaff Turf Sprint Championship on Aug. 5 at Calder. Rivelli said the plan is for Nicole's Dream to fly to Miami for the race, but shipping arrangements haven't been finalized.