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TrackNotes: Million Dollar Baby

Want turf racing?

Arlington Park's got your turf racing. It's Million Week and the palace is hammerin' the turf angle home as it plans to run 11 of its 12 races Saturday on the world-class grass course.

We'll see the only Grade I races and some of the best horses Chicago offers in any year. The marquee races kick off with 79th running of the Grade III Stars and Stripes Turf at 3:06, followed by The Secretariat, The Beverly D and the Arlington Million. Chasers will also have the $60,000 Hatoof right after that.

Rumors are that Comcast Sports will carry the Million, but my local listings don't check out.

The Stars and Stripes
This venerable race goes off for the 79th time and the Grade II offers $100,00 in purse money. Frankie Torres and Free Fighter are the morning-line favorites. It's based on his ability to get the longer distances for this 13-furlong race (1-5/8 miles).

Perfect Shower, Ramon Dominguez up, brings in much the same cred. And if he takes to the luxurious Arlington lawn, look for Inez Karlsson and Blushing Bear to contend.

The Secretariat
The 34th running of this $400,000 race for three-year-olds at 10 furlongs will feature the biggest favorite of the day, Paddy O'Prado. He's already even money on the morning line and comes off victories in the Colonial Turf Cup and the Virginia Derby. In the former, he beat two others in this race, the highly regarded Workin for Hops and Two Notch Road.

Kent Desormeaux takes the reins on Paddy, who has found his home on turf after a detour into the (Kentucky) Derby Fever season, where he finished a respectable third in the Run for the Roses. Frankie Torres returns on Workin for Hops and will try to parlay the win in the American Derby here at Arlington on July 17th.

Irish shipper Wigmore Hall comes in off of two straight wins in England and four wins in nine starts.

The Beverly D
The 21st running of this $750,000 race for fillies and mares, three and up, at 9.5 furlongs will be one of the best betting opportunities of the day.

Your early favorites are Rainbow View with Julien Leparoux up, and Treat Gently with Desormeaux. Local boy Jimmy Graham rides Hot Cha Cha, a consistent performer who finished third in the July 17th Modesty Handicap at Arlington behind the late Tuscan Evening. Rainbow View finished fourth in that same race and while she is capable, her Beyer Speed Figures are on a downward trend and it looks like the distance here may just be a few yards too many.

Junior Alvarado's Eclair de Lune posted a 13-point Beyer improvement in shadowing Tuscan Evening in the Modesty and 5-1 seems a nice price. Treat Gently's won her last two. Don't know if she cares to win, but British-bred Ave with Ramon Dominguez likes to be in the thick of it. At a price, I'll take a horse-for-the-course approach with Hot Cha Cha and also keep an eye on the Pulpit filly Pachattack, a British runner with wily veteran Kieran Fallon up.

The Arlington Million
Your darling of the day, Gio Ponti, runs in the 28th edition of the first American million-dollar race, slated at 10 furlongs.

Ramon Dominguez will seek to repeat Gio's win in this race last year and become the first back-to-back winner of the Million. The legendary John Henry won the first Million in 1981 and came back again in 1984.

Gio Ponti might be one of the most underappreciated horses in America. He gives you an honest effort every time and wherever his services are required.

The reigning American Champion Male Turf Horse andAmerican Champion Older Male Horse sports a 20-10-6-0 lifetime record and has won on and between both coasts. He took a shot at the Dubai World Cup on the artificial Tapeta surface and turned in a respectable performance for fourth place.

He took a very tough beat to Zenyatta in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic just after winning four Grade Is on turf courses rated yielding to firm. And he's won more than $4 million under the watchful eye of trainer Christophe Clement.

With four placings and a fourth in Dubai, they whispered he'd lost a step, but he comes to Arlington off a neck win in the Grade I Man o' War and another tough beat after a rough trip in the Manhattan. Sure, you try to beat him at his price. But you don't watch this Million without enjoying him and appreciating everything he brings to every race.

Joining Gio will be a decent field with a few of the typical foreign invaders. The seven-year-old veteran Just As Well, Leparoux up, is the second favorite on the morning line. He hasn't won since last year's Arlington Handicap and it's possible he's still feeling the effects of a trip to the Japan Cup last November. He nearly caught Rahystrada in the Arlington Handicap July 17 and had some bad luck in the Grade II Dixie on Preakness Day and in the Manhattan. Don't discount him.

