Those readers who have given my selections even a casual glance during my eight-year tenure as Daily Herald handicapper will tell you that on most occasions I am not a Chalk-Eating Weasel.
With an apologetic tone, I must admit that my $250,000 guaranteed Festival Pick Three will be laced with favorites, and the "repeat" button will be in full effect.
Races aren't run on paper, and in races of this caliber all the horses are of high quality.
The equalizing factor? If a favorite doesn't bring his or her "A" game and a longshot runs the race of his or her life. Let's take a look at the contenders and long shots as we swing into Saturday's Festival races.
• Contenders: Fancied as a world traveler, the Michael de Kock charge Archipenko has won races in Ireland, Dubai, Hong Kong and the U.K. Better than ever at age 4, he defeated a classy field of international turf foes in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup on April 27 at Sha Tin.
With an August trip to Chicagoland on his agenda for months, the Group II Summer Mile Stakes at Ascot appeared to be a perfect springboard to an overseas journey. But what may have looked like a prep on paper turned into yet another victory.
He's a little horse with a big heart and may be every bit as good as recent Euro-based Million winners Powerscourt (2005) and Sulamani (2003).
A four-time graded stakes winner on turf, Einstein will enter the Million starting gate off two consecutive runner-up performances.
His second, two back behind the champion Curlin in the Grade I Stephen Foster, was simply a dirt experiment, and his runner-up effort in the G2 Firecracker, run over a mile, could be considered a dress rehearsal for Saturday's big dance.
His connections have had their eye on the Million prize for months, and I love when trainer's organize their schedules around one race.
• Longshot: A close-up fourth behind Jambalaya in last year's Million, Stream Cat appeared up against it in the Grade 3 Arlington Handicap three weeks ago. He was asked to travel 10 furlongs over soft turf in his first race since October, and two-time defending champ cosmonaut appeared to be a formidable, front-running foe. He did benefit from a perfect, pocket trip, but once loose he kicked free with giant strides. The fact that he's a fresh horse should work in his favor.
• Contenders: Precious Kitten is fresh, fit and ready to roll. Trainer Bobby Frankel has won this race twice (1995 with Possibly Perfect; 2003 with Heat Haze), and Precious Kitten has finished first or second 13 times from 17 turf starts.
A seven-time stakes winner over five different turf courses, she should enjoy the perfect spying trip behind embattled speedsters Dreaming of Anna and Rosinka.
After running nine times in her native France at the beginning of her career, Mauralakana was shipped overseas for a new start. She won twice in 2007 but didn't start to truly prove her class until 2008.
She has posted 4 wins and a second from five starts this year, and she'd run all day long if you asked her. Trainer Christophe Clement wired the Beverly D. field with England's Legend in 2001, and he pulled off a surprising upset with Royal Highness in last year's edition of the Beverly D.
• Longshot: Communique has been quite reliable during her career, but she has done her best work as a 4-year-old and took her game to an entirely new level in Arlington's Grade III Modesty last time out.
Sure, she didn't beat much, but it was the way she did it that was impressive. She owns a strong closing kick, and the pedigree suggests she'll crave as much ground as she can get.
• Contenders: Tizdejavu has rattled off 3 consecutive graded stakes wins, all in front-running fashion. Each time he has been allowed to dictate terms on the front end, and in the Secretariat it looks like the same opportunity may present itself.
The other eight know what his game plan is, but if they jump up to press, they take themselves out of their own game.
The only natural hope of keeping him honest may be Secret Getaway, who has pressed the pace in all three of his sophomore starts.
Perhaps trainer Mike Stidham will ask his charge to look the favorite in the eye from early on, just to see how he will respond.
Trainer Aidan O'Brien, who won this race in 2000 with Ciro, starts Plan, and he has taken down 17 Group I's already this year.
He won't send his very best stock here, but his second stringers often are good enough to defeat the "better" American turf horses.
His mother, Spain, earned $3.5 million, but not a dime of it came on the green stuff. But her quality brothers and sisters all called the turf their home. This is an improving colt who appears to be peaking at just the right time.
• Longshot: If you're looking for a bomb, Snoose Goose could be the right horse. He overcame a world of trouble to win a first-level optional claimer here June 20, and in the minor Come Summer Stakes last time out at Canterbury, he ran a huge race to finish second.
The horse who won that race, Cherokee Triangle, has since returned to win another minor stakes, defeating a decent field at Ellis.
This is a big jump up in class, but his speed figures are comparable to some of the Secretariat's secondary contenders, and he will be one of the longest shots on the board.