05/19/2011 11:51AM

Arlington Park: Workin for Hops back to synthetic track for Hanshin Cup

Barbara D. Livingston
Workin for Hops will make his first synthetic-track start since 2009.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – In the 2010 Hanshin Cup, Country Flavor scored a 21-1 upset over two Mike Stidham-trained horses, Tybalt and Gran Estreno. Country Flavor is back for another try in the Grade 3, $100,000 Hanshin, but his Stidham-trained rival this time, Workin for Hops, may prove more formidable than last year’s foes.

The one-turn-mile Hanshin marks Workin for Hops’s first synthetic-surface start since autumn 2009, when he was just two races into his career, but Workin for Hops classes up strongly. A multiple turf stakes winner last year at 3, Workin for Hops finished a close fourth in the Grade 2 Mervin Muniz Handicap in March and in his most recent race, when he was turned back to a more suitable one-mile trip in the Maker’s Mark Mile, Workin for Hops was second behind Get Stormy, who returned to capture the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic. Workin for Hops has worked twice since shipping into Arlington, and James Graham, who gets his first ride on the horse, might work out a favorable stalking trip from post 2.

As for Country Flavor, his most recent outing came in the March 26 New Orleans Handicap, in which he finished last of eight. That modest performance behind his horse, trainer Greg Geier turned his attention toward a possible Hanshin repeat.

“He’s trained just as well as he did last year,” Geier said.

While Get Stormy flattered Workin for Hops with a Derby Day win at Churchill, Aikenite did the same thing for rail-drawn Cool Bullet, taking the Grade 2 Churchill Downs after beating Cool Bullet by about two lengths in the Commonwealth Stakes on April 16 at Keeneland. Cool Bullet has two seconds and a win in three races over Polytrack and may be at his best racing one turn on an all-weather track.

“It seems like the horse definitely likes synthetic,” said trainer Steve Margolis, who was less than pleased at landing post 1.

Unbeaten Pacific Ocean looks like a contender in his stakes debut. Pacific Ocean went 2 for 2 in 2010, with easy wins over maidens and first-level allowance horses, and ran at least as well capturing a second-level Keeneland allowance race April 16.

“We were very impressed,” trainer Wayne Catalano said. “Coming off that long layoff, that was a very good race.”

The Hanshin also includes a recent arrival from England, Akhmatova, a 4-year-old filly who has scored moderate handicap wins over all-weather tracks in England.