06/07/2007 11:00PM

Block sizzles in first-time turf routes


CHICAGO - It was only a couple years ago that trainer Chris Block was - by his own admission - basically a throwout with first-time starters. Block didn't have speed-burning young sprinters, and didn't push a horse to become one. The horses would get their feet wet a time or two, learn some things about racing, and then win a maiden race.

Well, Block still doesn't have speed-burning young sprinters, but he has become a trainer of debut winners par excellence. Block has won with an amazing 13 of his last 27 first-timers, often doing it the hard way, with first-timers in two-turn turf races. In the last year, Block has sent out six debut winners in turf routes, an achievement crowned Thursday at Arlington when Block-trained firsters swept both divisions of a two-turn Illinois-bred maiden turf race.

Block will be the first to point out that he has the raw materials with which to work: Both Thursday winners, Dick Duchossois-owned Must Trust in race 6 and Team Block-owned Unpaid Crusade in race 10, have pedigrees far better than the average Illinois-bred. But it's not like these two came in ready-made to win.

"First, it's the horses that are doing this," Block said Friday. "These are well-broke horses and have got some class behind them. But second, there's a couple we've had some difficulties with we've taken our time with. Those two yesterday have been at the racetrack since last Nov. 15."

These were not narrow victories, either. Unpaid Crusade won by almost six lengths, while Must Trust was home by 3 1/2. They joined Roaming Free - just as impressive as the Thursday winners in her maiden voyage last week - Corrupt, Trigger Happy, and Vacare as first-timers successful at first asking on the grass during Block's year-long run.

All three of the recent Arlington winners settled in well off the early pace, made a nice run to reach contention, then finished off their opponents with a powerful stretch burst - like they had done it all before. They hadn't, but if turf distance racing is in a horse's blood, Block has developed the confidence to let them go straight to what's natural, no sprint prep race needed.

"Years ago, I was doing that, but it wasn't beneficial to them because that's not what they're bred to do," Block said. "I didn't see any benefit from it."

Bettors, on the other hand, could benefit from latching on to Block's understanding in these matters.

Chillin Villain tries to make amends

Race 9 on Sunday at Arlington is an open second-level allowance race, the highest-class fare on a 10-race card that drew only an average of 7.6 starters per race, far lower than the recent standard here. But it may be that race 8, an Illinois-bred second-level sprint allowance, is just as interesting as the nominal feature.

The ninth, carded for 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track, drew a field of eight, seven of whom figure to be chasing Gin Real Officer, the race's lone speed. Gin Real Officer beat $35,000 claimers at Arlington in his last start, but that race came at a one-turn mile, and in general Gin Real Officer has had trouble staying on in two-turn races. Who might catch him? Who knows? Razor-sharp Hatch has won three straight, but all against lesser foes. Win Me Over could be ready for something better in his third race after a long layoff. Cavu was asked to run prematurely in his last start.

But back to race 8, which got nine entries and is carded for six furlongs. Chillin Villain was made the favorite in a similar race May 24, and though he finished fourth, the betting public is likely to give him another chance. Chillin Villian showed talent winning 2 of 3 last year at age 2, and in his first race back from a six-month layoff, Chillin Villain might have been just short of full strength.

Campo finished one place ahead of Chillin Villain last time out, and might have won with a clean trip. Jockey Larry Sterling was sitting on a powder keg from the three-eighths pole to deep stretch, but got locked behind horses until it was far too late. Lightly raced El Pollo Volando looked good winning an entry-level allowance last month in his first start of the year. Mare's Ex, another good Illinois-bred 2-year-old, makes his first start of 2007. Mare's Ex might be more a route horse than sprinter, but has trained well over Polytrack for his comeback.

"Even if they work good on it, they don't always handle it in the afternoon," cautioned trainer Jim DiVito. "But if he gets a good clean trip, the horse will run pretty good, I think."