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Arlington Million card’s quality testifies to enduring international prestige

Bob Kieckhefer – with his special take on things – tells us what to watch for in the Arlington Million, Beverly D., Secretariat and America St. Leger:

A former winner, last year’s second- and third-place finishers and last year’s Secretariat Stakes victor all grace the field forSaturday’s Arlington Million, centerpiece of the International Festival of Racing on the Arlington International Racecourse turf.

A field of 12 is set for the 35th running of the Million, contested at 1 1/4 miles over the Arlington turf.

The world’s first $1 million Thoroughbred race has been eclipsed many times over in terms of purse money in the decades since its inception. But the quality of this year’s field — and its two Grade I companions, the Beverly D. for fillies and mares and the Secretariat Stakes for 3-year-olds — testifies to its enduring international prestige.

It also doesn’t hurt that the Million and the Beverly D. are “Win and You’re In” qualifiers for the $4 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf and the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf, respectively.

A year ago, trainer Aidan O’Brien and the Coolmore owners sent then 3-year-old Deauville across the Atlantic to test the American turf runners. The Galileo colt won the Grade I Belmont Derby Invitational on the New York greensward first up, then challenged older horses in Million XXXIV, leading in the stretch and finishing only a pair of necks from victory, behind Mondialiste and Kasaqui.

This year, Deauville comes directly across the pond after three straight in-the-frame finishes including a third in the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes, beaten only 1 1/2 lengths by the highly regarded Ribchester. Ryan Moore is expected to partner the 4-year-old again in this year’s Million.

Another of the fancied invaders for the Million was scratched Thursday with a fetlock injury. Scottish, a Godolphin Racing 5-year-old by Teofilo who was only 3 lengths back of Highland Reel while finishing fifth in the Group 1 Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot, was among the favorites with British bookmakers and trainer Charlie Appleby said he now likely will be shelved with an eye to Dubai in 2018.

That leaves French Group 1 winner Mekhtaal and Fanciful Angel from the always dangerous Marco Botti yard as the other foreign contenders.

The raiders face a tough local contingent including 2015 Million winner The Pizza Man, an Illinois-bred gelding by English Channel, who finished second in the 2005 Secretariat and fourth as the favorite in the 2006 Million and now stands at Calumet Farm. The Pizza Man, Midwest Thoroughbreds’ 8-year-old star, is nearing the end of his career but showed he still has a bit of late kick with a closing second in the Grade III Stars and Stripes Handicap at 1 1/2 miles on the Arlington grass on July 8.

Kasaqui, with James Graham up, won Churchill Downs’ Grade II Wise Dan Stakes. Coady Photography

Last year’s Million runner-up, Kasaqui, was an impressive winner in the Grade II Wise Dan at Churchill Downs June 17 and third in the Grade III Arlington Handcap July 8. The 7-year-old is by Lasting Approval.

Beach Patrol, a Lemon Drop Kid colt, has not had his picture taken since he won last year’s Secretariat. But he returns to Arlington after being consistently close in a string of five Grade I races dating back to December. Divisidero, a 5-year-old by Kitten’s Joy, is the two-time winner of Churchill Downs’ Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic but comes off a disappointing sixth in the Grade I Woodford Reserve Manhattan at Belmont Park.

Ascend, a 27-1 upset winner in the Manhattan, also will contest the Million.

Oscar Nominated finished fifth in the 2016 Secretariat on Million day, then went on to win the 2016 Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Derby at the Kentucky Downs meeting, which has quickly become one of the richest and most highly targeted meetings of the American turf season.

Enterprising, Ghost Hunter and Oak Brook round out the Million field and none can be dismissed out of hand.

In the 1 3/16-mile Beverly D., many eyes will be looking not to European roots but to Argentinian background for the favorite to take the winner’s share of the $600,000 purse. That would be Dona Bruja, a 5-year-old Argentine-bred daughter of Storm Embrujado who ran out of mountains to climb at home before shipping north after the 2016 season.

Dona Bruja, with Declan Cannon aboard, won Churchill Downs’ Old Forester Mint Julep and then Arlington’s Modesty in her final prep for the Beverly D. Coady Photography

Trained by Ignacio Correas, Dona Bruja picked up right where she left off, winning the Grade III Old Forester Mint Julep Handicap at Churchill Downs in June and the local Grade III Modesty Handicap in July. The latter win, with a well-timed stretch run, was emphatic enough to turn heads.

