08/30/2012 4:06PM

Arlington Park: Mister Marti Gras has good shot to repeat in Washington Park

Tom Keyser
Mister Marti Gras has long been pointed for the Washington Park.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – Mister Marti Gras has lost all five of his starts this year but still appears to be coming into Saturday’s Washington Park Handicap at Arlington Park with a strong chance to win the race for the second year in a row.

Mister Marti Gras, a 5-year-old Belong to Me gelding bred and owned by Bob Lothenbach, twice found trouble this past winter at Fair Grounds. At Charles Town, in the $1 million Charles Town Classic on April 14, his pilot seemed to forget that the race was being run around bullring with a one-furlong homestretch: Mister Marti Gras flew home too late, finishing third. Then, in the Eclipse Stakes at Woodbine, Mister Marti Gras, a dedicated one-run closer, somehow wound up leading and still finished second to talented Hunters Bay.

No such difficulties befell Mister Marti Gras on July 14 in the Arlington Handicap, but that start came on turf, and while Mister Marti Gras is a tri-surface runner, he’s probably better on synthetics and dirt than grass. In the Washington Park, a Grade 3 worth $150,000, he returns to Polytrack in a nine-furlong race to which he has long been pointed.

“We just kind of targeted this race all along,” said trainer Chris Block. “He’s trained really well.”

Mister Marti Gras rallied into a slow pace to win the 2011 Washington Park by a neck over Workin for Hops, and this year’s edition also appears to lack real speed.

“That definitely is a concern,” Block said, “but with this kind of race I kind of expect there not to be much pace. We’ll just try to get him covered up and make that one run.”

Mister Marti Gras is the co-highweight at 119 pounds with Prayer for Relief, who ships in from Remington Park for trainer Steve Asmussen and Zayat Stables. Prayer for Relief exits a nose loss to multiple graded stakes winner Alternation in the $200,000 Governor’s Cup and, as a pressing-stalking type, figures to get first run on Mister Marti Gras. Prayer for Relief has twice won on synthetic surfaces but has not shown his best in his three races at Del Mar, which, like Arlington, employs Polytrack.

Workin for Hops could shake loose on the lead like he did last year, but might be best at distances up to 1 1/16 miles. Pool Play upset the 2011 Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap but didn’t race for more than a year afterward, and has not looked like the same horse in two starts this summer at Woodbine. Hattash, Middie, and Ballyjamesduff complete the field.