08/12/2002 12:00AM

Sarafan has the wins, but not the respect

Email

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - They've squared off twice, and the score is Sarafan 2, Beat Hollow 0. The incipient rivalry between two of the country's best turf horses is perceived as one-sided - the two-time loser clearly is best.

The third edition of Beat Hollow vs. Sarafan comes Saturday in the Arlington Million, and even Sarafan's trainer, Neil Drysdale, has no doubt about the public's darling.

"I'm sure Beat Hollow will be the favorite," Drysdale said.

Beat Hollow has the Grade 1 machines Jerry Bailey, Bobby Frankel, and Juddmonte Farms in his corner, the connections that won the 2000 Million with Chester House. He also had a bad trip three weeks ago in the Grade 1 Eddie Read that the whole world seemed to have witnessed. Jockey Alex Solis, replaced now by Bailey, found himself in a tight pocket that never opened up. When he swung Beat Hollow out of the trap it was too late. Sarafan was gone.

But fading into the past is the Explosive Bid on March 24 at Fair Grounds, where Beat Hollow was a 7-5 favorite but couldn't hold off Sarafan's powerful stretch run. Perhaps Beat Hollow, who was making only his second start in a year and a half, wasn't quite at his best, but perhaps on Sarafan's best day these two horses aren't that far apart in ability.

"In the Eddie Read, he gave us five pounds and he was trapped," Drysdale said. "Now we run at equal weights. The pendulum swings the other way."

Sarafan has endured his share of tough luck. Always held in high regard by Drysdale, the 5-year-old Sarafan didn't produce a top-level win until this season. He suffered through several tough trips and was pulled up in the Citation Handicap last year when a clod of grass lodged in his blinkers.

But Sarafan has continued going forward, and as long as Drysdale has Corey Nakatani to ride, he feels comfortable with Sarafan's chances.

"It's taken awhile to figure him out," Drysdale said, "and a lot of it's been Nakatani. He runs very well for him. It's a matter of timing his move right."

Seven others joined Beat Hollow and Sarafan when pre-entries were taken Friday for the 1 1/4-mile Million, one of three Grade 1 turf races - along with the Beverly D. for females and the Secretariat for 3-year-olds - on Saturday's blockbuster program.

All nine pre-entered are likely to show up when final Million entries are taken Wednesday. Beat Hollow, Sarafan, and the longshot Falcon Flight (to be ridden by Rene Douglas) fly here from California Wednesday. Forbidden Apple (Jose Santos), third in the Bernard Baruch when he last raced, will arrive the same day and be the East Coast's lone representative.

The four Europeans slated to start already are here. Cheshire (Yutaka Take), Freefourinternet (Pat Eddery), and Ulundi (Richard Hughes) are overmatched on form, but Paolini is a major contender. A multiple Group 1 winner, Paolini trains in Bremmen, Germany, with Andreas Wohler, who won last year's Million with Silvano. Andreas Suborics, Silvano's rider, is booked to ride Paolini.

Paolini was second to Grandera, one of Europe's best distance horses, in the Singapore Cup in May, and finished eighth in his only other start this year, the Group 1 Prince of Wales's Stakes, where he lost all chance after getting in trouble late in the race.

"He was so lucky not to fall," said Wohler. "He has the same class as Silvano."

The status of Falcon Flight and Mystery Giver, the lone local Million horse, was uncertain, but both are likely to enter.

Donald Burke, trainer of Falcon Flight, said: "We're going to work him Wednesday at Del Mar, but I'm inclined to think he'll start."

Like Sarafan, Falcon Flight, winner of the Arlington Handicap in his last start, is owned by Gary Tanaka.

Trainer Chris Block hoped Douglas would ride Mystery Giver, but came up with a satisfactory replacement over the weekend in Kent Desormeaux. An Illinois-bred owned by Block's family, Mystery Giver was a troubled fifth in the Arlington Handicap. He worked a half-mile on dirt here Monday in 47.40 seconds.

"Everything's going the way we want, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance, so we're giving it a shot," Block said.

The Beverly D. will have a shorter field than the Million - as few as six could start - but the race should be outstanding. Astra and Golden Apples head the West Coast contingent and could be the top two choices, but the East Coast horses, England's Legend, Tate's Creek, and Volga, also are strong.

Trainer Chris Clement won last year's Beverly D. with England's Legend, who easily took the Modesty Handicap here three weeks ago in her first start of the year.

"I would have preferred another week, but she looks great," Clement said.

Clement is just as pleased with the progress of the lightly raced Volga, who has been pointed to the Beverly D. since she was narrowly beaten in the July 4 New York Handicap.

"Astra and Volga were the two that were trained with this race in mind," Clement said.

Astra has won consecutive Grade 1's in California, but was last as a heavy favorite in last year's Beverly D., which was run over a boggy course. Golden Apples, a developing 4-year-old, comes off a second-place finish in the Grade 1 Ramona. Golden Silca is the lone European in the race, and Blue Moon and Quick Tip remain possible starters.

Chiselling, trained by Frankel, and Orchard Park are the top colts confirmed for the Secretariat. Chiselling was a nose winner of the Grade 3 Lexington at Belmont in his first stakes race, and the Bill Mott-trained Orchard Park has won two straight stakes races. Five others are confirmed for the Secretariat. Two possible starters are Miesque's Approval, another top East Coast-based 3-year-old, and Mountain Rage, one of the leaders in the West.

Entries for the Beverly D. and the Secretariat will be taken before Wednesday's first race, and the Million will be drawn between the first and second races.

The Arlington turf course has gotten very little rain all summer and was very firm early this week. Much-needed rain was forecast here for Tuesday night and Wednesday, with a chance of thunderstorms for Saturday.