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Local hope Helicopter takes aim at $400,000 American St. Leger

The Big stakes

What: International Festival of Racing.

When, where: Saturday at Arlington Park. Gates open at 10 a.m. First post is
12:15 p.m.

Featured races: $400,000 American St. Leger,
3:14 p.m.; $500,000
Secretariat Stakes, 3:48 p.m.; $750,000 Beverly D.,
5:02 p.m. (Ch. 9); Arlington Million, 5:44 p.m. (Ch. 9).

Updated: September 18, 2012 6:20AM

When the 12-race International Festival of Racing begins Saturday at Arlington Park, it won’t just be about who will win the three Grade I stakes races: the $500,000 Secretariat Stakes, the $750,000 Beverly D. and Arlington Million.

This year, the festival features the inaugural running of the $400,000 American St. Leger, the longest race of the day at 111/16 miles on the turf for 3-year-olds and up.

For one local trainer, Larry Rivelli of Lake in the Hills, the St. Leger will be a test for his horse, Helicopter.

‘‘It’s kind of a step up for him, and he’s earned the right to run in a race like this,’’
Rivelli said. ‘‘He’s on his home ground, and he doesn’t have much to lose.’’

Helicopter, who is probably better suited to a synthetic surface instead of turf, has won 20 races and is making his stakes-race debut. He will start in the second post position with jockey Brandon Meier aboard at 30-1 odds to win.

‘‘He runs better on the Polytrack, but the turf is fast and firm,’’ Rivelli said. ‘‘This is a big race and a race of distance. Overseas, they run a lot more races like this.’’

Ioya Bigtime and his stablemate, Suntracer, are two other Illinois horses in the St. Leger. Both are trained by Chris Block.

Four international horses are in the 12-horse field for the St. Leger: Irish-bred Jakkalberry, the favorite at 9-5; the German horse Zuider Zee; the English horse Bridge of Gold; and Italian import Lake Drop.

As was the case last year, the winners of the Beverly D. and the Million automatically qualify for the Breeders’ Cup on Nov. 2-3 at Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif. The winner of the Beverly D. will receive a spot in the Breeders’ Cup filly-and-mare turf race, and the Million winner will get a spot in the Breeders’ Cup turf race.

The Million favorite is Boisterous at 4-1, followed by Irish-bred Crackerjack King at 5-1.

There are five international entries in the 11-horse Million field: Afsare and Treasure Beach from Great Britain and Wigmore Hall, Colombian and Crackerjack King from Ireland. Treasure Beach won the Secretariat Stakes last year.

‘‘I would rate this field, just based on form, a notch below some of the better Arlington Million fields we’ve seen,’’ said trainer Michael Stidham, whose Willcox Inn will be making his Million debut. ‘‘This year, it just seems like [the
Europeans] have sent their Grade II horses instead of their Grade I horses.’’

As part of the pre-Million festivities Friday, there will be an all-star parimutuel race between Arlington’s top five jockeys and five ‘‘legends.’’ It is the third consecutive year the track has featured this race.

The five Arlington jockeys participating are Francisco Torres, James Graham, Rosemary Homeister Jr., Seth Martinez and Jeffrey Sanchez. The five legends are Earlie Fires, Patti Cooksey, Zoe Cadman, Frank Lovato Jr. and Larry Melancon.

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