07/26/2003 12:00AM

Million Preview a day for favorites


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - The favored Honor In War reinforced his position as the Midwest's top turf distance horse Saturday in the Arlington Handicap. But just barely.

Honor in War made a big move on the turf and appeared to take command of the race a furlong from the finish, but as the horses raced into a raging prairie headwind he nearly was run down by the surging Better Talk Now, whose rally fell a neck short.

Mystery Giver finished strongly to catch the pace horse Della Francesca for the show, as the strong second choice Shaanmer was bottled up for much of the race and never made a run. Honor In War, who ran 1 1/4 miles in 2:02.71 on firm turf, paid $5.20 and earned $150,000.

The Grade 3, $250,000 Arlington Classic was part of an excellent card that included the Modesty and the Round Table. This was the most competitive of the races, as Honor In War, a Grade 1 winner prepping for the Arlington Million, won the approval of fans who made him the favorite, while Better Talk Now stamped himself as a potential player in the turf handicap division later this summer.

Trained by Paul McGee, Honor in War is likely to return here next month for the Million. Better Talk Now, however, is unlikely to make the trip back from trainer Graham Motion's base in Fair Hill, Md.

Modesty: Owsley sets record

Owsley began her season slowly, but incrementally she's reaching her peak. She took a long step toward her best form with a one-length win over a game Bien Nicole in the Grade 3, $150,000 Modesty Handicap.

"She's a big mare, and she's probably just now getting to the fitness point," said trainer Randy Schulhofer. "She was kind of a step behind this year."

Owsley paid $4.60 to win and ran

1 3/16 miles on firm turf in 1:55.06, a stakes record.

A two-time Grade 2 winner last season, Owsley is headed toward better things now after parlaying an ideal race setup into a solid win. Bien Nicole, Owsley's chief rival, was eased to the lead out of the gate by jockey Don Pettinger but found a surprise pace rival in Flager, who forced quick early fractions of 23.70 seconds for a quarter-mile and 47.71 for a half.

Owsley and Rene Douglas reached contention midway around the far turn and came with a full head of steam turning for home. Without ever getting a breather, Bien Nicole couldn't hold off Owsley's late kick while finishing four lengths in front of Beret.

Round Table: Wiggins romps

The connections of Best Minister once had designs on the Belmont Stakes, but Best Minister was no match for the sharp Illinois-bred colt Wiggins in the $100,000 Round Table. Wiggins ($7.40), who has come to hand nicely this summer for trainer Tony Granitz, pressed a slow pace and got first run on Best Minister, whom he easily turned away for a 4 3/4-length win.

Owners William Pacella, Ronald Schwed, and Joe Rizza purchased Wiggins late last summer after he had begun his racing career.