08/13/2001 11:00PM

Stars align in three Grade 1 races

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Racing fans who enjoy seeing top-class horses and full fields are in for a genuine treat Saturday. Some 33 horses were expected to be entered Wednesday for the three Grade 1 turf races that comprise the highlight of the Chicago racing season, the International Festival of Racing at Arlington Park.

While California invaders Bienamado and Astra are expected to be favored in their respective races, the Arlington Million and Beverly D., there is no clear-cut choice in what many people are calling the sternest handicapping challenge of the day, the Secretariat Stakes.

"It's an extremely competitive race," said David Donk, who trains one of a handful of possible Secretariat favorites in Sharp Performance, winner of the Lexington Stakes at Belmont in his last start. "You've got a whole lot of horses coming in there with excellent form."

As of Tuesday, at least 12 3-year-olds were considered definite for the $400,000 Secretariat, which is run at 1 1/4 miles. The other top contenders include Startac, Navesink, Package Store, and two foreign horses, Mizzen Mast and Aldwhych.

Donk was scheduled to arrive Thursday night from New York. Donk won the 1993 Secretariat with Awad, who subsequently ran in the Million three times, including a win in 1995.

"It's always fun for me to come back there," he said. "My horse is supposed to be at something of a disadvantage because he's only run four races, and he's been kind of green in them. But he's won three times, which I think says a lot about his ability and potential. He deserves a shot at this."

While the Million also was expected to draw 12 entries, the Beverly D., which for years has been a crucial race for filly-mare turf horses, was expected to draw nine. Besides Astra, the entrants were Di Moi Oui, England's Legend, Kalatiara, Megans Bluff, Only to You, Solvig, Spook Express, and The Seven Seas. Arlington officials said Tuesday that Colstar has been withdrawn from consideration.

Trainer Tom Skiffington, who four years ago saddled Maxzene to a close runner-up finish behind Memories of Silver in the Beverly D., said he has used a similar prep schedule for Spook Express, who closed well to finish third in the July 14 New York Handicap at Belmont.

"That race was meant to bring us forward for this," he said. "It also was supposed to let me know if she was good enough to come. I think she's doing very well right now and could win if we get the right breaks."

Mandella, Frankel surprise Million contenders

It's funny how things work out. Richard Mandella thought he had a turf miler. Bobby Frankel thought he didn't have much of anything. Now, both trainers have horses for Saturday's Arlington Million

The Mandella-trained Redattore, winner of the Grade 1 Eddie Read in his last start, and the Frankel-trained Senure, winner of the Grade 1 United Nations Handicap in his last start, are part of a large contingent of California-based horses coming to Arlington for Saturday's International Festival of Racing.

The Californians were scheduled to leave late Tuesday night, and were to arrive at Arlington by early afternoon Wednesday. Redattore had his final work for the Million on Tuesday morning at Del Mar, going an easy half-mile in just more than 47 seconds. "He worked by himself," Mandella said. "Just wanted to knock a little wind out for the trip."

A Brazilian-bred by Roi Normand, Redattore was imported to the U.S. from South America after his 1999 campaign ended. His first stop in the U.S. was surgery. Mandella said Redattore went to Kentucky, where noted equine surgeon Dr. Larry Bramlage operated on his knee. The horse was given about six months to recover, which was fine as South American imports often need a lot of time to acclimate to the Northern Hemisphere's seasons.

Redattore, a Group 1 winner in Brazil, was strictly a miler during his South American career, and that was what Mandella thought he was getting. "He was a little bit hot at first," said Mandella.

But after a few starts, Redattore began to mellow out, Mandella said, and he had no trouble negotiating the nine furlongs in the Eddie Read, which he won by two lengths.

As for Senure, who is owned by Juddmonte Farms, Frankel did not think much of the horse when he was imported from Europe late in 1999. "You could have bought him for a ham sandwich then," Frankel said.

But the development of European imports can take unexpected turns. "You're liable to get a Group 1 horse that can't outrun me," Frankel said, "but then you'll get a handicap horse that really comes around. Who knows what it is?"

Frankel was convinced he had a top-class turf horse when Senure finished a closing fourth in the Grade 1 Whittingham in May 2000. "He was way too far behind a slow pace," he said.

And when the 5-year-old Senure, a Nureyev horse, launched his 2001 campaign, Frankel wasted little time throwing him in with top company. He finished a good second to Bienamado in this year's Whittingham, then was put up to first in the July 1 United Nations at Monmouth Park when With Anticipation interfered with Senure's run in the stretch.

Senure and Redattore both will offer square prices on Saturday, with Bienamado a likely strong favorite and Hap the probable second choice. Redattore shows speed in his race and will be among the pacesetters.

Silvano gets glimpse of a busy U.S. track

German shipper Silvano got a look at Arlington's main track in his second day of training here. Silvano cantered on Arlington's training track Monday, but was out Tuesday for an 1,800-meter (approximately 1 1/8 miles) canter around the main track. Silvano has never seen horse traffic like he did Tuesday, during a typically hectic morning here.

"He got a bit excited," said assistant trainer Simon Stokes. "It would be different if he were a different kind of horse, but he has no trouble handling it."

Silvano is scheduled for a work on dirt tomorrow morning. His race rider, Andreas Suborics, will fly here tonight and ride the horse in his work.

Derby also-ran Startac back on best surface

Startac had shown plenty of promise on the turf earlier this year, but there is only one chance to run in the Kentucky Derby, so trainer Simon Bray thought he'd give Startac a chance to prove he belonged. He picked out an easy spot, the Turf Paradise Derby, and watched as Startac blew past his rivals and into the thick of the Derby race.

Startac did not progress on the dirt, yet still ran in the Derby, and wound up 10th. Now he is returning to his favorite surface for Saturday's Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes at Arlington.

"Once he ran that race in Arizona, we got thrown into the Derby hoopla," Bray said. "He was a little light going into the Derby. There were the rigors of shipping and running on the dirt all spring. It's tougher on them than the turf."

Startac's late-year goals include stakes such as the Oak Tree Derby and Hollywood Derby, both on turf. Bray said the Breeders' Cup is an option.

"I'm interested in seeing how he runs going a mile and a quarter," Bray said, referring to the Secretariat distance. "I think he'll appreciate a mile and a quarter. The Breeders' Cup, the turf races are a mile and a half, or a mile. If you're stuck in the middle, you're in trouble."

A Grade 1 pick three on non-consecutive races

Although the Beverly D., Million, and Secretariat will be run as races 6, 8, and 10, respectively, on the Saturday card, Arlington still will offer a pick 3 wager linking all three races.

To avoid the possibility of confusion among bettors, rolling pick 3's will not be offered on races 6-7-8 or 8-9-10.

The Beverly D. will go as race 6 with a post time of 2:32 Central, followed by the Arlington Million, race 8, 3:40, and the Secretariat, race 10, 4:51.

* Besides the three Grade 1's, three stakes worth $60,000 apiece will be run here Saturday: the Bet Twice for 3-year-old sprinters, the Buckpasser for older routers, and the Safely Kept for filly-mare sprinters.

* Weather conditions in the Chicago area were superb Tuesday, and although rain was in the forecast for later in the week, the forecast for Saturday calls for clear skies and a high of about 77.

- additional reporting by Marcus Hersh and Jay Privman