Trainer H. Graham Motion has a contender in two of the three big races at Arlington Park's International Festival of Racing, so he's in a good spot to assess the relative quality of Saturday's fields.
In Motion's view, the $750,000 Beverly D Stakes (gr. IT) looks like the tougher race than the Arlington Million (gr. IT), judging from the North American contingent.
"This is the marquee race for fillies and mares this year," Motion said of the Beverly D, in which he will send out Film Maker, coming off a dominating 3 3/4-length win in the All Along Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Colonial Downs. Her probable opponents include Gorella, Melhor Ainda and Honey Ryder, of whom Motion noted, "I've been beaten about five times by Honey Ryder with two different fillies."
The 6-year-old mare, owned by Courtlandt Farms, is "training super" right now, said Motion, who addressed the media Tuesday via a National Thoroughbred Racing Association teleconference. Motion asserted that he "wouldn't trade places with anybody" in the Beverly D.
While the mare remains at the top of her game, with two victories in a row in graded stakes competition, Motion is perhaps even more impressed with the form of the 7-year-old gelding Better Talk Now.
"This horse can run with any horse in this country when things set up favorably for him," Motion says. "It's more just a question of how the races set up, rather than the effort he puts forth." The 10-furlong Million appears to be more suitable for Better Talk Now than the longer Sword Dancer Invitational Handicap (gr. IT) at Saratoga, which Motion pointed out is typically a paceless race. And because the Sword Dancer is by invitation only, Motion loses the option of entering Shake the Bank as a rabbit for the 2004 John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) winner.
With the West Coast representative The Tin Man expected to ensure a lively pace in the Million, Motion is hoping Better Talk Now will have a better trip than he did in last year's running, when he was forced to circle almost the entire field before rallying to be part of a three-way photo finish for second behind Powerscourt. In finishing fourth last year, Better Talk Now was ridden by John Velasquez, who didn't know the gelding as well as Ramon Dominguez. Motion absolved Velasquez of responsibility for the tough trip, but added that he's glad Dominguez will be aboard for Saturday's race.
The third grade I turf event on Saturday's card at Arlington, the Secretariat Stakes, features the emerging sophomore star Showing Up. Also expected to show up, according to trainer Barclay Tagg, will be Lael Stables' owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson. Ironically, while Showing Up may be the second-best 3-year-old in America, based on his impressive victory in the $1 million Colonial Turf Cup Stakes June 24 at Colonial Downs, he's only No. 2 in his own stable, after Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) hero Barbaro. The ownership issue was one reason Tagg elected to shift the 3-year-old from the dirt to the turf, he explained during the teleconference.
"I think he's very adept on both surfaces, but a little more comfortable on the grass," Tagg said. "I made the switch because I thought Barbaro would go ahead and do the Triple Crown, and I didn't need to have him chasing Barbaro around."
Tagg raised eyebrows when he elected not to send Showing Up to the Virginia Derby (gr. IIT) three weeks after the Colonial Cup, thereby passing up a potential lucrative bonus. But he explained, "I thought the two races were too close together. It was the hottest time of the year, a very hot area down there...It's a long way to go from New York and back there. I didn't want to make the same trip two times in a row."
Should Showing Up continue his winning ways in the Secretariat, Tagg envisions running him against older horses at a longer distance than the mile-and-a-quarter Secretariat, in either the Man o' War Stakes (gr. IT) or the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (gr. IT). While Barbaro is a leading candidate for Horse of the Year, Tagg dreams of Showing Up establishing sufficient credentials to become a legitimate contender himself with a victory on Breeders' Cup day. That race, he said, might be the Classic, rather than the Turf.