Arlington Park Barn Notes (8/28/10)
Contact: Graham Ross
In today's notes:
GIANT OAK A GIANT QUESTION IN WASHINGTON PARK HANDICAP SEPT. 4
Back when he was a little acorn – chronologically if not physically – Virginia Tarra’s Giant Oak closed like a shot in Churchill’s 2008 Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes to finish second by a neck in the 2-year-old fixture. In the process he stamped himself as one to watch for in the 2009 Triple Crown races the following spring.
However, despite a runner-up finish in Hawthorne’s Grade II Illinois Derby in April of 2009, trainer Chris Block was not impressed enough to send him on to the Kentucky Derby. Instead, Giant Oak was returned to the grass – where he had won the first two starts of his career – and pointed to Arlington’s Mid-America Triple. Things started off well enough with a clear win in the 75th running of the Arlington Classic but faltered in the 2009 Grade II American Derby and Grade I Secretariat Stakes.
“This horse has always been a major mystery,” said Block during training hours Saturday morning, one week before Giant Oak’s scheduled run in the 76th renewal of Arlington’s tradition-rich Grade III Washington Park Handicap Sept. 4. “I still don’t know whether he’s primarily a turf horse or a dirt horse, but I do know he always runs well over the main track at Churchill (where Giant Oak was beaten a length and a half for all of it in last fall’s Grade II Clark Handicap and was fourth again behind Blame, General Quarters and Einstein in this summer’s Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap under the Twin Spires.)
“However, he seemed to handle Polytrack okay when he finished third in Keeneland’s (Grade III) Ben Ali Handicap, so we’re going to try him over the Polytrack next week in the Washington Park. He’s a horse that always leaves me wondering ‘Is there more there?’ He seemed to run well for Junior (jockey Alvarado) in his last start in the (Grade III) Arlington Handicap (on grass July 17). He had some trouble in that race but Junior got him to really kicking on down through the stretch. A strong aggressive rider like Junior may fit him best, so that’s who we want on him in the Washington Park.
“As for that turf work last Sunday (three-quarters in 1:18.80 with “dogs” out),” Block said, “I put him back him on the grass for that to freshen his mind up a little. I wanted to change things up a little for him to keep him interested in what he’s doing. We’ll work him again a half tomorrow (Sunday) just to sharpen him up.”
JOCKEY JULIO FELIX SCORES A HAT TRICK FRIDAY
While the three-way logjam tightened at the top the Arlington jockey standings during Friday’s twilight racing program, the riding star of the day was jockey Julio Felix, 40, who made three trips to the winner’s circle and leapfrogged from the 16th spot into a tie for 14th in the local standings entering Saturday’s program.
Felix’s three-win day began when he combined with Redbob Farm’s Phantom Star, trained by Dale Bennett, to light up the tote board with a $51.60 straight price in the third race. Born in The Bronx, New York, but raised in St Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, Felix returned to the winner’s circle after Friday’s eighth race aboard Kenneth Hutchens’ Denham, conditioned by Tom Dorris, who paid $7.20 to win. He concluded his triple in the ninth astride Joyce Marie, owned by Robert Neumeyer and trained by Jimmy DiVito, who paid $24.20.
The all-Felix late daily double paid $136.20.
“I can’t explain it, but I had a real good feeling about yesterday,” said Felix Saturday morning. “I was due for one of those days, and everything came together for me. The horse I rode in the third race should never have paid that much, and when I won my second race yesterday on Denham, I thought that horse would go off at 1-5. You know that horse Helicopter who keeps winning all those races here? I stopped that horse’s winning streak with Denham. He’s another who should never have paid that much. And I loved my horse in the last race. That filly has been training very good lately.”
Meanwhile, at the top of the standings, Irish-born jockey James Graham rode two winners to narrow the gap between him and current runner-up Junior Alvarado and current leader Michael Baze.
Graham won the second half of the Daily Double on David Earnest and James Gulick’s Heavens Cheer for trainer Gulick, and also took the fifth on Green Lantern Stables’ Mint Chip for conditioner Rusty Arnold.
Jesus Castanon, a solid fourth in Arlington’s standings through Friday’s races, also had a riding double Friday, winning the sixth on Prairie Valley Farm’s Wild L. for trainer Don Von Hemel and coming right back to the winner’s circle in the seventh aboard Lido Boni, Robert Fattore, Leo Matteucci and Cristel Racing Stable Inc.’s Lighthouse Judge for conditioner Mark Christel.
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