05/09/2012 2:53PM

Arlington: Apprehender challenges older foes in first try on Polytrack


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – It’s early. The dog days of summer lurk below the horizon line. But at this early juncture, Arlington Park racing programs present a more appealing handicapping puzzle and offer better betting opportunities than in recent seasons.

As usual, it’s money talking. Increased purses at this meet – up almost $75,000 per day compared with the start of 2011 – resulting from casino impact-fee funds appear to be having their desired effect.

Since the unofficial horsemen’s boycott crimped the meet’s first two racing days, short fields have been rare, and even the cheaper races making it onto cards have a more substantive feel than the fare Chicago horseplayers usually consume. There are 83 horses entered Friday on a nine-race program that includes an open second-level optional $40,000 claiming Polytrack sprint (race 6), a brain-busting second-level Illinois-bred turf allowance (race 8), and Chicago’s first 2-year-old race of the season.

The 2-year-olds go in the opener, a 4 1/2-furlong race, and it should surprise no one that trainers Larry Rivelli and Wesley Ward both have two horses for the race. Ward hits at nearly a 30 percent clip with 2-year-old runners, while Rivelli is among the best in Chicago in this area, winning with about 20 percent of his starters. There are no coupled entries in the race, and expect the Ward-trained Emotional Kitten to take more action than his other horse, Victoria Shines, while Richie’slilcowgirl looks a little farther along than Rivelli’s other first-time starter, Fightin Mean Mad.

Featured race 6, at six furlongs on Polytrack and written for second-level allowance horses or $40,000 claimers, showcases the talents of Apprehender, a 3-year-old tackling older rivals for the first time while making his synthetic-surface debut. Trained by Ingrid Mason, Apprehender exits a solid Oaklawn Park meeting that saw him sandwich a pair of good-looking sprint wins around a flop in a division of the Southwest Stakes, Apprehender’s only two-turn try. Harvest Home, a 7-year-old, might get a favorable pace setup and appears to have a chance at a price.

Race 8, the second-level Illinois-bred turf allowance, is tough to figure, but it’s possible that Peso will prove to be the race’s controlling speed. Peso made his 2012 debut in a Hawthorne grass race last month and probably prefers the Arlington course, where he racked up 2 wins and a second from 4 starts last season.