07/16/2010 3:53PM

Arlington turf horses keeping busy


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill − If Arlington Park is known for anything, it is known for a wide, lush turf course, the envy of many a racetrack. But the Arlington lawn is getting a workout like never before this summer, and it remains to be seen how the local turf holds up under unprecedented use in 2010.

Use of the Arlington turf course has steadily accelerated over the last decade. In 2000, just 147 of the meet’s 960 races came on turf, and from 2000 to 2004, Arlington averaged 954 races per season, with 173 of them – or 18 percent − on turf. From 2005 to 2008, an average of 214 grass races were run during meets that averaged 897 races overall, a turf-course use rate of about 24 percent. Last year, 26 percent of the races (249 of 962) were contested on turf, but so far in 2010, the turf-use rate has spiked to 30 percent, with 139 of the 458 races held through Thursday run on the grass course.

The trend has intensified in July. The course was given a break Thursday, with no turf scheduled, but factoring that day in, and assuming turf racing is not rained out Friday, Saturday, or Sunday this weekend, Arlington will have conducted 121 races since July 1, 56 of them on turf. That’s a full 46 percent of July racing contested over an Arlington turf course not exactly looking radiant on the eve of Million preview day.

Sunday’s card offers more of the same: Nine races total, with five of them on turf, including the featured seventh, a second-level allowance also open to $40,000 claimers and scheduled for one mile. The 11 entries include five Illinois-breds, the heavy statebred population in an open race another recent trend in Chicago.

Maybe – just maybe – this is the day that Blue Smoke Bess ends her string of close, closing finishes in second-level turf allowance races. Blue Smoke Bess has finished third or better in 14 of 18 career starts, but she has been third eight times and has a running style not conducive to regular trips to the winner’s circle. Blue Smoke Bess was switched to turf just last fall and can deliver a powerful late kick, but her run is not long and must be timed perfectly to succeed. Eddie Perez, who hasn’t ridden Blue Smoke Bess since she became a turf regular, gets a chance Sunday.