To say it's a dream come true for Michael Porcaro to have a horse running in Saturday's 28th running of the Arlington Million might be an understatement.
"Oh for sure it's a dream," said Porcaro, a Palatine resident and publisher of Midwest Thoroughbred magazine. "When I was growing up the closest I got to a horse was the peddlers in the alleys."
Today, the Chicago native will be cheering for Quite A Handful, a 30-1 morningline longshot racing against some of the world's top turf horses including defending champ and 7-5 favorite Gio Ponti.
Two other major stakes are scheduled on today's 12-race program.
The Grade I $750,000 Beverly D is headed by 9-2 lukewarm morningline favorite Treat Gently.
The Grade I $400,000 Secretariat Stakes features 1-1 morningline chalk Paddy o' Prado along with Workin for Hops, the Arlington Classic and American Derby hero listed as the 5-2 second choice in his bid to sweep Arlington's Mid-America Triple.
The Secretariat is actually the race that led Porcaro to consider this year's Million. Quite A Handful ran sixth in the Secretariat last summer.
"It was literally right after that race that I said to Andy (Hansen, the trainer) we ought be pointing for the Million next year," Porcaro said. "He came in sixth but by less than 6 lengths to Take The Points, arguably one of the best turf horses in the country.
"Well, Andy put together a plan and that's what he did. He got us to the race today."
Hansen has saddled the 4-y ear-old son of Mutakddim to a win and two seconds this season. Although he has no stakes wins, Quite A Handful was third in the Grade III Hawthorne Derby last Oct. 10.
He comes into the Million after setting the track record at Indiana Downs for a 1-1/16th miles on the turf while winning $40,000 optional claiming event in 1:40.4.
"And that's faster than the Arlington record," Porcaro said. "Before that race, he had some tough luck and lost four races (three at Arlington, one at Churchill) by less than six lengths."
Jockey Tanner Riggs, who has ridden Quite A Handful in 9 of his 21 starts, makes his Million debut. Riggs was featured in Porcaro's magazine earlier this year. A three-sport athlete in high school, Riggs rode in Nebraska and Minnesota before completing his high school education.
"He is a smart rider and a student of the game," Porcaro said. "He's a nice kid. I enjoy having him ride for us."
Porcaro and co-owners Ted and Jean Barlas are enjoying the ride Quite A Handful has given them.
They acquired Quite a Handful in an Ocala auction in June of 2008 for $22,000.
The colt was frisky on the ride back to their Arlington Park stable.
"He's a precocious little guy," Hansen said.
"We knew he was quite a handful in that van ride back here so that's how he got his name," Porcaro said.
Ted Barlas, also a Chicago native, is an insurance executive who also grew up a racing fan like Porcaro.
"My dad (Frank, a former Chicago police officer) was a big horse racing fan so he took me to the races," Porcaro said. "We'd go to Aurora, Hawthorne, Sportsman's and Washington Park."
Porcaro, a communications major from Southern Illinois University, has been in the publishing business most of his life. He writes a column for his current magazine, and he has already started it for next month's edition.
"I've started writing about my experiences leading up the Million," he said.
Like other owners among the Million's starters, Porcaro is in it to win it.
"We really debated a long time about this," Porcaro added. "The one thing we didn't want to be accused of is being a bunch of ego maniacs who just wanted to run their horse in a big race.
"If we didn't think he could compete there is no way we would run him in the race. But with his breeding and the way he has been running, we think he can compete. He seems to be a horse who competes to the same level of his competition."