08/15/2001 11:00PM

Weeding out the star turf pretenders


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - There's certainly no shortage of talent in Saturday's trio of Grade 1 grass stakes at Arlington Park. An initial scan of the Beverly D., Arlington Million, and Secretariat locates enough solid-looking runners to make a pick three play unwieldy, but a closer look reveals lots of fringe contenders who figure to be either outclassed or unsuited to the distance.

In Grade 1 route races for older horses, especially those beyond 1 1/8 miles, proven class and ability to get the trip are qualities shared by the majority of winners. Looking at these races from that perspective separates the wheat from the chaff pretty quickly.

Beverly D.

Based on class and distance requirements at the Grade 1 level, Astra has this field over a barrel. Briefly:

* Di Moi Oui: Twice a Group 3 winner in France.

* Spook Express: "Grade 1's" in South Africa don't count. She has a

2-for-7 record in U.S. graded stakes, both wins at the Grade 3 level. Has campaigned almost exclusively at eight-to-nine furlongs in the U.S.

* Only to You: A single Group 3 win in Canada on soft turf at 1 1/16 miles.

* Kalatiara: Australian miler got up late to win U.S. debut in a Grade 3.

* Megans Bluff: Wonderfully consistent, with 19 in-the-money finishes from 21 starts. Nevertheless, this five-time graded stakes winner looks to be outclassed in the presence of any legit Grade 1 runner.

* Solvig: Winless in nearly 14 months since pairing up wins in the Pucker Up and Regret, both Grade 3's.

* Astra: This powerful finisher's only loss from five graded stakes starts came when run back too quickly and inexplicably put on the lead in last year's 1 1/4-mile Beverly Hills Handicap. Overcame slow pace to win that race with a devastating late kick last time out. Two-time Grade 1 winner has won three of four beyond nine furlongs.

* England's Legend: Far behind Di Moi Oui in Group 3 Prix Chloe at Chantilly last summer, but looks to be vastly improved in the U.S. for master grass trainer Christophe Clement. Won the Grade 2 New York Handicap off a four-month layoff, running down Grade 1 winner Gaviola after chasing that one throughout.

* The Seven Seas: Like Spook Express and Megans Bluff, another very nice mare (6 for 12 lifetime) who is probably outgunned. Only graded stakes score came in the Grade 3 Bewitch nearly 16 months ago.

Astra looms a thoroughly legitimate favorite. England's Legend remains "unclassified" after winning her U.S. stakes debut, and can be used to a lesser extent. It's hard to see beyond those two.

Arlington Million

A similar run-through yields four Million starters left for further consideration, but Hap, at 9 for 14 lifetime including a 3-for-3 mark this year, isn't one of them.

Hap is unbeaten from seven starts at 1 1/8 miles. But he is now late into his 5-year-old season, and the fact that he has yet to race beyond nine furlongs begs the question: Why?

The stretch from 1 1/8 miles to 1 1/4 miles may only be an eighth of a mile, but many horses just can't handle that 10th furlong. Add in the fact that Hap was off the board in his only Grade 1 attempt, and he is a reasonable toss. At a big price, a horse like Hap can be played, but not as one of the favorites.

The four who survive the class-distance cut, in order of preference, are Bienamado, White Heart, Silvano, and Senure.

Of the European shippers, only Silvano, winner of the 1 1/4-mile, $1.2 million Queen Elizabeth at Sha Tin, has won at the Group 1 level.

Redattore fits for class after winning the Grade 1 Eddie Read at 1 1/8 miles just three weeks ago, but that was the first time he has ever been past one mile. Not only must he stretch out again, he does so while picking up 11 pounds.


The Euro import Ciro upset King Cugat in deep stretch of this race last year, and of the three races in this pick three, the foreigners again look to have their best chance in this, the final leg.

The U.S. horses as a group are closely matched in terms of Beyer Speed Figures, but Sharp Performance and Fan Club's Mister are the only locals to have won graded stakes beyond 1 1/8 miles. Sharp Performance, 2 for 2 at 1 1/4 miles, is improving with every start, and rates a slight edge among the U.S. contingent.

The other U.S. horse to use, Navesink, hasn't yet tried 1 1/4 miles, but young versatile runners such as this rate the benefit of the doubt. He has won at Laurel, Belmont, Monmouth, and Delaware Park while showing excellent tactical speed, and his pedigree strongly suggests the ability to go on.

The three Euro newcomers, Snowstorm, Mizzen Mast, and Aldwych, have an edge here in terms of long-distance experience, and they have all received Timeform ratings in the 110-115 range, which is about average for Group 3 winners. With the exception of Fan Club's Mister, who took the Grade 2 American Derby on soft turf last month, none of the Americans has won above the Grade 3 level, so the Euros fit among this group for class.