07/20/2005 11:00PM

Purim has talent to reach next level

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - The best horses wind up in the richest races, and the $750,000 Virginia Derby was just run last weekend, but still there are eight pretty good ones ready to go Saturday in the Grade 2, $250,000 American Derby.

The race is part of Arlington's three-stakes Million Preview Day, and top to bottom, the Saturday card is the best of this meet, with mind-bending maiden and allowance races wrapped around the American Derby, the Arlington Handicap, and the 11-horse Modesty Handicap.

The American Derby is the second leg of Arlington's Mid-America Triple, but where that series is linked in name only, Colonial Downs, host of the Virginia Derby, has put up a huge bonus to lure 3-year-old grass horses. The competition merges with cooperation, however, since the third of four stages in the Colonial bonus is Arlington's Secretariat Stakes, where English Channel, winner of the Virginia Derby and still eligible for the Colonial bonus, is headed.

While not as accomplished as English Channel, Arlington-based in Saturday's race, Purim will have to kick it up a notch, but has the talent to do so.

"It'll be an interesting race, especially in this corner because, yes, he's got talent, and we think there are a lot of things he hasn't showed us yet," said Tom Proctor, who trains Purim for owner-breeder E.J. Suckley.

Purim hasn't run beyond 1 1/16 miles, and the American Derby is a 1 3/16-mile race. Purim has the pedigree to get the distance, and appears suited to longer distances, but Proctor remains concerned.

"That's a big jump, a huge jump with a horse that's only run three times," Proctor said.

The American Derby appears paceless, and Purim, who breaks from post 2 under Mark Guidry, could wind up on the lead, though Proctor said he'd prefer to see his horse race from behind. The Irish horse Merger also has a measure of pace, according to Tom Daly, who has overseen the colt's preparations for Saturday's race. Merger also has in his favor trainer Dermot Weld, who has won this race the last two years.