ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. -- Looking much like part-owner Wayne Gretzky on a breakaway, Golden Pheasant cut outside on the home turn and ran past With Approval in the stretch Sunday to score a 1 1-4 length triumph in Arlington Million.
'It's just as exciting as anything I've won in my life,' said Gretzky, who got into racing a little over a year ago as a partner of his boss, Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall.
And that's pretty exciting, considering that Gretzky won four Stanley Cup championships with the Edmonton Oilers.
McNall, who is still looking for his $15 million acquisition to lead the Kings to an NHL championship, couldn't relate to Golden Pheasant's triumph in quite the same way as Gretzky.
'This is the most exciting win I've ever had,' said McNall, who estimates he's owned about 2,000 different horses over the past 10 years. 'It really meant a lot to me. It's the biggest race I've ever won.'
Golden Pheasant's move from fifth place after a ground-saving trip by jockey Gary Stevens gave his Hall of Fame trainer Charlie Whittingham the first 'hat trick' in Million history. Whittingham also won with Perrault in 1982 and with the mare Estrapade in 1986.
But Whittingham is looking for Golden Pheasant to provide McNall and Gretzky with even bigger thrills in the future.
'He's a lot better horse than people think he is,' Whittingham said. 'You'll be hearing a lot about him the rest of the year.'
Whittingham, who has won three of five starts with the 4-year-old Caro colt, said Golden Pheasant's next race will be the $2 million Breeders' Cup Turf at Belmont Park Oct. 27.
'This horse will improve a little more,' he said. 'I won't need to run him before the Breeders' Cup.'
Golden Pheasant, who began his career in Europe, became just the second horse to win after breaking from the sometimes disadvantageous post on the rail. Teleprompter also won from the rail in 1985.
Steinlen, the 1989 Million winner, held off late-running Classic Fame by a neck to finish third, 5 1-4 lengths behind With Approval, the 1989 Canadian Triple Crown champion and Horse of the Year.
The Million was Golden Pheasant's fifth victory in 10 career starts and his fourth since Gretzky, a 25 percent owner, and McNall, bought him for what McNall said was 'somewhere around $400,000 or $500,000' last September.
Despite the slow early fractions by pacesetter Double Booked, Golden Pheasant covered the fast-rated course in 1:59 3-5, four-fifths of a second off Perrault's track and stakes record.
The colt returned $15.20, $7.60 and $4.40, and the $600,000 winner's share of the purse pushed Golden Pheasant's career earnings to $965,470.
Gretzky said he bet $99 on the 6-to-1 fourth betting choice -- a wager that returned $752.40 and a net profit of $653.40.
With Approval, the 4-1 third choice ridden by Craig Perret, paid $5.20 and $4 and earned $200,000. Steinlen, the 3-1 second choice piloted by Jose Santos, returned $3.40.
Prized, the 2-1 favorite, never fired for Eddie Delahoussaye and finished 10th among 11 horses in his first start following a hoof injury that sidelined him five months.
Stevens settled Golden Pheasant into fifth place early and they stayed there, several lengths off the lead, for most of the trip. Stevens came off the rail one lane heading into the final turn and then cut outside to go four wide as they straightened for home.
Golden Pheasant passed Steinlen and Double Booked and then ran past With Approval, who took the lead just before the eighth-mile pole.
'Gary was riding him like a wild man,' Whittingham said.
'The horse has got a great turn of foot,' Stevens said, belittling his role in the triumph. 'He was really strong in the last eighth.'
Finishing fifth through last respectively were Ten Keys, DoubleBooked, Pleasant Variety, Saratoga Passage, El Senor, Prized and Alwuhush.