06/14/2012 4:31PM

Arlington: Block loaded for bear at Prairie State Festival


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – If it’s Prairie State Festival, the stable of trainer Chris Block must be humming.

Block, always active and often successful in Prairie State races, is launching an especially full-scale assault on this year’s Festival, with nine horses entered in four of the six $125,000 stakes for Illinois-breds carded Saturday at Arlington.

Block entered Sweet Luca, Real Power, and Yankee Dealer in the Springfield Stakes, a one-turn Polytrack mile for 3-year-olds; Dundalk Dust, Mourette, and Peyote Patty in the Lincoln Heritage, a two-turn female-restricted race; Ioya Bigtime and Suntracer in the Black Tie Affair, an unrestricted two-turn turf race; and The Cushmaker in the Purple Violet, another Polytrack mile, this one for 3-year-old fillies.

“You just hope you can get them to these races safely and doing well,” Block said. “I think they’ve all got there in good order. I think they’re set to run their best.”

Block’s efforts with Suntracer for the Black Tie Affair have been particularly concerted. At the top of his game Suntracer is a graded-stakes class grass horse, and he would clearly be the one to beat in an Illinois-bred race. But Suntracer was struck in the eye by a turf clod during the running of the Jan. 21 Colonel Bradley Handicap at Fair Grounds and hasn’t been the same horse since, finishing last of 10 in the Mervin Muniz and seventh of eight in the Elkhorn Stakes.

“It was a pretty serious situation, and I think his confidence got shaken,” Block said. “I don’t think he wanted to put himself in a race knowing something could come back and hit him.”

Suntracer has raced before with a clear cup over the affected eye, but Block has been working him with cups over both eyes and plans to race Suntracer that way Saturday.

“I think I see some confidence back in this horse in the morning,” said Block. “He’s breezed well.”

Ioya Bigtime, whom Block calls an underachiever, might be better on synthetic than turf, but can contend with a peak performance.

“I think there’s talent there that hasn’t been tapped,” Block said.

There are other ways to go in the Black Tie Affair, too. Defending champ Tazz looks set for a top effort in the third start of his season. Forbidden Forest exits a solid open second-level allowance win and appears capable. Gathering Cloud came from New York last year to finish fourth in the Black Tie Affair and drew a better post this year. Color Me Blue has as much ability as anyone but might not show it on turf.

Peyote Patty won the 2011 Lincoln Heritage and clearly seems Block’s best shot in that race. A front-runner, she drew post 10, but Block hopes jockey Tim Thornton can duck in behind a couple other fast horses and secure a pressing or stalking trip. Cumulonimble and Pathway also merit consideration.

The Cushmaker, who has a big late kick, looks like the most talented horse in the Purple Violet, but she has started so far only in two-turn turf races, making this one-turn Polytrack mile an unknown.

“She seems pretty versatile in her breezes,” said Block. “I think it all depends on how the race sets up for her.”

Remembermealways and Dolly Peach figure to be the other well supported horses in the race.

In the Springfield, Block’s trio still might not have enough firepower. Report Card has won his last four starts and dominated the Land of Lincoln Stakes in April at Hawthorne, and if Report Card fails to carry his speed over a one-turn mile, Feels Like Flying might prove the horse to pick up the pieces.

In recent seasons Block would have the heavy favorite for the White Oak, a six-furlong main-track dash, but Shrewd Operator is out of commission this year, and River Bear looks like the big chalk in the White Oak.

The 7-year-old River Bear has won three of his four starts this year, two of them against open competition, and he came back from a strong closing win May 25 at Prairie Meadows with a fast five-furlong breeze June 8 at Fairmount Park. River Bear has won 12 races on dirt but also gets over synthetic surfaces with a 4-4-1 record from 15 such starts.

Only five others went into the White Oak, with Four Left Feet having the best chance to pull an upset.

There are nine fillies and mares in the Isaac Murphy, the female version of the White Oak, but Third Chance’s odds should be just as low as River Bear’s. Third Chance has won 4 of 6 starts at Arlington and has captured the last two Illinois-bred female sprint stakes in Chicago.

Our Lady In Red, who beat Third Chance a year ago in the Purple Violet, was cross-entered in the Murphy and the Lincoln Heritage.