05/31/2012 2:43PM

Arlington: Lotta Lovin looks like deserving favorite

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – Trainer Wayne Catalano and owner Frank Calabrese put an indelible stamp on the Arlington Park meeting during the peak of their association. From 2000 to 2012, Calabrese won outright or shared the Arlington owners title every season, and during that span, Catalano was leading trainer eight times. Catalano and Calabrese parted ways a couple of years ago, and they will meet as rivals in the $65,000 Meafara Stakes on Saturday at Arlington, with the Catalano-trained Atlantic Tap and the Calabrese-owned Sabrina’s Dance likely to hook up in an early pace battle.

Calabrese mainly bases his operation in Florida now, but he has a handful of horses at Arlington with trainer Danny Miller, among them Sabrina’s Dance, who will try her luck on a synthetic surface for the first time in the Meafara, an overnight stakes restricted to 3-year-old fillies. Sabrina’s Dance has finished first or second in 5 of 6 starts, and her ability to handle turf bodes well for her maiden voyage over Polytrack, but even if Sabrina’s Dance avoids a duel with Atlantic Tap, the 6 1/2-furlong distance of the Meafara appears to be pushing things for Sabrina’s Dance, who hasn’t won a race beyond five furlongs.

The filly who appears to excel at the distance is the Meafara’s morning-line favorite, Lotta Lovin. Drawn on the rail for trainer Mike Maker and jockey James Graham, Lotta Lovin makes her first start since finishing last of seven in the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes on April 7 at Keeneland. The Ashland was down in terms of quality this year, and Lotta Lovin might not have been totally overmatched, but the two-turn, 1 1/16-mile distance of the race seems farther than ideal. In January, Lotta Lovin won the Cincinnati Trophy Stakes at Turfway Park over 6 1/2 furlongs by seven lengths, though in her previous start, the six-furlong Gowell, she was only a half-length better than St. Louis City, a filly who also shows up among the Meafara entrants. Also worth considering is Ire, an Al Stall-trained filly who won a Keeneland maiden race in April in her only previous Polytrack try.

◗ Saturday’s card, which is very solid and bettable, includes six turf races, and to accommodate so many grass races, Arlington will employ two turf courses separated by a portable rail. Half the turf races will be run 10 feet inside lane 1, a configuration that often favors closers, the other half in lane 5, where speed often is quite effective.