Those paying attention to the filly and mare races in Europe and Great Britain will realize Beverly D. contender Rain Goddess merits a good look after finishing second to Enable in the Group 1 Darley Irish Oaks at the Curragh in June. Granted, Rain Goddess was 5 1/2 lengths in arrears in that heat. But Enable may be the best horse of either gender or any age on that side of the pond and currently is a favorite, if not the favorite, for the Quatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Chantilly Oct. 1 — Europe’s top prize.

Rain Goddess, another by Galileo and from the Coolmore-O’Brien connection, has not raced since the Oaks.

Sarandia represents Germany and trainer Peter Schiergen in the Beverly D. The 4-year-old Dansili filly has won both her starts this season, at Baden-Baden and Hanover, but steps up significantly in class against these.

Chad Brown will saddle three distaffers in the Beverly D. — Chilean-bred mare Dacita, a Scat Daddy mare who has posted multiple graded stakes wins since exiting her native land including the Grade I Diana last summer at Saratoga; Grand Jete, winner of all three of her 2017 starts including the Grade III Eatontown at Monmouth Park; and Rainha Da Bateria, a Broken Vow mare who exits a victory in the Grade II Dance Smartly at Woodbine.

Hawksmoor, a Group 1 winner in Germany last year, has thrived on American soil this season, winning the Grade III Beaugay and Grade II New York Stakes in her last two starts for trainer Arnaud Delacour.

Rounding out this field are Zipessa, third in last year’s Beverly D. but seeking her first win in more than 14 months; Kitten’s Roar, third in the New York Stakes; and locally based Prado’s Sweet Ride, trained by the ever-dangerous Chris Block.

The $400,000 Secretariat, restricted to 3-year-olds, attracted 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner Oscar Performance to head the home team and Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed al Maktoum’s Permian, a top European-based sophomore, leading the foreign contingent.

Oscar Performance is a Kitten’s Joy ridgling out of the Theatrical mare Devine Actress. He took a couple races to get his feet under him this season, then won the Grade III Pennine Ridge and Grade I Belmont Derby Invitational, both at Belmont Park, in his last two outings for trainer Brian Lynch.

Permian, a Teofilo colt, won the Group 2 Dante Stakes at York in May but then disappointed in the Ivestec Derby at Epsom, finishing 10th. He rebounded with a win in the Group 2 King Edward VII at Royal Ascot and then was second, beaten only a nose, in the Group 1 Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris in his last start. The Secretariat will be his eighth start since April 14.

Afandem carries French hopes. Although the French-bred Zoffany colt is trained by Jean-Claude Rouget for Al Shaqab Racing and has Frankie Dettori engaged, his three wins have come against softer competition.

(Caution: One wouldn’t think it’s a common name but there’s another 3-year-old colt named Afandem currently in training in Europe. The Irish-bred one is by Vale of York and isn’t bad, either. But don’t be confused.)

O’Brien fields Taj Mahal, another of those Galileos who showed promise early in the season. This one has been more “Agra-vating” to the Coolmore connections of late, running well back in the Group 1 Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby and the Group 1 Coral-Eclipse at Sandown.

Completing the field are the top two finishers from the local Grade III American Derby — Sonic Boom and Gorgeous Kitten.

The $250,000 Grade III American St. Leger is devoid of any foreign competition despite its European-like distance of 1 11/16 miles over the Arlington green.

Keystoneforvictory was the key to victory in the Grade III Stars and Stripes in his last start when he got by The Pizza Man in the late going for the win. He won’t have that one to contend with in the St. Leger (which Arlington persists in spelling “St.” rather than the British style “St”, sans the “.”.

Applicator, third in the 1 1/2-mile Stars and Stripes, will see what he can do with the added distance. Bullards Alley has experience with this trip and even longer but hasn’t won much.

The St. Leger is the first race in a $300,000 guaranteed late Pick 4 that continues with the Beverly D., Million and the Grade III Pucker Up Stakes. The Pucker Up has a dozen 3-year-old fillies going nine furlongs and screams out “ALL” on the exotics ticket.

The weather forecast for Saturday is excellent, with partly cloudy skies predicted and a high in the mid to upper 70s. There’s a chance of a thunderstorm on Thursday, which might be welcome news for horses who would prefer a bit of cut in the ground as the area has been going through a dry spell.

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