07/16/2007 12:00AM

Strong fields taking shape for Million Preview

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Million Preview Day may merit more than mere moniker status this year.

Indeed, Arlington's three-weeks-out series of prep races for Arlington Million Day itself often does little more than showcase a series of lesser-lights lacking the class to compete in the three Grade 1s on Million Day (Aug. 11), but regardless of who turns up here next month, Saturday's three stakes appear to ably stand on their own.

While entries for the American Derby, the Modesty, and the Arlington Handicap aren't taken until Wednesday, all three races appear to be coming up with their deepest, best fields in years. The American Derby for 3-year-olds could have between eight and 10 horses, headed by Arlington Classic winner Pleasant Strike and the Bill Mott-trained Lattice. The Arlington Handicap, the nominal Million prep, also could have a field of about 10, with last year's winner, Cosmonaut, expected to be the favorite. Shippers from both coasts are expected for the Handicap as well as the Modesty, the prep for the Beverly D. and the race that might have the deepest field of all. The Modesty could go with as many as 11 or 12 horses, with starters expected from the barn of Todd Pletcher (Jade Queen), Bobby Frankel (either Argentina or Naughty Rafaela), and Patrick Biancone (Flow Chart or Danzon).

Perfect Casting faces shipping issues

Million Preview Day could be losing a horse from Ireland, but may be gaining one from India, racing secretary Kevin Greely said Saturday.

Perfect Casting, a 3-year-old with wins in his last two starts, had been expected to ship from Ireland for trainer Dermot Weld, a regular participant in the American Derby and the Secretariat Stakes. But issues with shipping have arisen for Perfect Casting, and plans to send the colt for the race remained up in the air through the weekend.

Shipping logistics also could determine the participation of a horse named Holding Court, an Indian horse who has won 7 of 15 starts racing in his native land. Holding Court has been first or second in his five races this year, and last season finished second several times to Mystical, who had success racing in Dubai's winter carnival this year.

Pavarotti next start undecided

As of Monday, there were no specific plans either for Pavarotti, who won Saturday's Round Table Stakes, or Dominican, who finished a distant third as the 3-5 favorite. Both horses appeared to exit the race in good physical condition. Dominican has gone back to trainer Darrin Miller's Kentucky base, while Pavarotti will remain with Pletcher's Arlington string pending decisions on his future.

Pavarotti, a $2.5 million A.P. Indy colt, won his first stakes race, coming back in deep stretch to post a narrow victory over Time Squared.

"It didn't surprise me that he ran as well as he did," Pletcher said. "I think he'll continue to improve."

Miller said Dominican, who was making his first start since an 11th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby and a subsequent one-month farm rest, "was a little short" for the Round Table.

"Anytime you lead a 3-5 over and get handily beat, you're disappointed," Miller said. "But it was good place for him to start, and we'll be that much farther ahead because of it."

Dominican had ridden an outside bias to a win in the Grade 1 Blue Grass in April. Saturday, he raced outside again, but this time appeared to be running against at least a mild Polytrack bias that favored horses on or near the rail.

2-year-olds post impressive wins

Several 2-year-old winners both Friday and Saturday at Arlington ran well enough to suggest they bear following.

Chief among them is the Came Home filly Passion, who debuted for Pletcher in Friday's third race and won by 7 1/2 lengths, running five furlongs in a good 58.09 seconds. Pletcher said that since Passion "does well on Polytrack," she would continue to train at Arlington, but that her next start probably would come Aug. 15 in the Adirondack Stakes at Saratoga.

Later the same day, second-time starter Palanka City won the second division of a split 2-year-old maiden race by three lengths, getting her five furlongs in 58.58 seconds, but off a much slower early pace. Trainer Terry Gestes said he and owner Bill Stiritz "haven't really looked at any upcoming stakes for her yet."

On Saturday, Sebastian County won his career debut by a length. Visually, the race was impressive, but Sebastian County's five-furlongs in 59.31 seconds - a slow time on a quick Polytrack - earned him only a 55 Beyer Speed Figure. Numbers aside, Sebastian County should have room to improve, and is a full brother to the good 2-year-old Cactus Ridge. Sebastian County was retained by owner-breeder Toby Keith's Dream Walkin Farms after failing to meet a $1 million reserve at auction.

* Unpaid Crusade looks like the one to beat Wednesday in the featured eighth, a 1 1/16-mile turf race for entry-level allowance horses or $50,000 claimers.