08/09/2006 12:00AM

Soldier Hollow in his prime at 6


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Ace was second in the 2005 Breeders' Cup Turf, and his trainer, Aidan O'Brien, won last year's Arlington Million. Phoenix Reach has won Group 1 or Grade 1 races in Dubai, Hong Kong, and Canada, while Touch of Land is making his third appearance in the Arlington Million. But any consideration of the quartet of foreign horses here for this year's Million must include the horse from Germany, Soldier Hollow.

No German horse had started in the Million until 2001, but since then four different German horses have raced in four different Millions, with a win by Silvano in 2001, a second from Paolini in 2003, and a third by Epalo in 2004. This year's German model, Soldier Hollow, is trained by Peter Schiergen, a former champion jockey making his first trip to the Million.

Soldier Hollow, a nine-time winner in 23 starts, is 6, but appears to be in the prime of his racing life. He is not an especially tall horse, but is powerfully built, and appeared during an easy training session Wednesday morning to have traveled well.

"He's built like an elephant and he has legs like a foal, but he never has had any problems," said Michael Blau, who has helped oversee Soldier Hollow's preparations for the race. Blau works for five of the top stables in Germany, providing general care such as massages and acupuncture designed to keep a racehorse comfortable. Soldier Hollow, Blau said, has been comfortable since getting over a protracted intestinal virus that compromised his form at 3.

Soldier Hollow didn't really develop until the second half of his 4-year-old season, when he reeled off four consecutive victories, a streak that culminated with a victory in the Group 1 Premio Roma in Italy, a race he won for the second straight year last fall. Both those victories came on wet European style courses, but Blau said Soldier Hollow also can compete on the firmer going he will find here Saturday.

"At 3 we thought he needed soft ground, but then we ran him when the ground was much firmer and he won," Blau said. "On wet, they cannot stay with him, but when it's drier, the jockey must wait longer."

Latest track evaluation complete

Michael Peterson, an associate professor of engineering at the University of Maine, conducted his inspection of the Arlington Park racing surface on Tuesday afternoon as contracted by the Illinois Racing Board. The board was scheduled to release Peterson's findings Thursday morning.

Peterson's was the third evaluation of the dirt track since an unusually high breakdown rate earlier in the meet brought the surface under scrutiny. Arlington track super Javier Barajas worked with consultant Joe King in June, and last month the IRB brought in Gregory Coon, a Florida-based expert, to further analyze the track. Coon's report, however, was called into question because of what was deemed improper contact with Arlington management, and the IRB subsequently arranged for Peterson's visit.

Peterson, who also did an inspection of the Del Mar surface this summer, uses sonar and other high-tech equipment to create a composite snapshot of a racetrack without having to pull back the top layers of the surface to reveal the clay pad, the track's middle layer, and the limestone base.

Proctor back 12 years later

Tom Proctor has had one fleeting experience with the Beverly D., and although it wasn't entirely successful, the race eventually proved a foundation for the trainer's career highlight.

One Dreamer, who would go on to upset the 1994 Breeders' Cup Distaff for Proctor, finished fourth as the pacesetter a few months beforehand in the Beverly D. One Dreamer "got beat a little more than a length" by Hatoof, Flawlessly, and Potridee, recalled Proctor.

Twelve years later, Proctor and Lavin are back in the Beverly D. with Rich in Spirit, a homebred 4-year-old who is in peak form after four sharp races in Kentucky. After winning the July 15 Locust Grove, Rich in Spirit was moved from Churchill Downs into Proctor's string at Arlington, where she has had two easy breezes.

"She doesn't need much, not after all those races," said Proctor.

Despite her terrific form, Rich in Spirit brings in Beyer Speed Figures that are a bit short of those for Beverly D. favorites Film Maker, Gorella, and Honey Ryder.

"I don't know if she's up to these top mares, but we're going to find out a little bit about her Saturday," said Proctor.

- additional reporting by Marty McGee