|Arlington Park Barn Notes
Contact: Graham Ross
(847) 385-7500 ext. 7319
In today's notes:
She has won the last two renewals of the $75,000 Lincoln Heritage Handicap. Can Team Block's Ioya Two defend her championship a third time in Saturday's silver anniversary edition of that mile and a sixteenth grass test for Illinois-bred fillies and mares?
"I hope so," said Ioya Two's trainer Chris Block Thursday morning while standing on the Arlington Park apron during training hours. "That's what we have in mind. She's as ready as I'm going to have her. Actually, she's had a couple of more races this year at this time than we were able to get into her last year. I worked her Tuesday going a half in :48 3/5, so she should be okay."
Of course, to Thoroughbred racing fans at Arlington, Ioya Two is best remembered for her nose victory in last summer's Grade III Modesty Handicap, traditionally the final local prep for the Grade I Beverly D. at Chicago's premier oval. Sent to the post in the 2001 Modesty at a liberal price, the bay mare vied for the early lead, drew clear in upper stretch and then held on gamely to withstand a late challenge with a courageous effort. She returned $16.40 straight.
The daughter of Lord At War out of the Naskra mare Ioya was bred by David and Patricia Block, parents of the trainer, but last year the family resisted the temptation to supplement to Arlington's showcase race for distaffers of international quality. This year Ioya Two is nominated to the Beverly D., although the trainer was reluctant to look ahead two months down the line.
"Let's take things one step at a time," said Block. "Let's see how she performs on Saturday. She lost her last race (Hawthorne's Nicole Stakes May 5) by a half-length to Golden Antigua, who is a pretty nice filly. I may have run her (Ioya Two) back a little too quickly that day, but I'm not making any excuses. Maybe we just got outrun."
Breaking in full stride, Patricia Miessler & Cliff Raber Fan Club's Mister made the pace in last December's Woodchopper Handicap in New Orleans and withstood a late challenge from Team Block's Mystery Giver by a half-length. That race was contested at a mile and a sixteenth over the turf course at the Fair Grounds.
When those rivals met again in the Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup Handicap February 2, Mystery Giver rallied late to be best by a length and a quarter. Fan Club's Mister tired from his front running efforts that day to finish seventh when asked to go a mile and an eighth over the lawn at the Crescent City oval.
Now these two Illinois-breds are set to face off again in Saturday's $75,000 Cardinal Handicap, once again back at the eight and a half-furlong distance over Arlington Park's world famous turf course.
"I don't think Fan Club's Mister really wants to go more than a mile and a sixteenth," said trainer Rickey Harris. "I know he did it last year, but (jockey) Craig Perret told us last year that Fan Club's Mister is probably five lengths behind Grade I horses when he's asked to go a mile and an eighth.
"However, I'm pleased with the way he's coming up to Saturday's race," said Harris, assessing the chances of Fan Club's Mister in the Cardinal. "I was pleased with his work on Monday (five-eighths in 1:03 3/5 over the grass with the "dogs" up). Randy (jockey Meier) was aboard for the work and we got just about what we wanted from it. He'll just pony for the next couple of days. He likes to pony. It's going to be a good race."
Fan Club's Mister's primary claim to fame, of course, remains his front-running victory in the Grade II American Derby last July. That race, as the center jewel of Arlington's Mid America Triple, remains the highlight of Harris's career, as well as that of her Illinois-bred star.
"It was the only Grade II stakes win of my career," said Harris. "I've won a lot of Grade IIIs, but the American Derby was easily my biggest win, and the best race Fan Club's Mister has ever run."
Fan Club's Mister has been asked to shoulder the top impost of 121 pounds by Arlington racing secretary David Bailey in Saturday's Cardinal. A pound below the American Derby winner in the weights is the Chris Block-trained Mystery Giver.
"Mystery Giver has always been a bit of a project," said Block. "He's a hard horse to train, and it has always been a little hard to keep weight on him. He's always been a little on the light side, but I hope he'll give a good account of himself on Saturday. It should be a good race. It should be a tough race. Fan Club's Mister is a solid individual. He'll be very tenacious that last eighth. I'll just hope we can challenge him down the lane."
"Plenty of good old Midwestern fun, pony rides, a petting zoo, Illinois crafts, Illinois history and more..." promise the advertisements for Saturday's Prairie State Festival at Arlington Park.
For the third consecutive year, the Prairie State Festival will offer all that plus six $75,000 stakes for Illinois-registered Thoroughbreds at Arlington Park.
At the local oval, the Festival is part of a celebration of tourism that showcases Illinois attractions and offers visitors the opportunity to discover unique statewide destinations.
Included as part of the local color at Arlington Park will be an actor dressed up as Abraham Lincoln. He will be accompanied by an actress dressed up as Mary Todd Lincoln. Also roaming through the festive family day crowd on Saturday will be a mascot dressed as Illinois' state flower -- the Purple Violet -- and another dressed as a Slice of Chicago Pizza.
A Chicago blues band -- the Marty Sammon Band -- will entertain the crowd musically during Prairie State Festival Day. Also, there will be a John Deere exhibit, both as a representative of a Chicago business and as the corporate sponsor of the Grade I John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf, to be contested as part of the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships at Arlington Park on October 26.
Trainer Jim Eckrosh, who at 92 is thought to be the oldest active trainer in the United States, will saddle William Cortesi's Magic Doe in Saturday's White Oak Handicap as part of the Prairie State Festival program celebrating Illinois history. Eckrosh is half as old as Illinois himself. Illinois became the 21st state in 1818, making the Prairie State now 184 years old.
Jockey Chris Emigh scored his third double of the young Arlington Park season on Wednesday, moving him into second position in the local standings with 10 victories, six behind leading rider and defending champion Rene Douglas.
Today's fourth race is named for "Orphans of the Storm," one of Chicagoland's oldest and largest animal shelters having served the community for 74 years. Opened in 1928 by famous dancer Irene Castle in Riverwoods, Illinois, Orphans of the Storm has been the last refuge for literally hundreds of thousands of needy cats and dogs.
Friday's Party in the Park band at Arlington Park will be Video Stars, who play 80s pop rock.
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