08/07/2008 12:00AM

Spirit One's workout raises eyebrows


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - The buzz at Arlington Park has focused on the pair of overseas Group 1 winners, Archipenko and Mount Nelson, that have shipped in for the Arlington Million, but it was a third European horse, Spirit One, who turned some heads here Thursday morning.

Spirit One arrived over the weekend, and put in a Polytrack workout Thursday that was timed in 49 seconds. But that was just the face of the breeze. Spirit One backed up the wrong way on Arlington's main track, turned around to begin galloping into his work, and reached high speed quickly enough that his breeze basically began before the half-mile pole. And after crossing the finish line, he galloped out strongly, according to Arlington clocker Bobby Belpedio.

The strength of the drill, however, came as no surprise to the trainer of French-based Spirit One, Philippe Demercastel.

"He's a horse that works very well," Demercastel said through an interpreter. "We worked on [Polytrack] because we didn't want him to do too much on turf. You have to be careful."

Spirit One also is strong in his races, and that, said Demercastel, is the very reason he has come to Arlington. Spirit One is only a Group 3 winner, but he has earned more than a half-million dollars and has run well several times in Group 1 and Group 2 races. In his last three starts, Spirit One has led and - to some degree - faded in the late going, and Demercastel believes faster-paced American racing could suit the horse.

"The horse has taken to the bad habit of going to the front and getting passed," Demercastel said. "The rhythm of the race here could be different."

While Spirit One had a full-blown workout Thursday, morning-line favorite Archipenko went out early for a strong gallop, which he finished off almost fast enough to be termed a breeze. Einstein stood in the starting gate and had a good gallop, while Sudan, who arrived Wednesday, was out for light exercise.

Aidan O'Brien's two horses, Mount Nelson for the Million and Plan for the Secretariat, stayed in the quarantine barn, and were to make their first appearance on the track Friday morning.

No strong favorites in undercard stakes

The biggest day of the year at any given track usually yields an embarrassment of racing riches. True to form, Arlington Park not only will offer three Grade 1 races Saturday in the International Festival of Racing, but also three other stakes on a 12-race blockbuster program.

Split divisions of the Hatoof Stakes (races 4 and 6) and the Forward Pass Stakes (race 7) figure to get the racing buzz going leading up to the festival events (races 8-10). The purse for each of the three undercard stakes is $50,000.

The first division of the Hatoof, for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles on the turf, looks almost inscrutable, which, happily, translates into a terrific betting race, given a nearly full gate of 11. Nijinsky Ballet, exiting the Virginia Oaks, might be a tepid favorite, considering she has Garrett Gomez named, but none of her opponents are obvious throw-outs. Chantilly Lady, Return to Paradise, and Cavan Thunder rank among the other logical plays.

The second division probably will have Cherokee Queen, with John Velazquez riding for Graham Motion, as a lukewarm favorite among the 11, with Seemingly, Lucky Copy, and Tight Precision her strongest opposition.

The Forward Pass, for 3-year-olds going seven furlongs on Polytrack, has a well-matched field of eight. Amazing Results, coming off a win as the favorite versus fellow Illinois-breds in the Springfield Stakes in June, jumps into open company against a group that also figures to have St. Joe, Shadowbdancing, Papa, and Sebastian County as contenders. Rafael Bejarano has a call from Chris Block on Amazing Results.

Jambalaya missing since last year's Million

The last time Jambalaya was in action, he was striding clear to win the 25th Arlington Million. Unfortunately for his connections, the 6-year-old gelding has been sidelined for a year, and his future as a racehorse is in question.

Jambalaya incurred a deep bone bruise in his right front foot last fall, and afterward was "out completely for five months," said Catherine Day Phillips, who trains Jambalaya for her family's Kingfield Racing Stable. Jambalaya resumed training in the spring, finally breezing a quarter-mile at Woodbine on June 14, but then he suffered a pulled muscle in his hind end.

"He's back in light training now," said Day Phillips. "We intend to race him again, but obviously we won't push him. He enjoys training and racing. If he can, and he's comfortable, maybe we'll be there next year."

Day Phillips said the lingering memories of the Million victory are "like a fairy tale." She will be in Canada on Saturday, watching the 26th Million on television.

"I wish I was there again," she said. "Last year we felt lucky just to be in it, but to win the race was amazing."

* Although ESPN will provide live coverage of the festival races, HRTV also will have a presence Saturday at Arlington. Caton Bredar and Scott Hazelton, both of whom grew up in the Chicago area, will anchor comprehensive daylong coverage from the track. The three Grade 1 races will be shown on HRTV on a slight time delay.

- additional reporting by Marty McGee