08/13/2002 11:00PM

Tough getting past Arlington favorites

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Looking for vulnerability in the favorites at Arlington Park this Saturday? Keep looking.

Beat Hollow, Astra, and Orchard Park are deserving choices in the Arlington Million, the Beverly D., and the Secretariat Stakes. But short prices on all three will send handicappers searching for value on a capable alternatives.

Unfortunately, there aren't as many options as in past years. Usually these races are large, competitive events, but this year the contention does not run as deep.

Beat Hollow seems most likely to be challenged by Forbidden Apple, Sarafan, and German invader Paolini.

Forbidden Apple, the runner-up in last year's Breeders' Cup Mile, enters the Million in great form, having placed fourth or better in each of his last five starts. All those efforts came in Grade 1 or Grade 2 company.

Although winless since taking the Kelso last fall over Sarafan, he maintains sharp form and merits a look at odds in excess of 5-1.

Sarafan is another intriguing prospect by virtue of the fact that he has already beaten Beat Hollow - twice. He upset him in the Explosive Bid Handicap at Fair Grounds in March, and then outfinished him when Beat Hollow had a troubled trip in the Eddie Read at Del Mar last month.

He has struggled to produce back-to-back wins, however, and does not possess the high win percentage of the favorite. A price of 5-1 would also be fair.

Of the Europeans, the well-travelled Paolini is somewhat appealing. He was second earlier this year to Grandera in the Singapore Airlines International Cup. Grandera returned to win the Prince of Wales Stakes at Ascot. Paolini regressed following that peak effort, finishing eighth in the same race.

The trip to Arlington hints that his connections are pleased with his recent training, and he may bounce back following a short rest. His inconsistency makes price more of a necessity. Odds of 10-1 or higher would generate interest.

Because of Beat Hollow's widespread popularity at the betting windows, overlaid odds may be present on one or more of these runners.

The Beverly D. and Secretariat, meanwhile, drew short fields - which makes them less appealing.

Astra, England's Legend, and Golden Apples are the big three in the six-horse Beverly D. Provided the course is firm, Astra should win.

Moisture in the course would favor England's Legend, who had a perfect prep in the Modesty at Arlington last month. She won last year's Beverly D. over a yielding course.

The late-running Golden Apples also handles soft ground, although she doesn't appear to move up on it in the same fashion as England's Legend. She cannot match the acceleration of Astra behind a slow pace (none can), but could be successful if the fractions are honest. She defeated Starine and Astra behind a moderate pace in March of this year at Santa Anita.

As for the Secretariat, win machine Orchard Park appears difficult to deny after handling Flying Dash in the $500,000 Virginia Derby.

A live price horse could be Mananan McLir, with leading rider Rene Douglas aboard. He comes from the barn of Wally Dollase, who is dangerous in graded stakes and turf races. According to Bloodstock Research statistics, a 32-percent profit would have resulted from wagering on all of Dollase's graded stakes runners since 1996 (151 starters).

After winning the American Derby over the Arlington course, Mananan McLir seems primed for a good performance.