Unbeaten Purim Heads American Derby

Edward Joseph Sukley's homebred Purim, unbeaten in three starts, will face seven 3-year-olds in Saturday's American Derby (gr. IIT) at Arlington Park. The American Derby goes as the fifth race and is the first of three graded stakes on the program with an approximate post of 2:56 p.m. CDT.

Purim, who will break from post 2 under Mark Guidry, has been made the 9-5 favorite for the second leg of Arlington's Mid-America Triple after a 2 1/2-length score in the first leg, the 1 1/16-mile Arlington Classic (gr. IIIT) July 2. The series culminates with the Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT) at 1 1/4 miles on Arlington Million day Aug. 13. The American Derby is at 1 3/16 miles.

On paper, those with the best shot of knocking Purim off are Exceptional Ride, Merger, and Gun Salute.

Bred to excel on turf (Dynaformer--Kirsteena, by Lord At War), Purim was an easy allowance winner at Churchill Downs in his turf debut going a mile June 4. The dark bay or brown colt broke his maiden at Tampa Bay Downs going six furlongs on the dirt April 30.

Since the Classic win, Purim has recorded a pair of works over the Arlington turf course: a :49 2/5 four-furlong move July 10 and a 1:19 2/5 work going six furlongs July 17.

Sukley, with the assistance of trainer Tom Proctor, picked out Kirsteena at the 1997 Keeneland September sale. She won twice and was stakes-placed on the turf in a 12-race career.

Eliah and Lisa Kahn's Exceptional Ride is coming off a second-place effort to English Channel in the $500,000 Colonial Turf Cup June 25 in Virginia. English Channel came back to romp last weekend in the Virginia Derby (gr. IIIT), the second leg of Colonial Downs' "Grand Slam of Grass" challenge. By the late Chester House, out of the Dixieland Band mare Adorable Slew, Exceptional Ride has two stakes win on the turf to his credit, the latest coming June 4 over the course in the Awad Stakes at a mile.

Previously trained by Kenny McPeek, Exceptional Ride will be saddled by Helen Pitts, his former assistant who has since taken over the majority of his horses. James Graham, who was aboard in the Awad, will ride.

No summer turf race is safe if trainer Dermot Weld has one of his European shippers, and this year's model is Merger. The gray/roan son of Mr. Greeley out of the El Gran Senor mare Toldeo Queen has yet to win this year, but has run second or third in four stakes in Ireland. His last effort being a third-place finish in the one-mile listed Celebration Stakes at the Curragh June 26.

Merger will not head to the starting gate right off the plane however, as he has a recorded work at Laurel (:52 1/5 for four furlongs) July 12 and one at Arlington (1:34 4/5 for seven furlongs on the turf). Rene Douglas will ride.

Brant Laue's Gun Salute (Military--Hail Roberta, by Roberto), has the highest Beyer Speed Figure in the race, recording a 94 Beyer June 18 in a third-place finish in the Jefferson Cup (gr. IIIT) at Churchill Downs. Tracking close to the pace, Gun Salute was just beaten two necks by Rush Bay and Big Prairie for it all in the 1 1/8-mile race. Hall of Famer Bill Mott trains.

American Derby (gr. IIT), $250,000, Arlington Park, 3-year-olds, 1 3/16 miles, turf, approx. post 2:56 p.m. CDT
PP - Horse - Jockey - ML
1 - General Jumbo - Gary Stevens - 8-1
2 - Purim - Mark Guidry - 9-5
3 - Cosmic Kris - E.T. Baird - 12-1
4 - Exceptional Ride - James Graham - 4-1
5 - Earths Vain Shadow - Shane Laviolette - 30-1
6 - Merger - Rene Douglas - 5-1
7 - Gun Salute - Cornelio Velasquez - 5-2
8 - Gold Minister - Eddie Razo Jr. - 15-1