08/15/2004 11:00PM

Record crowd at Million got its money's worth


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - The Arlington Million enjoyed a remarkable resurgence in business Saturday, when the largest Million crowd in 13 years contributed to a record all-sources handle of nearly $18 million.

Helped no doubt by postcard-perfect weather and a Million field so deep that the favorite was 4-1, the race drew 30,414 to Arlington Park, the largest Million attendance since 1991, when the race drew 31,179. Including wagering sources from as far away as France, the 12-race Saturday card drew a total of $17,913,433, surpassing by more than $2 million the former record handle of $15.8 million bet two years ago.

As it happens, Arlington fans were witness to some controversy for the second straight year, both during the stretch run of the Million and in the emotional moments that followed.

Last year, Storming Home was disqualified from first for interference in deep stretch. This time, an incident that ultimately led to the disqualification of Powerscourt and gave the Million victory to Kicken Kris once again had the crowd buzzing as the field stormed down the stretch. Nearly 15 minutes later, as the disqualification was announced, the predictable result was a resounding mix of raucous cheers and deep boos.

Jamie Spencer, who rode 9-2 shot Powerscourt for trainer Aidan O'Brien, was upset with the verdict, saying he believed the incident that led to his mount's disqualification was relatively insignificant and that the best horse had finished first. As the inquiry dragged out, Spencer and Kent Desormeaux, who rode 9-1 shot Kicken Kris, exchanged choice words in the unsaddling area, with Desormeaux only saying afterward that " it wasn't pretty."

The jockeys were disputing what will never be known for sure: Which horse was really best. Spencer claims Powerscourt, who finished first by 1 1/2 lengths, clearly was best, and Desormeaux said the same thing about his mount. Kicken Kris, Desormeaux said, "was a deserving winner. I was going to win really, really easy."

Meanwhile, Michael Matz, trainer of Kicken Kris, also said his horse had been compromised by a chain reaction initiated by Powerscourt and that a disqualification was warranted. Yet, despite the win, Matz still was irked by a decision earlier in the week by Edgar Prado's agent, Bob Frieze, whom Matz said spun him in order to ride Magistretti in the Million. Magistretti, a 24-1 shot, finished third (elevated to second on DQ), a half-length ahead of Epalo, the tepid 4-1 choice in a field of 13.

"I thought Bob lied to me, and I would tell him that to his face if he was sitting here," Matz said after spending an inordinate amount of time at the post-race press conference explaining how Desormeaux came to be named on Kicken Kris. "Obviously things turned out well for us."

Frieze on Monday disputed Matz's claim. Frieze said he originally named Prado on Magistretti and told Matz that Prado would ride Kicken Kris only if Magistretti didn't run in the Million.

This was the second straight Million Day bonanza for Matz, who last year saddled Kicken Kris to win the Grade 1 Secretariat. The Secretariat-Million double was just the third in history, following Awad (1993-95) and Marlin (1996-97).

Kicken Kris, who suffered a minor cut on the back of a front ankle, rejoined Matz's stable at Saratoga on Sunday and is being pointed to the Oct. 30 Breeders' Cup Turf, with probably one race in the interim.

As for the other Million starters, Mystery Giver emerged by far in the worst shape, suffering a possible torn rear suspensory ligament, an injury that could mean the end of his racing career. Trainer Chris Block said a definitive evaluation would be made this week.

As for the other two Grade 1 races Saturday, immediate plans were not clear for the Beverly D winner, Crimson Palace, although trainer Saeed bin Suroor said Saturday that the BC Filly and Mare Turf was a good possibility. Similarly, Kitten's Joy, the highly impressive winner of the Secretariat, will have one more race before owner Ken Ramsey and Dale Romans decide on the 1 1/2-mile BC Turf.

"We'll probably look at running him in the Jamaica," said Romans, referring to the 1 1/8-mile race at Belmont on Sept. 26. "After that, we'll have to figure out if the mile and a half makes sense."

This was the first Million televised on network television since 1991. ABC Sports packaged the Million and Beverly D into a two-hour telecast.