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Million's early leader no mystery
ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Since it cost $5,000 to pre-enter for the race by midnight last Friday, the field for Saturday's Arlington Million has all but been assembled, a nine-horse group with Gio Ponti the likely favorite over Einstein. Final entries will be taken and post positions assigned for the Million as well as Saturday's other two Grade 1 turf races, the Beverly D. and the Secretariat, on Tuesday afternoon. And none of these details should have one bit of influence over how the Million will unfold: Presious Passion will be out there on the lead, winging it.
Very recent precedent for front-running Million success exists, since French invader Spirit One wired the race last year, hanging on over tough-luck Archipenko. But where Spirit One was a controlled front-runner, Presious Passion has evolved into a runaway train. He opened clear early leads on the way to turf wins in the Mac Diarmida last February at Gulfstream Park and in the Monmouth Stakes in June, but took his front-end style to new heights on the way to a two-length victory July 4 in the Grade 1 United Nations. Under Elvis Trujillo, Presious Passion led by 20 lengths after the second call of the 11-furlong race, and held firm despite running his opening half-mile in just more than 45 seconds, and six furlongs in a dizzying 1:09 and change.
"I've kind of gotten used to his style," said trainer Mary Hartmann. "I feel he has enough energy and stamina to make the distance these days."
It's true: At age 6, Presious Passion has hit peak form, with 3 wins and 2 seconds from 5 starts this year, and a 2009 bankroll of $790,000. Hartmann, based during the summer at Monmouth, does not hesitate for even a beat in calling Presious Passion, a son of Royal Anthem owned by Patricia Generazio, the best horse she has trained. Hartmann carries a 25-horse string and has won just six races in 2009. She has seven graded stakes wins in her career, all from Presious Passion. And Presious Passion's career earnings of $1.84 million account for nearly 25 percent of the money earned by 1,770 Hartmann-trained starters over the course of her career.
Many horses with front-running tendencies slow down as they grow older and more experienced, learning to rate and rally. Presious Passion's case is entirely different. Only once in his first 25 starts did he make the early lead, and he ran well enough from off the pace to win the Grade 2 McKnight Handicap two Decembers ago at Calder. But lurking inside the old Presious Passion was a speed horse with the stamina to run 1 1/2 miles.
"He seems to relax when he gets on an easy lead, and since he's gotten older he's shown he can do it," Hartmann said. "When he was younger he was too rank go to the front. Now, we let him do what he wants to do."
Hartmann leaves the in-race decisions to Trujillo, Presious Passion's rider the last six starts, and a jockey familiar with Arlington. Trujillo rode here regularly and with some success in 2002, before a briefer stand during the 2004 meet.
Trying to avoid wet turf, on which Presious Passion isn't his best, Hartmann has kept open the option of going to Saratoga for the Sword Dancer Invitational next weekend, but said Monday she has all but decided to come to Chicago on Thursday. The forecast here is mostly for dry conditions, but Saturday could well be one of the hottest days of the summer, with a forecast high temperature in the mid-90s.
Already at Arlington are three overseas shippers that arrived this past weekend: Cima de Triomphe, Gloria de Campeao, and Stotsfold. Gio Ponti is scheduled to ship Tuesday from New York. Einstein will arrive Wednesday from Churchill, while Just as Well will travel by van from Presque Isle Downs later this week. Just as Well had his entry fee for the Million waved because he won the Arlington Handicap here last month. The other pre-entries are Grade 1 winner Mr. Sidney, and Recapturetheglory, who figures to be the longest price on the board.
Giant Oak out for rebound
Giant Oak finished fifth as the odds-on favorite in the July 11 American Derby, but that subpar performance could be quickly erased if Giant Oak bounces back in the $500,000 Secretariat on Saturday. And that could easily happen, since the Secretariat came up little tougher than the $300,000 American Derby.
Eleven horses are expected to be entered Tuesday in the Secretariat, including four of the first five American Derby finishers. Notable newcomers include Aidan O'Brien-trained Black Bear Island, who will stay in the U.S. after Saturday's race; Take the Points, who finished third by less than a length in the Virginia Derby on July 18; and Laureate Conductor, who has won two straight turf races for trainer Christophe Clement. Besides Giant Oak, the top horses coming out of the American Derby are the winner, Reb, and the disqualified third-place finisher, Oil Man.
Giant Oak impressively won the May 23 Arlington Classic in his first 2009 grass start before failing to produce the same kind of performance last month. Working around cones set far out on the turf course, Giant Oak worked a controlled five furlongs 1:06.80 under Eddie Razo, who will ride him again Saturday. The slow time, according to trainer Chris Block, bears no relationship to the nature of the breeze.
"Visually, he looked very, very good today," said Block. "The time is not reflective of the way he looked. At this point, I have no excuses going into this race. This horse has trained as well as he's ever trained."
Home team looks good in Beverly D.
Three more Europeans, Alnadana, Denomination, and Mad About You, are here for the Beverly D. Stakes, but as in the Million, an American should be favored. That would be Pure Clan, who won the Modesty Handicap here last month with speed to spare in what looked like a perfect tune-up for the Beverly D.
Others expected to be entered on Tuesday are Grade 1 winner Black Mamba, who may be second choice to Pure Clan; two-three Modesty finishers, Tizaqueena and Dynaforce; and Woodbine shipper Points of Grace.