09/03/2008 11:00PM

Big fields for Saturday stakes


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - The legions of the superstitious can say what they want - 13 is a fine, fine number as far as Arlington Park is concerned.

Thirteen horses were entered Wednesday in Saturday's Pucker Up Stakes, which is very good, and 13 more were entered in Saturday's Arlington-Washington Lassie, which is pushing right up on the remarkable. Both races are Grade 3, the Pucker Up with a $200,000 purse, the Lassie worth $150,000. Toss in the 10-horse Honor Glide, a surprisingly strong 3-year-old overnight grass stakes, and Saturday's racing here should be excellent.

Most 2-year-old stakes in this era draw a field half the size of the Lassie's, and the one-mile Polytrack race looks highly competitive, with a pair of Kentucky shippers, C. S. Silk and Pretty Prolific, perhaps favored over a local contingent that includes three Todd Pletcher-trained horses - Phola, Pride, and Quite the Lady - recent Arlington allowance winner Ravin Maniac, who drew post 13, and Mamma Lina, who hardly could have been more impressive winning her career debut July 30 over Illinois-breds.

Pretty Prolific is the only horse in the race to have started in a graded stakes, finishing a troubled third to subsequent Spinaway Stakes winner Mani Bhavan in the Aug. 13 Adirondack Stakes at Saratoga.

Graded stakes winners, in fact, have not flocked to the barn of Kentucky-based trainer James Baker, who has won two graded stakes in the last 10 years. One came with the good sprinter Elite Squadron - owned, like Pretty Prolific, by Indianan Tom Walters - who was recently retired in the midst of a strong 2008 campaign.

But even with the loss of Elite Squadron, Baker has hope for the future. Besides Pretty Prolific, he trains the 2-year-old colt Gresham, who looked good winning an Arlington maiden special weight race last month in his second start.

"It's wonderful," Baker said. "When we had to retire Elite Squadron, these two kind of stepped up to the plate."

Walters's son Chris engineered Pretty Prolific's private purchase when she was a yearling, and Pretty Prolific came around early, getting into serious training in the spring and winning her career debut on June 22 at Churchill Downs.

"She trains like a colt," said Baker, "gallops out real good."

And while Pretty Prolific, a daughter of Lion Heart, has raced only up to 6 1/2 furlongs, Baker is thinking of her as a route horse.

"Being out of a Seattle Slew mare, she should run all day," he said.

Bel Air Sizzle ships in for Pucker Up

California-based trainer Barry Abrams has never started a horse at Arlington Park, but Bel Air Sizzle was on her way here from Los Angeles on Wednesday and may well go off as the favorite in the Pucker Up for 3-year-old filly turfers.

Abrams rarely runs outside California, but Bel Air Sizzle could remain in these parts for several weeks if she does well Saturday. Abrams said he would leave Bel Air Sizzle at Arlington and send her to Keeneland for the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland if she performs to expectations in the Pucker Up.

A California-bred by Unusual Heat, Bel Air Sizzle "couldn't even get out of the maiden ranks last year," said Abrams, but she has evolved into a solid stakes horse on turf. She was third in the Grade 3 Senorita, second in the Grade 2 Honeymoon, and on Aug. 16 finished second in the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks.

"She's been a complete surprise," Abrams said.

Bel Air Sizzle keeps dropping back early and coming with a big run that falls slightly short - "Her dam ran that way, too," Abrams said - and Abrams is hopeful that getting out of California will help Bel Air Sizzle rally for a win instead of a high placing.

"In California, we have short stretches," Abrams said. "The longer stretch [at Arlington], I think that helps her."

Bel Air Sizzle, who like Pretty Prolific will be ridden by Rafael Bejarano, will take betting action, but so will Much Obliged, Lucky Copy, Tight Precision, and Closeout. A surprise entry in the race was Mushka, who was beaten a mile last out in the Grade 1 Alabama, but won the Grade 2 Demoiselle last fall at Aqueduct.

Steroid regulations set for Jan. 1

Despite a delay in implementation of rules adopted in May, Illinois remains on track to enforce its anabolic steroid regulations by Jan. 1, officials at the Illinois Racing Board said Wednesday.

States that don't implement steroid rules by 2009 face a loss of graded stakes status for stakes races and elimination of Breeders' Cup money added to stakes purses.

The IRB originally planned to implement steroid regulations, which follow model rules developed by the Association of Racing Commissioners International, in September, but had to delay enforcement of the rules while the laboratory used for racehorse drug testing was brought up to speed.

Illinois will test for four steroids, stanozolol, boldenone, nandrolone, and testosterone. As of now, threshold levels for the presence of the steroids in urine will be used to call positives, but work is being done to establish threshold levels in blood plasma, a more accurate gauge. Illinois will adopt plasma threshold levels when those become available.

Steroid positives will be categorized a Class 3 medication violation and will trigger loss of purse money, a trainer suspension between 60 days and six months, and a trainer fine of as much as $1,500.