05/17/2012 12:32PM

Arlington: Ioya Bigtime gets easier foes in Hanshin Cup, but single turn is a question

Keeneland/Coady Photography
Lonesome Street, with Joel Rosario riding, wins the Grade 2 Commonwealth at Keeneland.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – When Ioya Bigtime crossed the finish sixth in the Ben Ali Stakes last month at Keeneland, the race’s winner was barely more than a tiny speck off in the distance. That was Wise Dan, who set a track record while running his Ben Ali opposition right off their feet. Wise Dan is being pointed to the Stephen Foster Handicap and Ioya Bigtime faces no rival of remotely comparable quality when he returns Saturday at Arlington in an interesting edition of the Grade 3, $150,000 Hanshin Cup, the first stakes race of the Arlington season.

Ioya Bigtime’s off-the-board Ben Ali finish was the first time in five synthetic-surface starts he had been worse than second. At Arlington, the 5-year-old horse has gone 2 for 2, and last fall at Keeneland he finished a much closer second to Wise Dan in the Grade 3 Fayette.

“We know he likes synthetic, and I think it’s a pretty wide-open race, so we thought we’d give it a shot,” said trainer Chris Block, who won two Arlington races Wednesday.

Less certain is Ioya Bigtime’s suitability to the Hanshin’s one-turn-mile trip. A 5-year-old Dynaformer horse, bred and owned by Team Block, he made his career debut in a turf route, and after 12 trips to the post has never has started in a one-turn race.

“He’s got a lot of talent, but I just don’t know about the one-turn mile,” Block said.

The Hanshin’s likely favorite is Lonesome Street, who also made his most recent start at the Keeneland meet and fared much better than Ioya Bigtime, rallying to win the Grade 2 Commonwealth Stakes. Despite that visually impressive victory, Lonesome Street is no cinch. The Commonwealth performance was a career-best, and Lonesome Street got a great pace setup while facing opposition that was soft by Grade 2 standards.

Scotus merits respect. He won the Grade 3 Matt Winn on dirt last year at 3, and overpowered third-level allowance foes while closing into a modest pace last month at Keeneland.

Taptowne had a strong Hawthorne meet, earning a big speed figure for winning an overnight dirt-route stakes, but does not appear to be the same horse on a synthetic surface. Fast Alex exits a tough-trip seventh in the New Orleans Handicap but floundered in his lone trip over Polytrack. Havelock might want a slightly shorter distance, while Free Fighter almost certainly wants to run longer. Achaemenes, San Antone, and Gleam of Hope – all with an outside shot – complete the 10-horse field.