07/12/2012 2:14PM

Arlington Park: Sky Blazer stepping up for Arlington Handicap

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Tom Keyser
Sky Blazer has shipped from New York to Chicago for Saturday's Grade 3, $200,000 Arlington Handicap.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – Two New Yorkers flew to Chicago on Tuesday for the Arlington Handicap. Five-year-old Boisterous has won three graded stakes and is the 5-2 morning-line favorite. But Sky Blazer just might be the horse with the brighter future.

The 4-year-old Barclay Tagg-trained gelding has never run a bad race in a 10-start career while improving steadily, and his most recent performance, a blowout third-level allowance win May 19 at Belmont, felt like a breakthrough.

“We’re hoping he’ll move even further forward,” Tagg said. “We’ve been high on him. I want to move him up in class and in distance, and this looked like a good place.”

Sky Blazer was one of 11 entered in the Grade 3, $200,000 Arlington Handicap, a 1 1/4-mile turf race. Joinem and Vertiformer were cross-entered in the Stars and Stripes Handicap; Joinem is likely to opt for that race, while Vertiformer likely goes in the Handicap.

Sky Blazer has worked steadily and quickly during the two months since his most recent start. This is the first time Sky Blazer has shipped, and assistant trainer Robin Smullen, Sky Blazer’s exercise rider, accompanied the gelding to try and smooth the experience.

“He’s a real nervous horse, and I wasn’t keen on shipping him, which is why Robin went,” Tagg said. “He ate everything after he got there and seems fine, though.”

Sky Blazer carries 116 pounds, six less than topweighted Boisterous, who at this time last summer raced in the Man o’ War Stakes. Trainer Shug McGaughey opted to run Point of Entry in Saturday’s Man o’ War while sending Boisterous on the road.

“I just thought this horse was better suited to shipping, and I know he’s a mile-and-a-quarter horse,” McGaughey said.

Boisterous won the Fort Marcy Stakes on May 4, beating Desert Blanc by one length, but in the June 9 Manhattan he finished third to Desert Blanc, who slipped through on the inside while Boisterous took an overland route. Alan Garcia was aboard Boisterous for his last two races and will be again on Saturday.

“I think he ran just fine last time,” McGaughey said. “Garcia knows him, and he’ll ride how the race sets up.”

The 2010 Arlington Handicap winner Rahystrada also is in the race. Trainer Byron Hughes hopes the race sets up with some pace, something that didn’t happen in the June 16 Colonial Turf Cup, in which Rahystrada finished a solid third behind Turbo Compressor.

“They let that horse have an easy lead, and we couldn’t run him down,” Hughes said. “He’s been doing great since that last race. Hopefully, a couple want to go to the lead this time.”

Hopefully – but not certainly. Cherokee Lord looks like the most likely pacesetter, but probably doesn’t have the quality to lead all the way. Nikki’s Sandcastle, a sharp local horse, has tactical speed, but isn’t proven beyond middle distances. Lightly raced Vertiformer won his only start for trainer Wayne Catalano and had an excellent work for Saturday’s race, Catalano said. Mister Marti Gras, second in last year’s Arlington Handicap, led last out in the Eclipse at Woodbine, but usually comes from behind.

“He’s in good form right now, but the race is tougher than last year,” said trainer Chris Block, who also entered Mavericking.