08/06/2009 11:00PM

Plenty of angles to consider in Secretariat


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - If Giant Oak runs back to his Arlington Classic win, he could be the right horse. If Black Bear Island proves half as dominant as European-based winners of the race the last two years, he might be the one. If Take The Points continues building on his third-place finish in the Virginia Derby, maybe the race is his.

If, if, and more if's - that's the feel of the Grade 1, $500,000 Secretariat Stakes. The race sits at the front of a three-race, all-Grade 1, $300,000 guaranteed pick three, and may be a spread for many bettors.

Eleven were entered in the 1 1/4-mile grass race, but fewer will start. Trainer Darrin Miller said Driving Snow was injured in a Monday work, and his other horse, Cliffy's Future, is not a certain runner.

Indiana-bred Hoosier Kingdom has four straight wins and speed, but takes a massive class hike. Quite a Handful has progressed recently, but may be overmatched. Proceed Bee has some talent, but probably not enough. Finding any of the other six horses in the winner's circle would come as no surprise.

After a good second in the Illinois Derby and a better win in the May 23 Arlington Classic, Giant Oak was odds-on in the July 11 American Derby. But after being dragged back well behind a tepid pace, Giant Oak started a run at about the three-eighths pole that petered out before midstretch. He was part of some late bumping, but looked beaten before that happened.

"I believe this is a pivotal race," said trainer Chris Block. "I think you've got to walk away from here with some sort of conclusion. Either he's good enough, or he needs lesser competition or less distance."

Giant Oak has post 11, and Block said the plan is to let Giant Oak race closer to the pace Saturday.

"I'd like to see him within five lengths of the leaders when they settle into the backstretch," Block said.

English import Oil Man, was beaten a half-length but disqualified from third to fifth in the American Derby, and California-based trainer John Sadler left him at Arlington for the Secretariat. Oil Man lost three in a row earlier this year before winning twice at nine furlongs, including a victory in the Grade 3 Cinema.

"What stopped him earlier in the year was distance," said trainer John Sadler. "What hurts some others helps him."

Reb won the American Derby by a head, rallying remarkably in the final furlong after being pulled from the fence to the middle of the course by jockey Julien Leparoux. Close finishes are standard for Reb, who won his two prior starts by a nose and a head.

Group 2 winner Black Bear Island races Saturday for Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien, but has been privately purchased and will remain in the U.S. with trainer Julio Canani. Black Bear Island, who turns back from 1 1/2-mile starts, has been drubbed in his Group 1 tries, but his best form overseas puts him in the hunt.

Racing with blinkers off, Take the Points finished fourth in the Colonial Turf Cup, but with hood back on, he was a better third for trainer Todd Pletcher last month in the Virginia Derby.

Also in from the East Coast is Laureate Conductor, whose connections, owner Castleton Lyons and trainer Christophe Clement, will try to win the Million with Gio Ponti. Laureate Conductor has won two in a row, and though he beat only four rivals in a minor Monmouth Stakes last out, he appears to be improving.

"He keeps getting better all the time," said Clement. "It's an ambitious spot to try, but without a doubt he'll stay the distance."