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Road to Arlington Million XXVII Vol. 2: June 17, 2009

| Churchill Downs Communications | 06/17/2009 #

As Arlington Million Day approaches each August as the highlight of the Chicago Thoroughbred racing season, the majority of the European-based horses arriving to compete in Arlington's International Festival of Racing remain housed in Arlington's International Barn - even after they are released from quarantine.

On the other hand, North American-based horses for the Arlington Million, $750,000 Beverly D. Stakes and $400,000 Secretariat Stakes are generally scattered throughout the barn area.

Once again this summer, however, a stop at Arlington's unobtrusive Barn 28, tucked away in the Southwest corner of the local grounds, is recommended for the international media coming to Chicago for the Arlington Million less than eight weeks away.

That's where Midnight Cry Stable's Einstein, the long-range Million favorite, is scheduled to take up residence, but with reservations under that same roof is the ancient gray gelding Silverfoot, star of Chrysalis Stable and winner of Arlington's $54,100 The Tin Man Stakes June 6.

Serving as their landlady locally for the second straight year will be Arlington-based conditioner Leigh Bentley, overseeing the preparations of Einstein and Silverfoot - as well at least one more as yet unnamed runner in Arlington Million - prior to the arrival of their Kentucky-based trainers.

"Einstein is still on schedule to come up here," said Bentley earlier this week.  That was after checking with Einstein's trainer Helen Pitts-Blasi following the Brazilian-bred's third-place finish in Churchill's Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap June 13.  "As far as I know, he came out of that race just fine.  What happened last week was just bad racing luck.  Every time he went for a hole, he got shut out and wasn't able to get through.  But he's been training very well all summer and is having a tremendous year.

I would imagine (Silverfoot's trainer) Dallas Stewart will send Silverfoot back to me some time the week before the Million," said Bentley.  "I had Silverfoot with me all summer last year, but Dallas is keeping him in Kentucky this year and shipping him up to Arlington for his races.  He's a super, wonderful horse.  He tries his best every time, and he just loves doing it.

"I also think (trainer) Rusty Arnold is going to send at least one - if not two - horses up here to me for the upcoming Million," said Bentley, "but I don't know if he's figured out exactly who yet.  He has so many good horses in his barn.  I wish I had those kinds of choices."

Those kinds of choices may indeed be in Bentley's future.  Following a 12-year career as a jockey, Bentley retired from the saddle, got her first assistant trainer job with Tom Proctor and then spent eight years as an assistant to Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas before going out on her own a little over a year and a half ago.

"It's hard getting started," Bentley said of training on her own, "but just to be seen with all these good horses has been a big help to me, even if I only get to have them for a few days.

"Also, it's good that these guys (nationally-known trainers) keep sending me their good horses because they know we take good care of ‘em.  That helps me a lot."

Einstein finished fifth in last summer's Arlington Million after stumbling at the start and being forced to circle the field, while Silverfoot closed willingly in the late stages to get up for fourth, a half-length in front of Einstein.

Arlington Million XXVII - signature event of the 2009 Chicago Thoroughbred racing season - will go to the post late in the afternoon Aug. 8, preceded by the 20th anniversary edition of the Beverly D. and followed by the 33rd running of the Grade I Secretariat Stakes.

Together, the only three Grade I races contested in Illinois on an annual basis make up Arlington's one-day International Festival of Racing, and this summer's Arlington Million gets added international prestige because the winner will receive an automatic invitation to the Group I Japan Cup when it is run in Tokyo later in the year.

In addition to Einstein, Silverfoot, and at least one Rusty Arnold trainee, prospective North American-based starters for the 27th running of the Arlington Million include Castleton Lyons' Gio Ponti, clear winner of Belmont's Grade I Manhattan Handicap June 6, and Juddmonte Farms' Midships, hero of Hollywood's Grade I Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap that same afternoon.

Gio Ponti, trained by Christophe Clement, preceded his Manhattan score with one in Santa Anita's Grade I Frank E. Kilroe Mile Handicap March 7, while Midships, conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, won his previous start in Santa Anita's Grade II San Juan Capistrano Handicap April 18.

Another Frankel-trained original nomination for the 2009 Million, Johanna Louise Glen-Teven's Proudinsky, finished third in the $200,000 Monmouth Handicap June 13 and sixth in Churchill's Woodford Reserve before that, but also now boasts credentials as the only horse to have ever won back-to-back renewals the Grade II Mervin Muniz Memorial Handicap - Fair Grounds' main event for grass horses each winter in New Orleans.

Derrick Smith, Susan Magnier and Michael Tabor's Mastercraftsman, an Irish-bred 3-year-old who is an original 2009 Arlington Million nominee despite his youth, courageously captured the Group I  St. James Palace Stakes Tuesday on the first day of Great Britain's prestigious five-day Royal Ascot meeting.  Previously the son of Danehill Dancer trained by Aidan O'Brien was much the best in the Group I Irish 2000 Guineas at The Curragh May 23.