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Arlington Park Barn Notes (5/27/07)

Contact: Graham Ross

In today's notes:


What’s Earlie done lately? Arlington Park’s all-time leading jockey, still a force to be recognized at 60 years of age, has continued his mastery of the local circuit by registering the largest win price of the season ($165 for a $2 investment) in Saturday’s first graded stakes of Arlington’s current session.

This latest footnote in Arlington’s 80-year history will also be remembered as the first graded stakes event ever run over Arlington’s recently installed Polytrack racing surface, and was recorded by a jockey who has been riding here for more than half of those eight decades.

Fires’ latest winning ride, of course, was accomplished in front-running fashion aboard Robert Yagos’ Spotsgone in Saturday’s Grade III Hanshin Cup, on a horse trained by Earlie’s older brother William “Jinks” Fires, 66, but their post-race celebration was necessarily somewhat brief.

“We went out to dinner with (Palatine resident) Earlie’s daughters and his grandkids last night,” said Jinks Sunday morning from his headquarters at Churchill Downs, “but I had to get up at 3 in the morning to head back to Louisville for training hours. In fact, the horse is still there. He’ll come back to Churchill later today, but he came out of the race just fine. We haven’t had a chance to think about what’s next for him.

“We’ve won a lot of races together over the years,” said the elder Fires of the sibling tandem, “but I’m sure this was the biggest price any of the horses I’ve ever trained has paid. I did saddle one at Keeneland once that paid $125, and one in Hot Springs (in the Fires brothers’ native state of Arkansas) that paid $100.

“However, I do know that it’s not the biggest priced winner Earlie has ever ridden, or even his longest shot in a stakes race,” Jinks said. “He won (Hialeah’s) Widener one year (1968) aboard Sette Bello, and that horse paid $205 to win.

“I also remember Earlie’s first stakes win in a ‘hundred grander’,” Fires said. “It was in Florida aboard a horse named (appropriately enough) First Family, and the reason I remember it is that Liz Taylor and Audie Murphy presented the trophy.”

What remains difficult to grasp is the dynamic entity that is the career of Earlie Fires, and his place in Thoroughbred history with more than 6,400 lifetime wins, as well as his position among the greatest athletes in Chicago’s sports history.

Elected to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs in 2001, Fires, with 2,831 victories at Arlington Park, has more than twice as many as his nearest Arlington rival, retired Hall of Fame reinsman Pat Day, who recorded 1,330 at Arlington.

Fires also has won six Arlington riding titles, accomplished in 1966, 1969, 1975, 1979, 1983 and 1984. Day’s four Arlington championships came in 1981, 1986, 1987 and 1990.

Randy “Curley” Curran, Fires’ agent in recent seasons, merely shook his head when accepting congratulations Sunday for his rider’s latest coup.

“There’s a reason he’s in the Hall of Fame,” said Curran. “Even after all our years together, he never ceases to amaze me.”


The “Luck ‘o the Irish” was most recently in the news at Arlington Park when Irish-born jockey James Graham rode six winners Thursday – the last one astride the late charge of General Sherman, a promising 3-year-old colt owned and trained by Irish-born David Hanley.

Will the magical leprechauns visit Arlington Park’s charmed winner’s circle again on Memorial Day, when Chicago’s Northwest Thoroughbred oval hosts one of only two Monday racing programs during the current season?

Eighteenthofmarch, a 3-year-old colt foaled on his namesake date, won his last start at Arlington on opening day, May 4, with Graham in the irons, and may be the horse to beat in Monday’s Memorial Day feature – the $48,700 Awad Stakes.

Eighteenthofmarch is owned by Donie Burke, another Irish-born horseman presently living in Orlando, Florida. Burke was also born on March 18. Completing this horse’s Celtic trio is trainer John Good, also an Irish-bred, who came to this country a decade ago, served as an assistant to trainer Bob Baffert for eight years and went out on his own a couple of years ago.

“He’s doing really well,” said Good of Eighteenthofmarch on Sunday morning. “He ran the best race of his career in that last race on the grass, and he’s come back since then and worked well over the Polytrack (half-mile in :49.20 May 19). This is a big step for him on Monday, but if he finishes one-two, we might consider him for the (Grade III) Arlington Classic on June 23.”

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