05/26/2011 12:52PM

Arlington: Upperline leads Stidham's stakes pair


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – Trainer Mike Stidham compiled a record of 6-3-2 from 15 stakes starters during the 2010 Arlington Park meet, and, in Arlington’s 15 graded races, Stidham’s stable went 4-2-3 with 11 runners. Already at Arlington 2011, Stidham is at it again. His barn won last Saturday’s Hanshin, the season’s first graded race, with Workin for Hops, and it has two more apparently live runners in a pair of open stakes Saturday, Willcox Inn for the $100,000 Arlington Classic and Upperline in the Grade 3, $100,000 Arlington Matron.

Both Saturday races drew large, competitive fields, with 12 3-year-olds turf hopefuls in the 1 1/16-mile Classic, first leg of Arlington’s Mid-America Triple, and 10 entrants in the Matron, a 1 1/8-mile Polytrack race for fillies and mares.

Upperline had a productive winter in New Orleans, scoring two smart turf-stakes wins and looking especially sharp in the Bayou Handicap, where she rolled to a four-length victory in a fast time. But Upperline failed to reproduce that performance May 7 at Churchill, finishing last of nine – albeit fewer than five lengths behind victorious Aviate – in the Grade 2 Distaff Turf mile. Stidham could find no ready excuse for the disappointing effort, but Upperline seems to her trainer to be maintaining the form she showed at Fair Grounds.

“She had a superior work on Sunday,” Stidham said, referring to a half-mile drill in 47.20 seconds. “She definitely gave me the thumbs-up.”

The move to 1 1/8 miles on Polytrack also seems positive. Upperline won the Arlington Oaks under such conditions last summer, and has 3 wins and 1 second from 5 synthetic-surface starts.

There are potentially worthy rivals in the Matron, particularly Pachattack, English trainer Gerard Butler’s fifth starter at the meet. Butler’s six-horse American satellite string swung into action last weekend with a win and a place in four tries, and Pachattack has the chops to factor in the Matron. She was a subpar ninth in a Group 3 at Newmarket on May 1, but started her year finishing a solid thirdfacing males in the March 26 Winter Derby over Lingfield’s all-weather surface. Last fall, after a troubled sixth in the Beverly D. and a decent fifth in the E.P. Taylor – both Grade 1’s – Pachattack walloped seven rivals in the $186,000 Maple Leaf, a 1 1/4-mile Polytrack race at Woodbine. A similar performance would make things tough on Upperline in the Matron. Others to consider are Milwaukee Appeal, who is struggling to regain competitive 2010 form, and Satan’s Quick Chick, who was no match for Pachattack in the Maple Leaf.