06/27/2013 3:32PM

Arlington Park: Aubby K prepping in Chicago Handicap

Barbara D. Livingston
Aubby K (second from right) wins the Humana Distaff.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – Not to belittle the Chicago Handicap, but Saturday’s Grade 3, $150,000 race at Arlington Park merely is a means to an end for morning-line favorite Aubby K. Aubby K won the Grade 1 Humana Distaff on Kentucky Derby Day in her most recent start, and her connections have their eye on the Grade 1 Ballerina Stakes on Aug. 23 at Saratoga.

“Timing has a lot to do why I’m there,” said Ralph Nicks, who trains Aubby K for owner-breeder James Spence. “This is the date on the calendar that fits her schedule. The main goal of the summer is the Ballerina, and we want her to be the best she can be on that day.”

Four-year-old Aubby K has made only eight starts, and has “been a little fragile systemically,” Nicks said. She takes her races hard, and runs well fresh. The seven-furlong Chicago Handicap, Nicks believes, will keep her from gathering too much rust before the Ballerina while offering plenty of time for Aubby K to come back around to a peak again in mid-August.

The other race Nicks considered was the Princess Rooney at Calder, but suitable transportation could not be arranged from New York to Florida. Nicks has stabled eight horses – Aubby K among them – at Saratoga since early May, and Aubby K shipped by van to Arlington on Wednesday. When she steps onto the Polytrack here for a training session Friday morning, it will be her first experience on a synthetic surface of any sort.

“I’m not there for the Polytrack,” Nicks said. “No one knows until they run how they’ll handle a surface like that.”

So, to be clear: The Chicago Handicap has a potentially heavy favorite who has been fragile shipping 14 hours to an unfamiliar racing surface for a start designed as a stepping-stone to a more important goal. Aubby K, the 123-pound highweight, is the most talented horse in Saturday’s race, but skeptical handicappers should be betting against her, and rival horsemen showed no fear at the entry box. Nine other fillies and mares were entered, with Cozze Up Lady, Maude S, and Queen’s Award the most plausible alternatives.

Cozze Up Lady hasn’t won a stakes of any sort, much less a Grade 1, but she’s a proven Polytrack performer who appears improved at age 4. She won a second-level sprint allowance over Keeneland Polytrack in her 2013 debut, and comes off a third-level, two-turn turf allowance score at Churchill Downs.

“She showed us some talent last year, but she had some minor injuries, and I think she’s improved,” said trainer Bret Calhoun. “I thought the distance and surface of this race would suit her. Up to a mile against good horses is what she wants. I like turning back from a route to seven-eighths.”

Maude S finished second in the 2012 Chicago Handicap, and it’s worth noting that Saturday’s race will be her first start since then around just one turn. Queen’s Award rides a losing streak dating to October 2012, and her optimal finish probably is a trifecta crash, but the best race of her career came in a long Polytrack sprint.

◗ The Chicago Handicap goes as race 7, and race 8 is the best-looking allowance race of the Arlington meet. Carded for one mile on turf, the race drew a contentious field of 12, among them the multiple graded stakes winner Nates Mineshaft. Nates Mineshaft ran poorly in his 2013 debut, dueling for the lead before fading to last of nine in the May 25 Hanshin Cup. Nates Mineshaft will be fitter Saturday, but is making just his second start on turf, and is proven as a high-class runner only on dirt.