08/28/2012 12:54PM

Arlington Park: Washington Park Handicap shaping up strong

Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography
Pool Play, winner of the 2011 Stephen Foster, was sidelined a year because of injury.

An attractive renewal of the Grade 3 Washington Park Handicap is on tap for Saturday at Arlington Park in suburban Chicago, with Prayer for Relief, Pool Play, Mister Marti Gras, and Workin for Hops among the likely starters in the 1 1/8-mile Polytrack race.

Pool Play, who wasn’t even supposed to race at age 7 after a tendon injury was diagnosed following his 36-1 upset under Miguel Mena in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs in June 2011, is perhaps the most intriguing of this solid core of favorites in this 79th running of the $150,000 Washington Park.

Pool Play, with Mena back to ride Saturday, has raced twice at Woodbine since returning from a year-plus layoff following his recovery from injury, finishing fourth in both.

“It’s tough to get back to form when you’ve been off that long,” trainer Mark Casse said this week from Saratoga, where his son and assistant, Norman, was married Tuesday. “I thought both of his races were okay. The first was actually better than I thought it’d be, and in the second, he was duller than I thought he’d be. We’ll ship him down there to Chicago a day or so before and hope he runs big in the third race of his form cycle.”

The Washington Park frequently serves as a prep for the next major handicap race on the Chicago circuit, the Grade 2, $500,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup, to be run across town on Oct. 6.

Prayer for Relief will be making his second start for Steve Asmussen since Zayat Stables took him from Bob Baffert. A multiple stakes winner, he will be trying to break a nine-race losing streak, with his latest defeat coming by a nose to Alternation in the Aug. 11 Governor’s Cup at Remington Park. Prayer for Relief had his final prerace prep when he breezed five furlongs Saturday in 1:01.80 at Remington.

Mister Marti Gras and Workin for Hops are both locally based at Arlington with Chris Block and Mike Stidham, respectively. Both had final prerace breezes last weekend.