05/06/2011 3:48PM

Arlington Park: Hazelton back with small stable


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – More than a few racing people old enough to know the man’s history think trainer Richard Hazelton deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame. Enshrinement in the Hall probably won’t happen, but Hazelton, at age 80, is back in a familiar spot this spring – Arlington Park.

Hazelton supposedly sent out his final starter in February 2010 at Hawthorne, though not really by choice. His most dedicated owners had sent horses to other trainers. Hazelton’s barn was depleted, down to about nothing. He left the track after more than 4,700 winners, fairly depressed at the end of decades of horse work, and for quite a while had little interest in even coming round the racetrack. But last spring, Hazelton started paying periodic visits to the races, often with his longtime main jockey Carlos Silva. And now Hazelton is back in business, with 10 horses on the Arlington backstretch for one of his old clients, Richard Radke.

Hazelton, who was to saddle his first comeback runner here in Saturday’s fifth race, has finally given up riding his pony out on the track during morning training. But he is still among the first horsemen through the gates every morning, arriving a little after 5.

“It feels good,” Hazelton simply said of his comeback, keeping his place among the more minimalist interviews in racing.

Berndt looks to build on success

A racing fan who has kept only casual recent tabs on the Chicago circuit would have little idea there’s a new training kingpin over at Hawthorne. Joel Berndt had never won a training title before last fall, but he comes into this Arlington meet having topped the trainer standings at the last two Hawthorne meets. Berndt edged Frank Kirby 30-27 to take the title at the Hawthorne meet that ended last weekend.

But Hawthorne training success often does not carry over to Arlington. None of the top five outfits at the last two Hawthorne spring meets finished any better than eighth in the Arlington standings in 2009 and 2010, and some barns saw their win rate fall precipitously. Chris Dorris, for instance, was second to Kirby at Hawthorne during spring 2010, but checked in 46th among Arlington trainers last summer.

Berndt has 38 horses right now at Arlington and said he is looking for more, having turned out or sold several of the horses that served him well during the spring.

“We’re in the buying mode right now,” said Berndt, who won 17 races last summer at Arlington. “We’ve been cranking hard now for six, seven months.”

Field size looks good first week

Friday’s first race of the Arlington season clunked. There were only six horses entered in a $5,000 starter allowance, and two scratches brought the meet opener down to a mere quartet. But field-size wise, that was about the only dark spot during the opening three-day race week.

“Except for the first four-horse field, it went great,” racing secretary Chris Polzin said. “I hope we didn’t blow it out in one weekend.”

Polzin, who noted the high opening-week participation rate from several new Arlington outfits, said there were more than 1,600 horses stabled at Arlington as of Friday.

“We’ve got horses coming in all the time still,” Polzin said. “I got people wanting more stalls, too. I’ll sort all that out after this weekend.”