07/13/2011 3:05PM

Arlington Park: Action on the turf course heats up

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – Friday is the 44th racing day of Arlington Park’s 86-day 2011 meet, which means the program marks the first day of the second half of the season. And, as far as racing surface goes, the card could be a sign of things to come. The last five races of the day all are scheduled for grass, and with Arlington’s course finally and wholly dried out after a very wet late spring, the turf should see plenty of action in coming weeks.

The grass should be ready for increased use after so many rain-offs early in the season. So far, 116 turf races have been held this Arlington meet, and if grass racing continued at that pace the rest of the summer, the meet total of 232 would be the lowest since 2008, when 216 grass races were contested. Last year, Arlington’s turf use swelled to a record 289 races.

The all-turf second half of Friday’s late-afternoon program looks pretty appealing, though featured race 5 drew a field of just six. The paucity of entrants in the feature, a five-furlong turf sprint for third-level allowance horses or $80,000 claimers, isn’t that surprising since Saturday’s feature is the $100,000 Arlington Sprint, another grass dash. One could envision as many as eight of the horses that went into the Saturday stakes entering the Friday allowance, if the richer race wasn’t available.

Among those in the Friday field, Saint Leon looks best. His only previous turf-sprint start came two years ago, before Saint Leon came back from a long layoff a new horse last summer. Since then he has won five of eight starts running long and short and on both Polytrack and grass. Saint Leon might prove impossible to catch, if opening a clear early lead after breaking from the rail under E.T. Baird.

Race 7, a first-level filly and mare route allowance, could come down to Happy Choice and Huxley Winner, with preference given to the former filly. Race 8, a maiden route, should belong to Alluring Squall, the 3-year-old half-sister of Vacare who has been unlucky in both her career starts. And race 9, the nightcap, is the season’s first longer race for juveniles, a one-mile maiden special weight that may have Papa Sid or Wayne Catalano-trained first-time starter Double Crossing as a favorite.