07/24/2007 11:00PM

Washington Park lacks standout


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Go back into the fading past, and you can find winners of the Washington Park Handicap with names that reverberate like bells: Dr. Fager, Round Table, Swaps, Coaltown. Even recently, the Washington Park has featured some really good, if not legendary, steeds. Perfect Drift won the race two of the last four years, and Suave, Tenpins and Guided Tour all had their moments.

This year's edition, however, has come up with a somewhat lesser cast, and among the eight horses entered Wednesday for Saturday's Grade 2, $300,000 Washington Park - which is run, to its detriment, the same weekend as the Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga - one finds only a smattering of horses proven even at the Grade 3 level. In fact, the possible favorite, Lewis Michael, was a last-minute addition to the cast, his connections lured by Lewis Michael's good recent form, fondness for Polytrack, and the lack of a standout.

Lewis Michael, who blew out a half-mile Tuesday morning, drew post 2, and from the sound of things, his camp is leaning toward running rather than scratching.

"He's doing good, we drew a nice post," trainer Wayne Catalano said. "We'll play it close to the vest, see where we are."

If he runs, Lewis Michael would be ridden by E.T. Baird, who takes over from Rene Douglas, as was the case last weekend with Dreaming of Anna in the Virginia Oaks. Douglas regularly rides for Todd Pletcher at Arlington, but he also isn't on either of Pletcher's Washington Park entrants: A.P. Arrow (Mark Guidry) and Throng (Kerwin John).

Douglas instead lands on a rare Shug McGaughey Arlington starter, Minister's Joy, who finished second by a nose over Keeneland Polytrack this past spring in the Ben Ali. A nose behind Minister's Joy that day was Mustanfar, who also was entered in the Washington Park. The others in the race are Save Big Money, High Blues, and Real Dandy.

Million Day coming together

Late nominations for the Aug. 11 Arlington Million were due by midnight Wednesday, and the field for the biggest race of the meet is beginning to take shape.

Horses can still be nominated to the Million, but the $30,000 supplementary fee is prohibitive. Pre-entries, which cost $5,000, are due Aug. 3.

There are only a handful of U.S-based horses considered likely starters at this juncture, a group headed by After Market and The Tin Man from California, and Sunriver from New York. Patrick Biancone could have two Keeneland-based horses for the race, Cosmonaut and Stream Cat. Canadians Sky Conqueror and Jambalaya also may come.

Adrian Beaumont, who is based in England with the International Racing Bureau and helps coordinate international entrants for the Million Day races each year, listed three overseas horses as likely Million participants: Doctor Dino, Danak, and Pressing. Godolphin nominated four horses on the Wednesday deadline: Formal Decree, Laverock, Stage Gift, and Winged Cupid. Laverock may be the most well-known, but is scheduled to race this weekend in England.

Several other overseas horses are possible runners in the other two Aug. 11 Grade 1 turf stakes, among them the well-known Team Valor-owned mare Irridescence for the Beverly D. and an interesting German-based 3-year-old named Axxos, who could come for the Secretariat.

Jennie R.'s next race undecided

Plans for Jennie R., who has emerged as the top local female grass horse of the summer, are still up in the air five days after she finished second in the Grade 3 Modesty Handicap. Jennie R. began the year in a $50,000 claimer and looked little like a stakes horse last year, but has matured physically and mentally. She was a game second to Bridge Game on Saturday after winning an overnight stakes race in her previous start.

Trainer Michelle Boyce said Jennie R.'s connections were "certainly looking at the Beverly D.," but Boyce also expressed reservations about taking on the likes of Citronnade and Lady of Venice.

"I don't kid myself that what's coming in for the race might be pretty salty," she said.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, Boyce unveiled one of the more impressive 2-year-old maiden winners of the meet, Rocket Rodd, who also happens to be an Illinois-bred. Rocket Rodd, a gelding by the young $1,500 Carson City sire Leelanau, won Sunday's third race by seven lengths, running five furlongs in about 58.40 seconds and earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 72.

"That's my little ace in the hole," Boyce said. "I've really liked him since he came in, but you like them all till you try them in the afternoon. It's not so much his speed drills, but he does it all so easy and he has such a mature mindset for a 2-year-old."

Boyce said there were no specific plans for Rocket Rodd, who has been the subject of purchase inquiries.