05/29/2009 12:00AM

Alvarado picks up right where he left off


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - It might have felt like jockey Junior Alvarado came out of nowhere to win 54 races last summer at Arlington Park, and then disappeared into thin air not long after Arlington's end.

And that perception is not entirely inaccurate. Alvarado, a 24-year-old Venezuelan, basically was an unknown when he came here last year from Florida, and after a surprisingly strong summer, he left early in the Hawthorne fall-winter meet to become a contract rider in Caracas, Venezuela.

But Alvarado returned to the United States in January. He won just six races during the Gulfstream Park meeting, but had his eye on Arlington all along. He drove to Chicago on April 25, was ready for opening day here the next week, and picked right up where he had left off last year. With three more winners on Thursday's card, Alvarado entered Friday's action atop the list of leading Arlington riders, his 20 wins two more than veteran E.T. Baird's total.

Alvarado said he left the U.S. in order to visit his family in Barquisimeto, Venezuela, before moving on to ride at the track in Caracas. The move seemed questionable in terms of advancing his career here, but Chicago horsemen did not hesitate in warming back up to Alvarado, who has 188 career victories.

"He seems to be a patient rider, and he's got good hands," said trainer Tom Proctor, who has been using Alvarado with regularity at Arlington. "He's got a lot to learn, but there are some that ain't got that ability to learn. Time will tell."

Alvarado, represented again this meet by agent Oscar Sanchez, grew more comfortable through last summer speaking English, and was easily able to communicate without an interpreter that his fast Arlington start was a pleasant surprise.

"I thought I would do good, but it's much better than I thought," Alvarado said.

Shadowbdancing a dirt animal

In five dirt races around two turns, Shadowbdancing has won four times, and last Saturday he captured his fourth overnight stakes race, impressively beating the decent Sebastien County in Rasmussen Memorial at Prairie Meadows. If it seems Shadowbdancing has earned a step up in class, trainer Terrel Gore thinks so, too, and said Shadowbdancing would be back at Prairie for the $300,000 Cornhusker Handicap on June 27.

Shadowbdancing is a front-runner in route races, a horse able to set a fast pace and sustain it for at least 1 1/16 miles. In the Rasmussen, he passed six furlongs in about 1:10, and still was not seriously challenged in the stretch run.

"This horse was really impressive to finish the way he did after going that fast, and there was another horse pushing him, too," said Gore. "He went fast, but he was doing it comfortably."

Back at Arlington, Shadowbdancing will resume his regular training routine: gallop on the dirt training track, breeze over the Polytrack on the main track. Shadowbdancing works well enough over Poly, but lost three races by a combined 44 lengths while racing over the synthetic surface.

"I was flabbergasted at how bad he ran," said Gore.

Closeout next likely will wait

With six timed workouts at Arlington Park, the most recent a five-furlong drill here Thursday, talented turf filly Closeout is about ready for her 2009 debut. Her first race of the year is likely to come June 6 in the Mint Julep at Churchill, trainer Tom Proctor said Thursday.

Four-year-old Closeout won half her eight starts in 2008, including a victory in the Pucker Up Stakes last fall at Arlington. She finished out her season with a close fourth in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland.

Proctor pithily said he wasn't looking beyond the Mint Julep to shape Closeout's 2009 campaign.

"Let me tell you about plans: You want to make God laugh, you tell him about your plans," Proctor said. "Then, multiply that by 10 in the horse business."

Karlsson still hurting

Jockey Inez Karlsson will miss a second day of scheduled mounts Friday at Arlington as she continues to recover from a spill late on Monday's card. Karlsson wound up at Northwest Community Hospital late Monday afternoon after hitting the Polytrack when her mount, Parade Summer Girl, broke down before the eighth pole in Monday's seventh race.

Karlsson could have been much more badly injured had a trailing horse, Courtwright, not jumped over her, and examinations and tests revealed no broken bones or similarly serious injuries.

Karlsson has been sore all week, however, and was unable to fulfill her assignments Thursday and Friday. Her agent, Penny Ffitch-Heyes, said Karlsson hopes to ride Saturday's card, but her status won't be determined until she works a horse and evaluates her condition Saturday morning. Karlsson has 14 wins, sixth-best among Arlington jockeys this meet.

Something extra in feature

Bettors and fans who appreciate use of the entire homestretch are in for a treat: Sunday's ninth race, which one could call the feature, is carded at nine furlongs on Polytrack.

Most two-turn main-track races at Arlington are contested at 1 1/16 miles, starting at the regular finish line, but ending at the sixteenth pole. Seven 3-year-olds on Sunday will be asked to negotiate one full circuit around Arlington's Polytrack oval.

Grizzled Robert, one of only two synthetic-track winners in the field, looks like a main contender off a noteworthy 4 1/2-length two-turn maiden victory here May 15. Frank's Choice edged Grizzled Robert winning his career debut around two turns over Hawthorne dirt, and gets a pass for a soft-turf flop May 9 at Arlington.