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Arlington Million puts classy track at center stage

The Arlington Million has not lost its shine as one of the prime stakes races. The racing festival built around the Million helps puts the spotlight on Arlington Park, one of the most fan-friendly, best-run racetracks in the country.

I had the privilege of working at Arlington and seeing firsthand the work of owner Richard L. Duchoissois. He demanded nothing of his employees that he didn’t expect from himself — hard work and exacting customer service.

One time “Mr. D,” as he was known, was doing an interview for a local TV station. While walking through the grandstand talking on camera with the reporter, Duchoissois saw some trash on the ground. In midsentence, he stopped to pick it up, shoved it into his suit pocket and kept right on speaking. The man missed nothing.

This year’s Million has a strong favorite in Gio Ponti. The Christophe Clement colt has won three straight Grade I stakes: the Man o’ War, Manhattan and Kilroe Mile. Gio Ponti has developed a powerful closing kick that gobbles up his foes.

The European contingent is headed by Cima de Triomphe, winner of the Group 1 2008 Italian Derby. Last out, he finished behind Rip Van Winkle and Conduit, who both won their next stakes starts.

The Beverly D is a wide-open affair. Pure Clan is a vulnerable 3-1 favorite because she never has run a triple-digit Beyer speed figure. Alnadana could spring a minor upset with a ground-saving trip under top rider Christophe Soumillon.

Finally, the Secretariat appears ripe for an upset with favorite Giant Oak breaking from parking-lot post 11. That almost guarantees a wide trip. A horse I’ll be using is Laureate Conductor, also trained by Clement. Laureate Conductor should be able to sit third or fourth most of the way and get a jump on the late closers.

• ZENYATTA — It must be frustrating for owner Jerry Moss to see Zenyatta win every graded stakes she runs, yet keep losing ground to Rachel Alexandra for Horse of the Year. Zenyatta will be favored again in the Clement L. Hirsch on Sunday at Del Mar.

Barring the unforeseen, only two things can push Zenyatta past Rachel Alexandra in the eyes of Eclipse Award voters. One is to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic. If that isn’t enough, Zenyatta must face Rachel Alexandra after the Breeders’ Cup in a dirt stakes, such as the Clark Handicap on Nov. 27 at Churchill Downs.

Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at rich_eng@hotmail.com.

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