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updated: 8/12/2011 7:56 PM

Strong international field among Arlington favorites

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  • The Irish-bred Cape Blanco goes through the paces at Arlington Park in preparation for today's Arlington Million. Cape Blanco is the morning-line favorite in the prestigious race.

      The Irish-bred Cape Blanco goes through the paces at Arlington Park in preparation for today's Arlington Million. Cape Blanco is the morning-line favorite in the prestigious race.
    Photo courtesy of FourFootedFotos

 
 

Today's three Grade I stakes at Arlington Park are billed as the International Festival of Racing.

Quite fitting, to say the least.

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The morning-line favorites for the Arlington Million (Irish-bred Cape Blanco) and Secretariat (English-bred Treasure Beach) and the No. 2 choice for the Beverly D. (South African standout River Jetez) have all shipped in from overseas for their respective Grade I races.

French-bred Stacelita, the morning-line choice for the Beverly D., is making only her second start in America.

"In terms of quality, this is the best of any year for the European horses," said Nick Clarke, the former chief executive of the International Racing Bureau who is now retired but made the trip to Arlington Park. "We've never even had one classic winner here; now we've got two.

"But what you don't know is what kind of effect the 4,000-mile flight has, just like when they (Europeans) ship to California or New York, too."

The 4-year-old Cape Blanco won the 2010 Group I Irish Derby while Treasure Beach won this year's edition. Both are trained by Aidan O'Brien, who has won the prestigious Irish Derby six straight years.

"O'Brien is one of the world's greatest trainers," Clarke said. "If there was an International Hall of Fame, he would be in there along with several others from Europe.

"And Arlington Park would be a great place for an International Hall of Fame. It is already the only racetrack in the country with an exhibit of the Queen Elizabeth II's colors from when she won her last stakes race in the 1989 Arlington Handicap (Unknown Quantity). Mr. (Richard) Duchossois was especially grateful to get those and it was a great tribute to him."

Duchossois, the Arlington Park chairman, is the defending champion owner in the Beverly D. His 2010 winner Eclair De Lune is back as a 12-1 longshot.

In all, eight horses have shipped from Europe in quest of a Grade I triumph.

"In terms of numbers, that's about average," Clarke said. "About three Europeans horses per race. That's a heck of a tribute to Arlington Park's track management. European trainers know these are hard-fought races to compete in."

Retired Hall of Fame jockey Laffit Pincay Jr. competed in nine Arlington Millions, winning on both a European-based horse (Perrault in 1982) and American-based colt Tight Spot (1991).

"Usually the European horses come in fresh," Pincay said. "They are very powerful and love the track here. They always seem to run well and I'm pretty sure a couple of them will be very tough."

American-based Gio Ponti, is hoping to be as tough as John Henry, the only two-time Million champion (1981 and 84) who also ran second in 1983.

The 6-year-old Gio Ponti won the Million in 2009 and ran second last summer.

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