Arlington Race Report: Blues Traveler

Being the best middle-distance horse in Germany is like being the best blues musician in Utah: If you really want to show your stuff, you'd better be willing to travel.

Silvano doesn't just like life on the road -- he thrives on it. The rugged bay 5-year-old horse has had an itinerary that in the last 12 months included trips to Singapore (twice), Hong Kong (twice), and Dubai, all preparing him for his Chicago area visit to Arlington Park. And as his night-owl fans back home watched on pay-per-view TV Aug. 18, Silvano charged to the lead at the head of the stretch and drew off to a convincing three-length victory in the Arlington Million (gr. IT).

"This is one of the biggest things that's ever happened in German horse racing," said Simon Stokes, racing manager for Stiftung Gestut Fahrhof, the foundation that races Silvano for the Jacobs family of Hamburg. "The Arlington Million, for us in Europe and especially in Germany, we read about it and think about it, but never thought about running in it. But through Silvano, we thought we might go for it."

The 19th running of the first Thoroughbred race to offer a $1 million purse was the centerpiece of the Arlington International Festival of Racing, which also included the Beverly D. Stakes (gr. IT), a $700,000 showpiece for turf distaffers, and the Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT), which attracted a field of 11 sophomores. Late-morning showers not only affected the way the races were run, but also were undoubtedly a factor in the disappointing live attendance of 22,176. Nonetheless, Arlington set a single-day Illinois wagering record of $14,519,027.

In the Beverly D., England's Legend dashed off to an easy lead and defied her eight foes to catch her over the "yielding" course. None of them, including West Coast star Astra, could narrow the gap, and the 4-year-old French-bred filly romped to a 7 3/4-length victory.

Triple Crown refugee Startac marked his return to his preferred surface with a heart-stopping, from-the-clouds, nose victory in the Secretariat. It provided Madeleine Paulson -- who races the colt for the Allen E. Paulson Living Trust -- with fond memories of the day five years earlier when the Paulsons' champion Cigar won his 16th straight race in the Arlington Citation Challenge (when the previous record handle was established).

The boglike conditions for Chicago's only three grade I races were not as severe as for the inaugural Million 20 years ago, when John Henry put the race on the map with his dramatic triumph. It still seemed like a day custom made for the Europeans, although Silvano's pilot, Andreas Suborics, said he was glad the rain stopped when it did, because the horse dislikes European courses when they become extremely heavy. But the connections of beaten Million favorite Bienamado, as well as of Astra, both of whom are used to the sun-baked courses of Southern California, were certain the soft turf compromised their chances.

"It's just bad luck that it rained," said Bienamado's dejected trainer, Paco Gonzalez. "He couldn't handle the soft course."

Seventh-place finisher Bienamado was the Million favorite for the second straight year, after winning the Whittingham (gr. IT) and San Juan Capistrano (gr. IT) Handicaps. In last year's Million, he finished fourth over another course listed as "yielding," although not quite as soft as this year's. He came out of last year's race with a back injury that sidelined him for three months. A Gonzalez assistant said the day after the Million that the son of Bien Bien showed no ill effects from this year's race.

"At the half-mile pole I asked him to run, to clear three horses down inside of me, and he didn't accelerate," said Bienamado's jockey, Chris McCarron. "Normally he just jumps forward right away. At that time I thought, 'I might be in a little trouble here.' So I asked him a little harder, and he's always been an extremely generous, very responsive horse, and when he didn't give me the forward response...I knew it wasn't his day."

Astra, the 7-10 Beverly D. favorite off her wins in the Beverly Hills Handicap (gr. IT) and Santa Barbara Handicap (gr. IIT), had no chance because of the course, said rider Kent Desormeaux. "It's just knee-deep to a grasshopper," he reported. "Her knees were over her head today. She was stumbling and going around there and never really enjoying herself. When I encouraged her to keep up, she just didn't fire at that point."

Astra was eased under the wire, eight lengths back of the second-to-last finisher.

"She seems good and sound, but it's too bad to be true," said Simon Bray, who trains the filly for the Paulson Trust. His spirits were to pick up considerably with Startac's performance, however.


JOKING JOCKEY

For Silvano's ebullient pilot Suborics, there was no dampening his enthusiasm after winning aboard his first U.S. mount. His demonstrative behavior in the winner's circle prompted trainer Andreas Wohler to remark, "Sometimes I think he's in the wrong profession. He's more like a comedian."

But the jockey was entitled to celebrate. He charted a perfect course for his mount, keeping Silvano tucked down along the rail in the second tier of horses as the Brazilian-bred, California-based Redattore set fairly quick fractions of :24.27, :48.59, and 1:12.83. When the real running started, Silvano was the only serious challenger, getting off the rail to swing around Redattore at the head of the stretch.

"My trainer told me, 'If the pace is not so fast, you can stay right behind it,' and that's what I did," Suborics said. "I had a good position, and everything was fine, and when we came to the last turn, he was still going good. I took second place and then got the lead in the straight. The last 100 yards I think I'm home, but when we came into the straight I thought at that moment I'm too early on the lead."

Eastern star Hap came running belatedly under Jerry Bailey, finishing second, six lengths ahead of Redattore. It was another four lengths back in fourth to Caitano, another globe-trotting European who'd lost to Silvano in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup (HK-I) at Sha Tin in April. The Million running time of 2:02.64 was four seconds off the course record, but impressive given the conditions.

Silvano was bred at the Stiftung Gestut Fahrhof farm in northern Germany, where his sire, Lomitas, by Niniski, stands at stud. Stiftung Gestut raced Lomitas, a multiple German group I winner who was stakes-placed in California, and acquired Silvano's dam, Spirit of Eagles, a California-bred daughter of Beau's Eagle. Their 3-year-old full brother to Silvano, Sabiango, became a German group I winner earlier this month. They also have a 2-year-old full sister to the pair.

In considering whether Silvano might be back next year to defend his Million title, Stokes indicated this strong hand might play a role in the decision.

Continued . . . .

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