06/08/2011 2:01PM

Arlington: Helicopter takes suspicious drop for red-hot Rivelli


The judges have called for a photo finish in attempting to determine which Arlington entity is hotter right now: The air, or trainer Larry Rivelli.

At noon on Wednesday, the thermometer read about 93 degrees near Arlington, the temperature expected to climb a few more degrees through the afternoon. Meanwhile, Rivelli’s barn entered Wednesday’s racing action just as scorching, with 14 wins from just 33 starters, a strike rate of 42 percent. Eight more Rivelli starters have finished second or third, giving him an in-the-money percentage of 67.

Rivelli has horses entered in four more Arlington races on Friday, including two in the featured opener, a second-level optional $40,000 claimer at 1 1/8 miles on Polytrack. Paisano Creek is one of the two Rivelli-trained entrants. The other is Helicopter, quite a story in his own right.

The 5-year-old Helicopter began his career with 1 win in 15 starts and was just another low-level nonwinners-of-two claimer when he came to Arlington a couple years ago. Then he discovered Polytrack. A switch to synthetic racing produced an entirely new animal, and Helicopter, in terms of sheer win production, was among the most successful horses in the country during 2009-2010. In that span he went 16 for 30, ranking among the national leaders with nine wins in 2009 and seven more in 2010. No surprise how Helicopter began his 2011 campaign – with a Polytrack win at Arlington on opening day, May 6.

All of which begs this question: Why is Helicopter entered for a $40,000 claiming tag on Friday? The gelding, who won under $5,000 starter-allowance conditions last month, banked almost $150,000 last year, and while best on synthetics, he has become at least mildly competent on dirt and is capable on turf, so racing opportunities abound. Either something is slightly amiss in Helicopter land, or Arlington horseplayers will look up and see Helicopter scratched from the Friday opener, in which case a second glance in the direction of Rivelli’s other entrant, Paisano Creek, might be in order.

Outside of the win machine, a horse named Sacred Grounds looks interesting. Trainer Mike Reavis, himself off to a good Arlington start, claimed him out of an easy win a couple months ago at Hawthorne. The claiming tag that day was $17,500 and now it has more than doubled. Perhaps Sacred Ground, too, has gotten hot.