07/18/2001 11:00PM

Block grins and bears loss of Chicago Six


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Chicago Six will try to bounce back from two disappointing losses when he starts Saturday in the Washington Park Handicap at Arlington Park. In Chicago Six's case, however, disappointing is a relative term. No one has a right to expect an $18,000 claim to develop into a graded stakes winner, as Chicago Six has for owner Richard Trebat and trainer J. R. Smith Sr. What he does from here on in is gravy.

But there are those who shudder a bit every time Chicago Six runs. Trainer Chris Block is foremost among them. Block was training Chicago Six when Trebat and Smith claimed the horse from Dick Duchossois, who bred Chicago Six at his Hill'N Dale Farm not far from Arlington.

Block now is Duchossois's primary trainer, but Chicago Six was among the first four horses Duchossois sent Block while he summered at Hawthorne in 1999. "Mr. Duchossois's son, Bruce, called me and asked if I'd train a few horses for them," Block said. "I said I'd be delighted.

"They were kind of culling the herd. The plan was to start these horses out at a higher level and then drop them down in class if they couldn't win."

As a 2-year-old, Chicago Six had been trained by Todd Graves, now Elliott Walden's Arlington assistant trainer. Graves said a sesamoid fracture that occurred as a yearling had cost Chicago Six his 2-year-old season.

When he came to Block, Chicago Six had won a maiden race and a first-level allowance race the previous fall as a 3-year-old at Hawthorne. Block soon found the colt had quarter cracks in both feet, a problem that continually worsened throughout the summer. In his second start for Block, he managed to win a second-level allowance race, but his form declined thereafter and Chicago Six went unplaced in his next two starts. It was then, with the horse "walking around like he was on eggshells," Block said, that the decision was made to start Chicago Six in a claiming race. Entered Sept. 2 at Hawthorne for an $18,000 tag, Chicago Six finished seventh. But Smith and Trebat dropped the fateful claim.

In his first two starts for Smith, Chicago Six lost claiming races at Hawthorne, but then went to Fair Grounds, where he won a third-level turf allowance race. "When I saw him win at Fair Grounds, I got worried," Block said.

The worry soon gave way to the sick feeling any trainer gets when a horse claimed from them goes on to do well. Chicago Six has now won seven stakes for Smith and Trebat, including the Grade 3 National Jockey Club Handicap this spring at Hawthorne, where the Block-trained, Duchossois-owned Apt To Be finished second.

"What can you do?" said Block, who is able to manage a grim laugh about the situation. "I just feel like J.R. has done a great job with him. If I'd have kept him, maybe he never even does come around."

Chicago Six's last start was disastrous, a last-place finish in the Cardinal Handicap here. But the Cardinal was on turf, Chicago Six is much better on dirt, and Smith said the horse has been training strongly here. He has given the mount to Rene Douglas, who has never ridden Chicago Six.

Duchossois might get the well-bred Chicago Six back in the end. Trebat would like to make the horse a stallion in Illinois, and Duchossois's Hill'N Dale is a leading contender for his retirement home.

Baptize will wait for Saratoga

Baptize, who probably would have been favored in Sunday's Grade 2 American Derby, will pass the race and is likely to make his next start in the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame on Aug. 6 at Saratoga.

In his last start, Baptize won the Arlington Classic, the first leg of Arlington's Mid-America Triple for 3-year-old turf horses. Baptize breezed a solid half-mile at Churchill on Wednesday, and trainer Bill Mott is taking this route because of the colt's busy schedule earlier in the year.

"He's had a lot of racing already," said assistant trainer Ralph Nicks. "He was in Florida, shipped to Texas, shipped to Arlington. He's been busy."

Nicks said Baptize was likely to depart Friday to join Mott's main string in New York.

In his absence, Sligo Bay and Royal Spy will vie for favoritism in the 1 3/16-mile American Derby, which will attract between six and eight horses. Sligo Bay won the Cinema Handicap in his lone U.S. start and has been stabled at Arlington for a week. Sligo Bay worked over the turf course last weekend and was slated for an easy breeze Friday, trainer Beau Greeley said.

Royal Spy was a blowout winner of two Lone Star turf stakes this spring.