O'Brien is bidding to perform an Arlington Million conjuring trick with Magician

Magician and Joseph O'Brien win the G3 Mooresbridge Stakes at The Curragh. RacingFotos.com

Simon Rowlands, head of international research and development at Timeform, assesses the prospects of the strong European contingent on Saturday’s Arlington Million card in Chicago.

Million-dollar purses are not so rare these days but they certainly were in 1981, when the Arlington Million was inaugurated. The race was an instant success, with American racing legend John Henry winning the first and fourth runnings. It comes round in its mid-August slot like an old friend these days.

Despite failing to move with inflation – a million back then is equivalent to nearly $4 million now – and being overshadowed on the international stage by the Breeders’ Cup from 1984 onwards, the Arlington Million has continued to attract good horses, and good international horses at that, as was always the intention.

Tolomeo (1983) and Teleprompter (1985), in the early days were two of the very best of the several foreign-trained winners of the Arlington Million – rated 127 and 130 respectively on form by Timeform – but 2011’s winner Cape Blanco (rated 128 in the year of his success and 130 the year before it) showed much more recently that the race still has plenty of pulling power.

There is nothing quite of Cape Blanco’s, Teleprompter’s, or Tolomeo’s calibre in this year’s contest – let alone a John Henry – but, despite a field of only seven, it still promises to be a race of consequence.

The best international challenger, Magician, will need no introduction to American racing enthusiasts, having won the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita Park. Magician got near to the 125 rating he achieved there when winning the G3 Mooresbridge Stakes at The Curragh in May and equalled it when splitting the top females The Fugue and Treve in the G1 Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot. But he disappointed in top company at Ascot last time, when times show the surface was not as soft as returned officially, and has a modest strike-rate for one of his ability.

Nonetheless, at his best, which may be when coming late on fast ground, he appears to be two to three lengths better than the French raider Smoking Sun – winner of the G2 Prix d’Harcourt at Longchamp in April and most recently second in the G1 Singapore Airlines International Cup at Kranji – and the best of the North American contingent, Real Solution and Up With The Birds.

Real Solution was one of the lesser winners of the Million 12 months ago, and that only through a disqualification, with inveterate globetrotter Side Glance (who runs again, having been a bit below form of late) in third that day.

However trainer Aidan O’Brien fares with Magician, he is entitled to fancy his chances very strongly in the G1 Secretariat Stakes on the undercard with 117-rated Adelaide, who has the winning of this on each of his last three runs. The latest saw him come up just short in the Belmont Derby Invitational, in which he had Sheldon and Global View some way behind.

This race looks to lack depth, and it is not out of the question that Adelaide’s stable companion Belisarius (who looked wayward when second in a Listed race last time) will take a minor slice of the action.

The American St. Leger is much more open. Dandino won the race 12 months ago and is back for more, but has two dull sixth-placed efforts in Britain to his name so far this year. Eye of The Storm would be nearly that one’s equal at his best and was most of the way back to that when taking the G3 Ballyroan Stakes at Leopardstown last time.

Havana Beat (Listed winner at Sandown Park last time) and Moment In Time (second at a similar level at Newbury on her latest start) are not so compelling, without being completely outclassed. Big Kick and Admiral Kitten are staunch members of the home defence but will have to carry more weight than their European rivals.   

As an aside, and for the history buffs out there, the American St. Leger is named after the oldest classic in Britain, the St Leger, which Dandino ran in as a 3-year-old (the age group the original race is restricted to). The first St Leger was run in 1776, the same year as the creation of the United States of America.

There are also three European shippers in the G1 Beverly D. Stakes, but this is a race that may well stay at home. Euro Charline (front-running winner of a Listed race at Ascot last time), Sparkling Beam (second at a similar level at Maisons-Laffitte when last seen), and Just The Judge (winner of the 2013 Irish 1,000 Guineas, but not quite so good this time round) are all smart performers. But Timeform has six American-based fillies and mares ahead of them in terms of class, headed by Stephanie’s Kitten, on whom Frankie Dettori will take the ride.

It will be a true international occasion at Arlington International Racecourse on Saturday, for both the Million and the main supporting races. An on-form Magician would be a big-race winner worthy of this great race. But, for that to happen, a couple of human magicians – in the form of father and son, Aidan and Joseph O’Brien – may have to pull something out of the hat as well.

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