05/16/2011 3:17PM

Arlington: Young trainer strikes twice


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – The Keeneland-based trainer Joseph Griffitt came up the old-fashioned way. Wait, check that. Griffitt’s ascension to the position of head trainer has been highly unusual.

Griffitt began his training career in late December. It took him more than four months to send out a winner, but his maiden victory finally came when Honored View won Friday’s first race at Arlington by almost five lengths. Career win number 2 came only an hour later, when High, a second horse Griffitt had shipped here from Keeneland, won Arlington’s third race.

Griffitt, a native of Lexington, Ky., is just 21 years old. As a boy, he attended races at Keeneland with his grandfather, and Griffitt long had harbored interest in the sport, but his hands-on horse experience has been limited. He had held neither a groom’s nor an assistant trainer’s license before taking and passing the Kentucky trainer’s test last Dec. 3 at Turfway Park, nor does Griffitt have a history of horse-backing. Two high-school summer jobs involved horses. In 2006 he worked with mares and foals at a Kentucky farm, and a year later he helped out with Dale Romans-trained racehorses at a training center. Griffitt has prepped yearlings for sale at Lane’s End Farm and Taylor Made Farm, and he spent part of last summer doing a little bit of this, a little bit of that around the Eoin Harty stables at Saratoga. A family friend, former trainer Sally Schu, had given Griffitt work around Keeneland.

Griffitt said he originally went to college at Kentucky Wesleyan on a baseball scholarship, but within a year he was back home in Lexington. He enrolled at University of Kentucky, but found himself far more attached to racing than school. “I never could get enough of it,” Griffitt said.

He is getting plenty now. Griffitt trains six horses stabled at Keeneland and has three more unraced maidens on the way. It’s hard to imagine he doesn’t still have a lot to learn, and the learning will very much be on the job.

“I guess I didn’t do things very traditionally,” said Griffitt, whose father is a small-animal vet in Lexington. “Thinking back on it now it makes my head spin a little bit. It’s really not normal to go from where I went to where I’m standing right now.”

Baird in the zone

It’s fair to say that veteran jockey E.T. Baird has narrowed the focus of his year down to Arlington Park. Baird took time off last December, then rode sparingly in Florida during the Gulfstream meet. Between Nov. 1, 2010, and May 5, 2011, his record was 7-110, and at Gulfstream, Baird won five races from 91 mounts. But seven racing days into the 2011 Arlington season, Baird already has booted home 9 winners from 31 rides, his win total only one less than leading rider Junior Alvarado’s.

“I was mostly getting fit, getting ready for Arlington,” Baird said of his Gulfstream season.

Baird, 44, won 44 races from 226 mounts last summer at Arlington, and he had an especially strong 2009 meet here, placing third in the standings with 77 winners from just 332 mounts, good for an excellent 23-percent win rate. The two riders ahead of him that year accepted nearly twice that many mounts, and Baird tends to make the most of his local rides. High-profile trainers like Jonathan Sheppard have regularly turned to Baird at Arlington, and Baird, known especially for his work on the front end, appears adept at riding Arlington’s synthetic surface.

“I don’t mind riding it at all,” said Baird, who is represented again by Penny Ffitch-Heyes, his agent on more than one occasion in the past.

Newcomer from India starting up

Arlington’s jockey colony will be adding international flavor this week when Suraj Narredu begins riding here.

Narredu, 26 and a winner of more than 1,000 races in his native India, arrived in Chicago last Friday and is licensed and ready to go. Narredu was named on an also-eligible on Wednesday’s card, but is more likely to get his first Arlington ride on Friday.

Narredu never has ridden outside India, said his agent, Doug Bredar, who has served as Narredu’s sponsor to facilitate complicated immigration procedures.

“He wanted to come here and see where he fits internationally,” said Bredar, who also books mounts for French expatriate Florent Geroux. “He wants to see if he belongs here.”

No shortage of horses

There’s no real feature on Wednesday’s Arlington card. There are, however, a pleasantly surprising number of horses entered on the 10-race program. Ninety-eight horses were entered to run Wednesday, with six more on also-eligible lists.

Friday’s races are even fuller, with 95 horses (plus seven more also-eligibles) entered on a nine-race program.

Those numbers are especially encouraging given the pre-meet fears many horsemen and officials had about Arlington’s ability to fill races this season.

Whip rule subject to interpretation

Two years ago, Arlington adopted Association of Racing Commissioners’ model rules on use of the whip during a race. But the rule governing how frequently a jockey can strike a horse during a race is a tricky one, and both stewards and riders still are feeling their way into it.

Jockey Seth Martinez has been the subject of several penalties, and on Sunday, Martinez was handed his fourth ruling this year for “repeatedly [striking] his horse without giving him a chance to respond.” Jockeys are not permitted to whip a horse more than twice without pausing to let the horse take at least one stride. The rule requires subjective interpretation, and can be difficult to follow in the heat of battle. Martinez’ violation occurred while he was rallying up the rail on Macho Joe, who wound up finishing second by a head in race 10 on May 7. Stewards recently have reviewed the rule with several Arlington riders.

◗ Owen Rainwater, a farmer, owner, and trainer in Illinois, died last week at 75 following an illness. Rainwater’s racing operation has been taken over by his son, Bradlee Rainwater.