07/11/2008 12:00AM

Arnold hopes Polytrack revives Wicked Style


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - A nice-looking chestnut 2-year-old colt by the name of Wicked Style made a winning career debut last July 21 at Arlington. He beat only five rivals, and didn't run especially fast, but there was a certain spark to his stretch run that said, "Keep an eye on this one." Six weeks later, Wicked Style won the Arlington-Washington Futurity, and a month after that, he kicked it up still another notch, capturing the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity by more than three lengths.

That all feels like ancient history. Wicked Style floundered his way through Monmouth Park mud and finished 10th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and came out of the race with a fractured leg that required the surgical insertion of two screws. Finally back in action on May 21, Wicked Style finished fifth in a turf allowance race, and was fifth again June 14 in the Jefferson Cup, another grass race.

That makes the featured ninth race Sunday at Arlington something of a crossroads for Wicked Style: Will his return to Polytrack for the first time since the Breeders' Futurity get the colt back on track, or was Wicked Style merely an advanced 2-year-old unlikely to revisit his 2007 peak?

"I'm going back to the basics here," said trainer Rusty Arnold. "If I don't get the race I'm looking for, I'm going to take a few steps back and start over again."

Wicked Style was one of eight horses entered in a high-end third-level allowance race also open to $100,000 claimers, and the Sunday feature - carded for 1 1/16 miles on the main track - is fairly deep. Tough Illinois-breds Stonehouse and Rey del Sol both look like win threats, and Rector, who got good this past spring, can rebound from a turf thumping he took in May. Throng exits stakes races and is entered for the $100,000 tag, while My Happiness, Group 1-placed in his native Argentina, makes his U.S. debut.

Still, the race's focus narrows onto Wicked Style, who should win if he bounces back to his best established form. Returning to Polytrack after the two turf tries this year might in itself spur a resurgence, but Arnold is not certain what to expect.

"Obviously, it's been disappointing so far," Arnold said. "His first race back at Churchill didn't go as I planned, but his second race at Churchill, it was a bad race."

It is just one week shy of a year since Wicked Style first popped up at Arlington early on a quiet Saturday card. Maybe late on Sunday afternoon, he can steer his racing career back onto the tracks.