06/03/2011 1:52PM

Arlington: Zoebear still out for his breakthrough


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – The second-place finisher in the 2011 Illinois Derby is scheduled to see action Sunday at Arlington Park. In a maiden race. Where he might not be favored.

The circumstances say something about this year’s Illinois Derby – namely, it wasn’t strong – and something about the horse in question, Zoebear – namely, he’s win-shy. Zoebear finished second in five of his seven starts and third in another. He has finished second to good horses, like Tapizar, and to decent ones, like Saratoga Red and Joe Vann. And he has finished second to horses he really should have beaten, like Sky Tiger on May 13 at Indiana Downs.

In Sunday’s eighth race at Arlington, a turf route, Zoebear runs into Our Noble Heart, whom bettors might make favored off his recent grass form. Trice-started Our Noble Heart has shown traces of Zoebear-like tendencies himself, losing a pair of turf races by a inches, the most recent at Churchill Downs, where Our Noble Heart was beaten a head May 6 after setting a slow pace. As for Zoebear, trainer Scott Becker tries to facilitate an overdue breakthrough with the addition of blinkers Sunday.

Much of what Becker and his owner, William Stiritz, have tried this Arlington meet has worked. Through Wednesday’s races Becker ranked first among trainers in terms of meet earnings and second in wins, with 11. Becker and Stiritz also have action in Sunday’s featured sixth race, an entry-level Illinois-bred Polytrack sprint allowance that drew 11 entrants, including Domain’s Rap from the Becker barn.

Domain’s Rap looks like a fringe player, in part because his best game is speed, and there appears to be too much of that here. But a Becker-Stiritz horse not in the race merits mention. That is Nagy’s Piggy Bank, who overcame stretch traffic to romp in an Arlington maiden race Wednesday. Nagy’s Piggy Bank had finished second May 13 to Sunshine Express in the career debut of both horses, and Sunshine Express, with his eye-opening 89 Beyer speed figure, might well be favored in the Sunday feature. The speed figure still feels slightly suspect, but Nagy’s Piggy Bank’s performance validated it to some extent, though Sunshine Express must avoid getting caught up in a hot pace. If he does, Uncle Jeep, who rallied for a close second at this class level last out, is a logical closer, but do not rule out Shotgun Luke, whose best race came rallying late in an Arlington main-track sprint.