By Amy Whitfield
Arlington's International Festival of Racing Aug. 14 is opening the gates for a German invasion with imports Sabiango, Epalo, and Aubonne.
For the first time, owner Monty Roberts, fondly known as "The Horse Whisperer," will show up for the Arlington Million (gr. IT) with his 6-year-old Sabiango. Roberts, along with assistant trainer Tim Yakteen, has taken the horse, who has suffered critical foot problems this year, and nurtured him from a "critical situation" in January to winning the Hollywood Park's $350,000 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap (gr. IT) June 12 by three-quarters of a length.
It looks like Sabiango won't be under jockey Tyler Baze this time out, but rather Victor Espinoza. "We were so disappointed that we didn't get Tyler Baze back on," Roberts said on an Aug. 10 National Thoroughbred Racing Association teleconference.
Regardless of who's aboard, Roberts said his horse, trained by Bob Baffert, is ready for the race. "Whether we do well or do badly Saturday in Chicago...this horse is going back there wanting to race," he said. "We're going back there with a horse anxious to get in this competition."
Known for his gentle instruction and care, Roberts said he would rather have a content horse than a winning horse. "If I go back there and sit in the stands and have a feeling that Sabiango gave it all and he comes in seventh, I'm going to go home a satisfied human being," he said. "If he wins, that's even better. If he races and he's uncomfortable, unhappy, and resentful about his work, then I'm unhappy."
Sabiango will face-off against owner Gary Tanaka's Epalo, another German import looking to emulate Silvano, the German-bred who won the 2001 Million. The Million is run at 1 1/4 miles.
The world-traveling Epalo is coming off a second-place finish in the Aug. 1 Globetrotter Trophy at Cologne. In May, he won the Singapore Cup, his first group I, by five lengths.
Tanaka said he's not worried about running Epalo only two weeks after his last start. "Before Singapore, we ran him two weeks before and he spent eight hours in a box on the way to Munich," he said. "He's a pretty tough guy, but he's a pretty lazy worker back home, so it's good we have him in America."
Tanaka said Arlington's conditions and distance is a great match-up for the 5-year-old Epalo."Epalo is an improving guy, he's very consistent," he said. "He likes a firm mile and a quarter."
Tanaka will start his German-bred filly, Aubonne, who won the 10-furlong La Coupe (Fr-III), in the 1 3/16-mile Beverly D. Tanaka has won the race twice.
"I think she's an improving filly," Tanaka said. "The Le Coupe was open to fillies and colts. I think this (Beverly D.) is better than a French group III."
Tanaka's top sprinter, Pico Central, trained by Paulo Lobo, is scheduled to run in the Pat O'Brien Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) Aug. 15 at Del Mar.