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French Connection films Million champion
By John Leusch | Daily Herald Staff

Jockey Ioritz Mendizabal, atop Spirit One, raises his fist as he crosses the finish line ahead of favorite Archipenko and jockey Kevin B. Shea during the 26th Arlington Million at Arlington Park Saturday.

 

John Starks | Staff Photographer

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Published: 8/9/2008 11:52 PM

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The 2002 animated movie about the wild horse "Spirit" was the basis for French owners Bouzid and Kamel Chehboub naming their colt "Spirit One" back in 2004.

In the film, Spirit befriends a young human and finds true love with a mare.

In Saturday's Arlington Million, Spirit One befriended jockey Ioritz Mendizabal and then found true love with the Arlington Park winner's circle.

The French-bred 4-year-old son of Anabaa Blue surprised many in the crowd of 31,463 with a three-quarters-length victory at odds of 13-1 in the 1¼ miles turf classic staged for the 26th time.

Favored Archipenko, boxed in briefly through the stretch, finished second while Mount Nelson was third to give the three foreign invaders a 1-2-3 Million finish.

"We are very proud to represent France," said Kamel Chehboub, speaking through interpreter Liz Price.

Mendizabal was obviously delighted to represent Spirit One in the colt's first race outside of France.

The 45-year old rider got the first-time call when the colt's regular riders had to stay back in France for major races Saturday.

As the horses paraded onto the track, Mendizabal was given a sneak preview of where he would be about 15 minutes later as Spirit One stopped, and started backing toward the winner's circle.

"I think he thought he was already the winner," said a laughing Philippe Demercastel, the colt's trainer who was last at Arlington Park in 1982 as an exercise rider for 13th-place Million finisher Al Nasr.

Demercastel told his rider Saturday morning he was very confident Spirit One could win.

"I just felt the race was perfect for him and everything had been going well in training," Demercastel said.

As Mendizabal got back to the winner's circle, he proudly exclaimed to Demercastel, "You were right!"

It was Spirit One's second win in 5 starts this season and fifth in 18 career appearances.

His earnings soared to $1,099,618 as the colt stopped the timer in 2:02.1 while setting fractions of 24.3, 48.3 and 1:12.2.

"He quickened when I asked him to, so I never saw what was happening behind me," Mendizabal said.

"We'll take him home, give him time off and definitely come back to the United States for racing," Demercastel said. "I've been tempted for a while to come here for American racing, especially with this horse."

Rene Douglas brought 17-1 longshot Silverfoot home fourth for the highest finish of an American-based horse.

"I'm not going to lie," Douglas said. "I wasn't on the best horse. The others were not going to back up enough for us."

Instead, Spirit One backed up to the winner's circle before the race and went in head first afterward to give France its first Million champ since Sulamani in 2003.