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Arlington Park Barn Notes (5/26/04)

Contact: Graham Ross

In today's notes:


Apt to Be, the Richard L. Duchossois-owned gelding who won last year's Hanshin Cup by seven lengths, is set to defend his championship in the first graded stakes event of the summer season at Arlington Park on Saturday.

The Grade III Hanshin Cup, celebrating its 10th year as an exchange race between Arlington Park and the Japan Racing Association, will be run at one mile in the midst of Arlington's four-day Memorial Day Weekend program. The special holiday program also includes one of three Monday racing days at the Northwest Chicago oval this summer.

In last year's Hanshin, Apt to Be, although slightly overlooked in the wagering, pressed the pace, took command in upper stretch and drew off steadily the rest of the way for a convincing score.

"That was a huge race last year," said Apt to Be's trainer Chris Block in Arlington's barn area Wednesday morning. "He's ready to go again, to a certain extent, but given the circumstances, we're as well prepared as we can be. My only concern is whether or not he has enough foundation in him."

In an effort to prepare Apt to Be for Saturday's assignment, Block breezed him a half-mile in :48.60 Tuesday at Arlington.

"The work was very good," said Block. "That was what I was looking for. He does love this surface at Arlington and he's run some of his best races here."

Last year, following his winter vacation, Apt to Be ran sixth in an Arlington allowance race in mid-May, but got enough of a tightening out of that race to return with a winning effort in Arlington's $45,000 Dr. Fager Handicap June 7. The gelding's Hanshin tally followed June 29.

This spring, the 7-year-old son of Rahy made his seasonal debut May 2 at Hawthorne, running seventh in an allowance race on the turf course there.

"That race was a last ditch effort to get one (a race) in him (before the Hanshin)," said Block. "Another race on the main track didn't fill, and although he's never run particularly well on grass, it's always been a 'safe' surface for him. Now, I'm just hoping his fondness for this racetrack can overcome any lack of foundation he might have right now."


Lee Battaglia & James P. DiVito's Coach Jimi Lee, hero of Arlington Park's Shecky Greene and Forward Pass stakes last season, ran twice at Gulfstream Park this winter, and although neither of those South Florida outings resulted in victory, the "Coach" gave two of the best performances of his career.

"Those are (stakes) 'graded' horses he ran against down there," said DiVito, who trains Coach Jimi Lee in addition to being the co-owner. "That was the elite of the (sprint) division he was facing. Lion Tamer (who beat Coach Jimi Lee by three-quarters of a length in Gulfstream's Grade II Richter Scale Breeders' Cup Handicap March 6) is one of the best sprinters around, and as for Cajun Beat (who finished a length in front of Coach Jimi Lee in Gulfstream's Grade III Deputy Minister Handicap Feb. 7): you know what he's done."

Cajun Beat, for the benefit of newer racing fans, captured the Grade I Breeders' Cup Sprint last fall at Santa Anita.

Also, in addition to Coach Jimi Lee's two Gulfstream efforts this winter as well as his two Arlington wins last year, DiVito is particularly proud of his 4-year-old gelding's win in an allowance race at Hawthorne last Dec. 12.

"He ran a 1:07.27 that day," said DiVito, speaking of Coach Jimi Lee's three-length tally at the Southside Chicago oval. "That's a state record for Illinois, and when you consider that Dr. Fager and Hedevar and horses like that ran here in Illinois, that's amazing."

However, in his most recent trip to the post May 1, Coach Jimi Lee finished second by a head in the $50,000 Prairie Express Handicap at Prairie Meadows.

"He was rushed too much," said DiVito. "They made him run :21 and change the first part, and then they took turns running at him like a tag team. It was just bad racing luck, that's all. But we hope to get a good trip Saturday."


Apprentice jockey Cruz Contreras and Arlington's defending jockey champion Rene Douglas shared leading rider honors through Sunday's program with nine wins apiece, while conditioners Greg Geier and Frank Kirby were co-leading trainers at the young Arlington meeting after each had saddled four winners through Sunday.

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