06/27/2011 4:27PM

Arlington: Block veteran earns enviable speed figure

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Shrewd Operator, with Eddie Perez up, wins the White Oak Handicap, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 114.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – Chris Block was more than a little surprised to hear that he trains one of the fastest horses in the country, at least according to the initial Beyer Speed Figure assigned to Shrewd Operator for his win Saturday in the White Oak Handicap. Shrewd Operator’s nine-length win in the White Oak was clocked in 1:09.89 for six furlongs on a slow-playing Polytrack surface. That translated to a Beyer Figure of 114, the co-second highest figure recorded in 2011, and a pretty astounding number for a 7-year-old returning from a 10-month layoff.

“Gosh, I can see a 100, a 104, or something like that,” Block said. “I don’t know if I can believe that one or not. I knew he’d run well in there. I didn’t know he’d do what he did.”

Shrewd Operator has been a top synthetic-track sprinter for several seasons, but he has been troubled by a nagging suspensory ligament injury for two years now, Block said. The suspensory caused Block to shut down Shrewd Operator last August, but Shrewd Operator came back strong after gaining fitness at the Block family farm in Florida earlier this year.

“We have an aqua-pacer there – a treadmill in water – and he does really well on that,” said Block. “That’s how we brought him back the last two times. He loves it and gets a lot of condition on it. He comes to me where I don’t have to put much foundation in him. I can just go to breezing.”

Unfortunately, there are no suitable stakes the rest of the Arlington meeting for Shrewd Operator, a Team Block homebred, and Block may have to look toward another synthetic-surface track.

Block won a second Illinois-bred stakes Saturday, the Lincoln Heritage, with Peyote Patty, who may run back in a restricted stakes in early August. Dundalk Dust, the third-place finisher in the same race, will return to dirt for her next start. Block has a third mare, Never Retreat, pointed to the Modesty Handicap here July 9.

Giant Oak, the Block-trained fifth-place finisher in the Stephen Foster Handicap, remains stabled at Churchill Downs, and will head from there to Saratoga for a start in the Whitney Handicap, Block said.

Nakatani sticking with travel plans

Jockey Corey Nakatani went from zero to 60 in about no time at all when he shifted his tack from Hollywood Park to Arlington on June 1, but, as had been planned all along, Nakatani’s stay in Chicago will be limited. Nakatani confirmed Saturday that he intends to leave for New York for the start of the Saratoga meeting in July. He said the agent Fred Aime will book his mounts at Saratoga.

Nakatani ranks seventh in the jockey standings with 16 wins through last week’s action, that despite riding only 73 horses at the meet, a total that is at most half the number of rides the six riders ahead of him have gotten. That level of success stands in stark contrast to the experience Nakatani was having at Hollywood, where he had won on just 2 of 29 mounts before coming to Chicago.

“If you’re not riding much, it makes all the difference,” Nakatani said. “You’ve got to have the opportunities.”

Agent Jay Fedor, who has booked mounts for Nakatani at Oaklawn Park, contacted Nakatani shortly after his main rider, Junior Alvarado, broke his collarbone in a spill on May 27. The injury has healed well, Alvarado has been working horses for several days, and Fedor said Monday that he would name Alvarado on mounts for Sunday’s program.

Alvarado was leading the Arlington standings at the time of his injury with 19 wins, and may yet have a chance to get back into the race for leading rider. Jozbin Santana and E.T. Baird jointly hold that position with 29 wins entering this week’s racing, with Eddie Perez just one winner behind the two, and James Graham sitting on 25 victories.

◗ Nothing doing in terms of a Wednesday feature at Arlington, with the highest-class fare on the card a pair of maiden-special-weight races.