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Arlington Park Barn Notes (5/3/06)

Contact: Graham Ross

In today's notes:


A year ago on Arlington’s opening day, veteran local trainer Hugh Robertson took down winning honors in the featured Shecky Greene Handicap with Smoke Smoke Smoke, owned by Jer-Mar Stable LLC. That sophomore colt was coming off a winning effort in Hawthorne’s Lost Code Stakes after tangling with the budding 3-year-old star Afleet Alex earlier in the year at Oaklawn Park.

On Friday, opening day of Arlington’s 2006 season, Robertson will saddle Celluloid Hero, who he also owns, in the Shecky Greene ‘Cap, again a $40,000 six-furlong sprint restricted to 3-year-olds. Celluloid Hero finished second in the 2006 Lost Code in his last start, after running behind Lawyer Ron at Oaklawn. Like Afleet Alex, Lawyer Ron eventually won the Arkansas Derby and will be one of the top choices in this year’s Kentucky Derby on Saturday.

“The two horses (Smoke Smoke Smoke and Celluloid Hero) are entirely different,” Robertson said. “Celluloid Hero needs something to run at. In the Hawthorne race, he couldn’t catch the lone speed in the race. He needs an honest pace up front so hopefully we’ll have several speed horses in there. As of yet I haven’t seen the past performances of what everybody else in the race has done. With ‘Smoke,’ he had plenty of speed if he needed it, but he could lay off the pace if he had to.

“We’re probably going to keep Celluloid Hero sprinting for a while, or at least going a one-turn mile, but we may try to stretch him out eventually,” Robertson said of the Glitterman colt who will be ridden by Francisco Torres and shoulder the top impost of 120 pounds.

Facing Celluloid Hero will be Brass Ring Partnership’s Kingsfield, 118, Chris Emigh; Richard Glantz’ Dormy Lake, 113, Eddie Perez; Marc Goldish and Savoy Stable’s Mr. d’Or, 112, Jose Ferrer; Stonerside Stable LLC’s Lissa’s Star, 111, Jesse Campbell; and Fred McCrary’s True Course, 112, Rafael Mojica Jr.


Sunday’s inaugural running of the $100,000 Avers Wexler Illinois Owners Stakes at a mile and a sixteenth on the grass has one proven star in E. J. Sukley’s 2005 Arlington Classic winner Purim, and another in Wexler’s own Kid Grindstone, winner of this year’s Grade III Fifth Season Breeders’ Cup at Oaklawn.

However, this initial Avers Wexler Stakes, showcase event of Valvoline Instant Oil Change Opening Weekend at Arlington Park as well as an Arlington salute to Illinois owners, is also one more step in the continuing comeback saga of Team Block’s Mystery Giver: twice Illinois Horse of the Year and twice an Arlington Million contestant.

In the 2004 Million, Mystery Giver suffered a torn suspensory ligament which appeared to end his racing career, but after a year and a half on the sidelines, and an extensive rehabilitation program followed by an unsuccessful first step in a Tampa race March 26, Mystery Giver will start again in Sunday’s Wexler.

“We didn’t get anything close to what we needed out of that Tampa race,” said trainer Chris Block Wednesday during Arlington training hours, when speaking of Mystery Giver’s first race back. “We needed some help up front (a faster early pace) and didn’t get it, so I think we’re probably two races away from where we want to be with this horse, but he’s going to run Sunday because I need any opportunity to run him to get him back into the flow of things.

“It has not been an easy task getting him back to the races,” said Block. “There has been a lot of preparation involved, a lot of swimming and a lot of galloping, but I can’t take any credit for the preparation that has been done. A lot of that credit goes to my Dad, and to Jose Martinez and everybody involved at the farm down in Ocala. I haven’t had a whole lot of input in what was done during that part of the process. It’s my job to take it to the next step.

“We’re hopeful, but realistic at the same time,” said Block of Mystery Giver’s return to some sort of championship level. “He’s an 8-year-old, which may have led him to lose a step anyway, but the biggest attribute he has going for him is ‘himself.’ He has a ton of heart, he loves being a racehorse, and he’ll go out and give his 100 percent of what he’s got, no matter what that is at this point of his career.”


Sharon Mitchell’s Golden Verse, who will run in Friday’s fourth race on Arlington Park’s opening day, has the heart of a champion but very little athletic ability, according to his owner, wife of trainer Tony Mitchell.

“He’s a barn favorite because he tries so hard, but he can only do so much because his action is so bad,” said Mrs. Mitchell, who claimed the horse back for $4,000 after losing him once before for $10,000. “He has a fan club among our friends who come out to watch him whenever he runs because he has so much heart. I truly believe he’d be a champion if he had any natural talent, but he does the best he can, and that’s what we love about him.”

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