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Mott may take two shots
CHICAGO - For all the talented 3-year-old grass horses Bill Mott has trained, he has won the premier 3-year-old grass race in this country, the Grade 1 Secretariat, only once. The win came 17 years ago with Derby Wish, and since then talented colts like King Cugat, Glok, Trail City, and even Paradise Creek came up short in the Secretariat.
But Mott is back again this year, and might even have two horses for the Secretariat. Orchard Park, who has been training at Churchill Downs with Mott's Midwest assistant, Ralph Nicks, is a confirmed starter, and as of Tuesday morning Mott still was toying with sending Miesque's Approval from his New York string.
Miesque's Approval, a 4 1/4-length winner of the Kent Breeders' Cup in his last race, had been targeting the Saranac Stakes at Saratoga. But Mott said he's concerned about the condition of Saratoga's turf course and is reconsidering his options.
"I'm still undecided," Mott said Tuesday. "I'll have to make a decision by tomorrow."
If Miesque's Approval runs, Mott probably has the top two choices in the race.
Orchard Park, owned by Peter Vegso, has won five of six starts this year, and Mott said a bad trip contributed to his third-place finish in the Crown Royal American Turf. Moreover, Orchard Park already has won at the Secretariat's 1 1/4-mile distance, having beaten Flying Dash by 1 1/2 lengths in the $500,000 Virginia Derby.
"He's starting to fit right in there with the good ones," Mott said. "He's been very steady."
The Secretariat could have as many as nine horses or as few as seven. Besides Miesque's Approval, Mountain Rage still was on the fence for the race. Among the top California-based 3-year-old grass horses, Mountain Rage had been booked on a Wednesday flight to Chicago, but Arlington officials said trainer Bob Baffert hadn't committed his colt to the race.
The others expected to enter the race are Chiselling, Extra Check, Major Rhythm, Mananan McLir, Jazz Beat, and Love Regardless.
Paolini stretches his legs
The best European here for Million Day was the busiest European here Tuesday. Paolini, making his first appearance outside Arlington's quarantine barn, first visited Arlington's training track for a warm-up just after 7:30, then went to the main track for a gallop. His race rider, Andreas Suborics, arrived here from Germany on Monday evening and put Paolini through his paces Tuesday morning.
Suborics rode last year's Million winner, Silvano, who like Paolini is trained by Andreas Wohler. Wohler will preside over Paolini's training here Thursday, when the horse will have a short blowout at the end of his exercise.
Paolini is far more accomplished than the other three Europeans in the Million - Cheshier, Freefourinternet, and Ulundi.
Besides the Europeans, the locally based Mystery Giver was the only Million horse on the grounds Tuesday. A plane carrying Beat Hollow, Sarafan, and Falcon Flight from California will arrive here Wednesday before continuing on to New York, where it will pick up the East Coast horses shipping in for Million Day races. Forbidden Apple is the only Million horse coming from New York.
The Tanaka plan
Owner Gary Tanaka, who won the Beverly D. two years ago with Snow Polina, will be represented Saturday by Golden Apples. Tanaka is scheduled to arrive in Chicago on Friday from London.
Tanaka, who owns about 35 horses and employs about 10 American trainers, said Tuesday during a telephone press conference that Golden Apples essentially is a prototype for his success in the Thoroughbred business: bought in Europe, and now racing for far bigger purses in North America.
"You're basically buying value," said Tanaka. "I hate to say it, but the purses are pathetic in Europe. When you bring one to the States, many times you can move them up a grade, and the purses are much better."
Tanaka has been sending horses to the Festival with regularity since 1994, when Blues Traveller finished eighth in the Million.
Bailey has shot at triple
Two years ago, jockey Jerry Bailey nearly pulled off an unprecedented feat in the International Festival of Racing. Bailey won the Beverly D. with Snow Polina and the Million with Chester House, then appeared en route to victory in the Secretariat with odds-on King Cugat. But then Ciro launched a huge rally to beat King Cugat by a length, foiling a Bailey sweep.
Saturday, Bailey again has major contenders in all three Festival races: Beat Hollow in the Million, Orchard Park in the Secretariat, and Tates Creek in the Beverly D.
The Beverly D., which with a post time of 3:24 p.m. will be the first Festival race, might be the most elusive for Bailey's mounts. Although Tates Creek was game in her recent victory in the Diana Handicap at Saratoga, the opposition Saturday will include Astra, who generally is considered the divisional leader, and England's Legend, who won the Beverly D. last year by a record 7 3/4 lengths.
In all, only six fillies and mares are expected for the 1 3/16-mile Beverly D.: Tates Creek, Astra, England's Legend, Golden Apples, Volga, and Golden Silca.
Reason to be excited
If human exuberance helps a horse run faster, give Extra Check a second look in the Secretariat.
It was only a year ago that Marty Nixon and the brothers Al and Ron Lepinski dove into the Thoroughbred business. They race as the Three Kings, and already they have a horse for a Grade 1 stakes.
The Three Kings are taking a stab with Extra Check, a well-beaten third to Mananan McLir and Jazz Beat in the American Derby. But they took a stab here last fall with the $50,000 claim Brief Bliss, and she came within a neck of winning the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Lassie.
"Yeah, they'll be excited," trainer Mike Stidham said of the trio of the 30-something Chicagoans. "But they get pumped up about a $5,000 claimer."
More than racing
In recent years, Arlington has greatly expanded the auxiliary events related to the International Festival of Racing.
Thursday has been billed Ladies Day, with a hat contest and fashion show; a Greatest Female Fan contest for which the NTRA will award $1,000 for the best essay; and a book signing by Betsy Berns, author of "Win, Place and Show: A Female Fan Guide to Thoroughbred Racing."
Friday will begin with retired jockey Chris McCarron speaking at a Breakfast at Arlington seminar that starts at 7:30. McCarron also will sign autographs at the Starting Gate Theatre beginning at 2:30, 30 minutes before first post. Also, the first 4,000 paid admissions will receive a poster commemorating the Hall of Fame induction of Cigar. The third annual Mane Event, a block party in downtown Arlington Heights, will be held Friday evening.
Saturday, besides the obvious attraction of three Grade 1 races, the first 20,000 to pay admission will receive Arlington Million baseball caps. Ten of the hats will include $1,000. Also, there will be a display and book signings by artists Tony Leonard and Tom Pauly and by Daily Racing Form handicappers Mike Watchmaker and Alan Shuback.
- additional reporting by Marty McGee