Eddie Gregson says that today's Budweiser-Arlington Million may be tougher to win than one of the Breeders' Cup races later in the year.
Gregson trains Tsunami Slew, who is 6-1, third choice in the morning line, in the fifth running of the Million this afternoon at Arlington Park, where picnic tents for fans have replaced stands that were destroyed by a fire three weeks ago. Favored in the 1-mile turf race is the entry of Greinton and Dahar, both trained by Charlie Whittingham, who won the second running of the Million with Perrault in 1982.
Greinton and Dahar are listed by the Arlington oddsmaker at 5-2, followed by Gate Dancer at 5-1. After Tsunami Slew, the rest of the field consists of Both Ends Burning and Kings Island, each 8-1; Drumalis, 10-1; The Noble Player and Al Mamoon, each 12-1, and Flying Pidgeon, Teleprompter, King of Clubs and Free Guest, each at 15-1.
Geographically, California-based horses have the edge. The only horses not from the West Coast are Teleprompter, King of Clubs and Free Guest, who represent England; Flying Pidgeon, who is from the East Coast, and Gate Dancer, a bicoastal runner.
"I don't understand the morning line," Gregson said. "For example, I'd bet you that Both Ends Burning goes off at a lower price. Greinton is a legitimate favorite, but several horses have a chance to win it. Besides Both Ends Burning, Kings Island is a nice horse. Al Mamoon, he's made some good runs in his races. Gate Dancer, he's the unknown factor."
This will be only the second time Gate Dancer has run on the grass. In his first turf race, at Santa Anita March 31, he finished sixth in the San Luis Rey Stakes, but trainer Jack Van Berg believes that the horse was suffering from a virus. Gate Dancer didn't get back into action until two months later, and in that race, his most recent start, he won the Cornhusker Handicap on the dirt at Ak-Sar-Ben in Omaha.
Gregson said that Tsunami Slew, who has won the American Handicap at Hollywood Park and the Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar in his last two starts, will probably make only two more starts before he is retired to stud at Franklin Groves' farm in Kentucky. His last race will be in the Breeders' Cup, though Gregson hasn't decided whether to run at a mile or at 1 1/2 miles at Aqueduct on Nov. 2.
"The Million could be tougher than the Breeders' Cup," Gregson said. "Some of these horses running in the Million--Both Ends Burning, Greinton, Flying Pidgeon--aren't eligible for the Breeders', and I think the European horses will have trouble negotiating those sharp turns on the grass course at Aqueduct."
Rafael Meza will be riding Tsunami Slew, replacing Gary Stevens, who is riding Hilco Scamper in the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga today. Stevens was on Tsunami Slew in the horse's last two stakes wins.
Stevens' choice puzzles Gregson. "I don't get it," the trainer said. "Gary could have continued riding my horse in the Million, and Gary Baze (Stevens' brother-in-law) could have ridden Hilco Scamper, like he did before. They could have kept it all in the family."
Gregson has never started a horse in the Million, although Gato Del Sol, with whom Gregson won the Kentucky Derby in 1982, finished third last year while running for Whittingham.
Trainer Ron McAnally won the Million twice, with John Henry in 1981 and '84, and both Whittingham and Luca Cumani have a chance to tie McAnally today. Cumani, who upset John Henry by a nose with the Irish-bred Tolomeo in '83, is saddling Free Guest, the only filly in this year's field. Free Guest, who has won 7 of 11 starts, will be ridden by Steve Cauthen.
Kings Island, despite drawing the outside post position, probably will run with the speedy Tsunami Slew early, and Free Guest could also be up there.
"I've got a versatile filly," Cumani said. "We'll take it as it comes. Is she as good as Tolomeo? Sunday will give us that answer."