06/22/2012 2:47PM

Arlington: Sound Effect challenges Helicopter in battle of Polytrack specialists

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – He has a ways to go, this Sound Effect, but if further inspiration is needed to keep up his good synthetic-surface work, a rival in Sunday’s featured eighth race at Arlington, Helicopter, would provide it.

Sound Effect, an improving 3-year-old, made his synthetic debut opening weekend of the Arlington meeting, and though he beat only two foes in a maiden race, Sound Effect won a first-level allowance race about three weeks later, bettering eight foes and showing it had not merely been an absence of competition that flattered him. Considering Sound Effect had lost his first four starts – two dirt, two turf – the 2-for-2 Polytrack record strongly suggests Sound Effect has found a home.

Yet Sound Effect’s accomplishment pales in comparison to Helicopter’s synthetic-surface exploits. Once an 18-race maiden, Helicopter was 1-for-19 when he first raced on a synthetic track; since then, he has won 20 of 36 starts, compiling a 16-4-4 record in 26 synthetic-surface races and winning 11 of his 16 Arlington starts. Helicopter went 3 for 8 – a slow season by his standards – in 2011, and at age 6, and with a few busy years behind him, one wondered if his run was over. But after a second-place finish to start his 2012 season, Helicopter turned in one of his best performances ever winning for a $27,500 claiming tag on June 1.

That victory earned Helicopter a claiming-price hike to $40,000 – and a date with Sound Effect, who starts Sunday under the feature’s second allowance condition. The 1 1/8-mile distance might well be Helicopter’s best, but his 3-year-old rival seems well suited to it, too: While Sound Effect’s last-start allowance win came in a one-turn mile, he won his maiden with a strong finish at 1 1/8 miles.

Not that this pair has the featured eighth all to themselves. The race drew an eclectic field of 10, and there are several other directions a bettor might turn. Both horses trainer Chris Block entered, Table Games and Knight After Knight, appear to have a chance. Table Games tends to fall far back in the early going, and didn’t seem to relish Polytrack last summer at Arlington, but Knight After Knight won his debut in a two-turn Polytrack maiden last meet, the only synthetic try of his career. He turned in a big effort in his first start of 2012 before running flat in a statebred stakes race April 28 at Hawthorne, and a competitive showing – even against the two synthetic-lovers – looks possible.