09/28/2012 4:26PM

Arlington: Block's presence will be felt at Keeneland, Hawthorne


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – Arlington Park is trainer Chris Block’s bread and butter. Entering the final three days of the 2012 meet here, Block led all Arlington trainers in stable earnings with slightly less than $800,000, and his 34 winners tie him for third in terms of races won during the meeting. But it’s not like the Block barn goes into hibernation the moment the last fan walks out of the gate following Sunday’s 11th race, the last of the 2012 Arlington season, and Block’s stable is set up to have an October impact on two fronts, Keeneland and Hawthorne.

Block will send a handful of horses to Kentucky in coming days, including Pucker Up winner Leading Astray and Ioya Bigtime, a two-time graded stakes winner this summer. Leading Astray, who won four races this summer at Arlington, has been invited to the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup, Block said, but will also be considered for a less difficult turf stakes for 3-year-old fillies, the Valley View.

“We’ll have to take a look at who’s coming for the QE II and decide after that,” Block said earlier this week.

Ioya Bigtime, who sandwiched a second-place finish in the American St. Leger between wins in the Stars and Stripes and the Kentucky Turf Cup, is being pointed to Keeneland’s Elkhorn, a 1 1/2-mile turf race that should suit Ioya Bigtime. Also worth following is the 2-year-old colt Bambazonki, who was second to talented Tulira Castle in his Polytrack sprint debut before winning a two-turn turf maiden race here Sept. 23.

For the Hawthorne meet Block will have a larger string, one that includes Mister Marti Gras, who will make his next start in the Hawthorne Gold Cup, Block said. Most recently second in the Washington Park Handicap, Mister Marti Gras finished fourth in the Gold Cup last year. The 2012 edition of Hawthorne’s best race of the fall is coming together nicely, with Alternation and Nates Mineshaft also expected to start.

Stidham pair eye Keeneland stakes

Also breaking camp at Arlington and heading to Keeneland – though in greater numbers than Block – is trainer Mike Stidham, who has set plans for two of the best horses in his string, Willcox Inn and Upperline.

Willcox Inn, eighth in the Arlington Million following an encouraging allowance win in his 2012 debut, is penciled in for the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile, and could earn his way to the Breeders’ Cup Mile with a strong showing there. Willcox Inn has made several starts in races longer than 1 1/8 miles, but Stidham now believes that distances shorter than nine furlongs better suit the 4-year-old.

Upperline, Stidham said, is expected to run in the Grade 1 Spinster, which could be her final start for her current connections. Upperline has been entered in the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky sale in November, though her status for that auction hasn’t yet been fully set.

Stidham’s stable has sent out a couple promising 2-year-old debut winners in recent weeks at Arlington. The filly Every Way had been considered for the Alcibiades Stakes at Keeneland but instead runs this weekend in an Arlington allowance race. Plans haven’t been set yet for Rock on This, who set sizzling fractions on his way to a front-running debut score in a Sept. 20 Polytrack sprint. Stidham said he thinks Rock on This will handle both two-turn racing and dirt.

Graham tries to catch Torres

Wayne Catalano, who had a 62-36 lead in the standings entering Friday’s races, sewed up the 2012 training title weeks ago, but James Graham comes into closing weekend still with an outside chance of catching Cisco Torres. Torres had 97 wins to Graham’s 88 after Thursday’s card, and both will be in heavy action over the final three days. Graham won the 2010 jockey title at Arlington, while Torres hasn’t even ridden here regularly in years and would not have been considered anything even close to a top candidate for leading rider when this meet began.

◗ The closing day card unfortunately offers little in the way of quality, the highest-class heat on an 11-race card being race 8, a mere first-level allowance carded for one mile on Polytrack. There are plenty of contenders, but Vouch For Victory, who moves from turf to synthetic and two turns to one, looks like the controlling speed of the race and should prove difficult to run down.