I've got to mix in Rahystrada with local gem Karlsson riding after he made me a few dollars on Million Preview Day. He may be in a tad deep, but he won here last summer and is in good form now under trainer Byron Hughes.

Of the foreign-raced horses, Tazeez jumps off the page. Yeah, he hasn't won since October 2008, but he's been keeping good company in graded races in Britain and France and has solid Racing Post Rating numbers. If you subscribe to the theory that Euro turfers are generally better than American turfers, this is a good spot. He's 6-1 on the morning line and I just hope he stays somewhere around there.

Irish-bred Summit Surge brings in many of the same credentials and beat Bushman and Allybar last month in the Group 2 York Stakes. If you're sentimental, you're hoping for General Quarters to do something. But his form is going in the wrong direction. Somewhere in the trifecta will probably be his best.

In another race of note, the always-puzzling Giant Oak and Recapturetheglory square off in the fourth, a $62,000 allowance optional claiming race. I guess the relatively gaudy Beyers give him the favorite's role, but Giant Oak just doesn't seem to have his heart in it. He did close to within a respectable short two lengths to a thundering Rahystrada in the Arlington Handicap. He's always highly placed, but he hasn't won in 14 months. The big handsome lug has to step it up some in this one.

Recapturetheglory is an inconsistent sort who comes in off an allowance win in Indiana. He shows some good key races in the last year and appears to be the class here.

Alabama Tide
Don't let your horse racing excitement start and end at Arlington.

It's out to Saratoga for the 130th running of The Alabama, a $500,000 Grade I for three-year-old fillies at 10 furlongs.

This is a showdown between the favored Devil May Care, coming in off a stylish four-length win in the Coaching Club American Oaks, and Blind Luck, the Kentucky Oaks winner.

After a respectable trip in what I considered a questionable decision to run her in the Kentucky Derby, Todd Pletcher's Devil May Care has hit her stride, also winning the Grade I Mother Goose in June.

Jerry Hollendorfer sends Blind Luck, basically a California shipper who won the Delaware Oaks July 10. Although the Pollard's Vision filly has won on synthetics, I think she prefers dirt, the surface of choice at tradition-rich Saratoga. Her pronounced closing style will be a cool contrast to Devil May Care's just-off-the-lead approach.

Don't look for an upset here, but how can you not like the Brooklyn Boyz Stables' Connie and Michael? Great name for a very good horse who's in tough here.

Down the Jersey Coast at Monmouth Park, we have the Grade III Phillip H. Iselin, nine furlongs for a $300,000 purse.

It's notable for a comeback appearance by I Want Revenge, the Richard Dutrow trainee who, as the probable favorite, was scratched the morning of the 2009 Kentucky Derby. He suffered a leg injury and required surgery and has only run once since that Derby morning, a third-place finish in the Suburban Handicap at Belmont July 3.

If he's right, he's awesome. But he'll be sorely tested by Redding Colliery, who comes in fresh from a seven-length win in the Lone Star Park Handicap May 31. Look for Sir Whimsey to challenge as well.

Praise the Lord!
Santa Anita Park owner Frank Stronach announced that he'll be taking out the blasted Pro-Ride synthetic surface at the California oval.

The venerable venue lost several days of racing with the surface as the materials themselves clogged the delicate, high-tech drainage system, leaving the place flooded even after just a typical SoCal rainstorm.

Stronach says it will be ready by December, when the SA winter meet starts, but the Oak Tree Meet at Santa Anita will probably be switched to Hollywood Park this autumn.

Let's hope this starts a trend and that trend reaches the Prairie State. Arlington's Poly Track is a deal-breaker for me.

Slot Plot
I don't know why they haven't done this sooner, but Arlington Park and its Churchill Down Inc. parent are going to the media stating its case to install slots to buoy the flagging racing industry in Illinois.

Racing officials are quite optimistic slots will be passed in the November veto session in Springfield.

It's hard to know just how many people really care about racing, besides its fans, but then who cares about the numbskulls in Springfield? Make an end run.

But it could boil down to the casino lobbyists who will probably try to protect the casino in Des Plaines versus the Arlington Heights location. The Horsemen have never been top-drawer when it comes to convincing legislators of anything.

And, horsey people, play fair and let Hawthorne have its slots too.

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Thomas Chambers is our man on the rail. He brings you TrackNotes (nearly) every Friday. He welcomes your comments.

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