08/06/2006 11:00PM

Tough world traveler

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Phoenix Reach, now a 6-year-old, easily captured the Dubai Sheema Classic in 2005. He has raced in seven different countries - and the United States will be the eighth.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - The question remains whether English Channel, among the best U.S. grass horses, will be coming to Arlington Park this week for the Arlington Million, but already here and waiting for English Channel or any other major contender in the 24th Million is Phoenix Reach, an Irish-bred, English-based horse who may have to be reckoned with Saturday.

Phoenix Reach was one of 11 horses pre-entered last week for the Million, but the field could be reduced to as few as nine. Pletcher, who pre-entered both English Channel and Go Deputy, still has not committed to a plan of attack, while Ed Beam, trainer of longshot pre-entry Major Rhythm, said he could send Major Rhythm to Saratoga for the Sword Dancer depending on Pletcher's plans and Saturday's weather forecast. As of Monday, the forecast called for dry conditions with temperatures in the low 80's.

While all this slowly unfolds, Phoenix Reach has cleared quarantine, having arrived Thursday, and has been putting in regular dirt-track gallops. Trainer Andrew Balding, at Saratoga for the yearling sales, said Phoenix Reach would have a breeze on the turf course Thursday. Phoenix Reach's major work for his run at the Million was done at Kingsclere, the 150-year-old English yard where Balding, 33, and his parents - the renowned trainer Ian Balding, and Emma Balding - have 110 horses in training. The 6-year-old Phoenix Reach is among the best of them.

The Million marks Phoenix Reach's first start in more than a year, since the 2005 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes, where he finished 10th and subsequently was found to have a small fracture in his leg. Broken bones are nothing new to Phoenix Reach. One start into his 2-year-old season, Phoenix Reach was put away for more than a year with a split pastern, a significant injury to a foreleg that required surgery to insert a metal plate and screws. And, at the end of his 3-year-old season, Phoenix Reach was found to have a hairline fracture, though this injury merely required rest.

"Usually, you'd probably give up with a horse, but he keeps coming back from every setback even better," Balding said. "He's very durable and very tough."

In between the setbacks, Phoenix Reach - who brings of bankroll of some $3.7 million to Chicago - has won Grade 1 or Group 1 races three straight years. At 3, he captured the Canadian International at Woodbine; at 4, he won the Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin; and in March 2005, Phoenix Reach easily won the Dubai Sheema Classic.

Balding says Phoenix Reach "loves to travel," and with this trip to the U.S., he will have raced in eight different countries - and he is not done, either.

"The main target for the season is the Cox Plate in Australia," said Balding, "and we'll take everything from there."

Melhor Ainda to miss Beverly D.

Melhor Ainda, a close third in the 2005 Beverly D., is officially out of this year's edition of the race with a foot bruise, trainer Bobby Frankel said Monday morning from Saratoga, but Frankel is considering Karen's Caper as a substitute.

Group 1-placed in England, Karen's Caper finished second by a nose last fall in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth at Keeneland, her first U.S. start, but finished ninth in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf. In her first start this season, Karen's Caper finished fourth as the 1-2 favorite in a second-level allowance race at Saratoga. Frankel said he worked her a half-mile Monday on the Oklahoma training track, a breeze that did not make the official work tab at Saratoga. If Karen's Caper does come for the race, it will give Frankel a starter in all three Grade 1's Saturday; he has Cacique for the Million, and Proudinsky for the Secretariat.

Moscow Burning also is out of the Beverly D., but the race still has an excellent core with Film Maker, Honey Ryder, and Gorella, and could draw as many as 12 entries.

Seaside Retreat staying home

Seaside Retreat was a good second last out to Go Between in the $1 million Virginia Derby, but he will not get another shot at Go Between in the Secretariat Stakes.

"We're going to pass," said Woodbine-based trainer Mark Casse, adding that Seaside Retreat will stay home for his next start. "There's a race in a couple weeks, the Nijinsky, against older horses. He has a little minor foot bruise in a hind foot, and that's actually the determining factor."

Showing Up is the likely favorite for the Secretariat, which is expected to draw the shortest field among Saturday's featured stakes.

Elusive Jazz scores off long layoff

Elusive Jazz made his first start Sunday since November, but a long layoff spent recovering from surgery to remove a bone chip and getting back in racing shape took nothing away from Elusive Jazz, who got good enough last fall to win the Grade 3 Phoenix at Keeneland and finish fifth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint. Elusive Jazz won the Better Bee, an overnight stakes race, by a neck over the sharp Alabama Clay. Smalltown Slew was another half-length back in third.

Elusive Jazz was timed in an excellent 1:08.60 for six furlongs, and trainer Bobby Barnett said prior to the race that the Better Bee was Elusive Jazz's prep for the Arlington Breeders' Cup Sprint this month.

* Nola Star, who won a one-mile maiden race here by 16 1/2 lengths in her second start Saturday, will be trained up to the Sept. 10 Arlington-Washington Breeders' Cup Lassie, trainer Ken McPeek said after the race.