05/31/2010 11:00PM

This cast worthy of twice the money

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Maiden special weight purses for non-Illinois-breds at Arlington Park have dipped below $30,000 this season, but the field of maidens assembled in race 8 on Thursday would not look ill-suited to a maiden race worth twice the $28,000 purse being offered.

Chris Block-trained Zonker came within a half-length of winning his career debut at Hawthorne, and could easily do better this time. Twice-started This Is My House ran a winning-type race in a losing effort here May 14. Wayne Catalano has Backstabber, who went favored in two starts at Gulfstream Park. And in from Keeneland are second-time starter Ender's Universe for trainer Rusty Arnold, and debuting Distant Sky for the Darley Stable and trainer Eoin Harty.

The eight-horse eighth, carded for six furlongs on Polytrack, is the highest-class fare available on a nine-race Thursday card. The program starts off with three Illinois-bred $10,000 maiden-claimers, and includes six maiden races. There's a competitive $10,000 claiming route in the mix, with the other two races for conditioned $5,000 claiming stock. Somehow, the overall feel of the program exceeds the sum of its limited parts, in great part because of the moderately promising maidens.

The gray colt from Block's barn, Zonker, was withdrawn from a yearling sale in 2008, and did not meet a $45,000 reserve at a 2-year-old auction the next year, even though one of Zonker's half-sisters is Indyanne, a multiple graded stakes winner over sprint distances. Zonker is by the sneakily good sire Cactus Ridge, whose offspring do well on both turf and synthetic surfaces, and Zonkers's three works since shipping to Arlington following his encouraging April 21 debut all look strong.

This Is My House has started twice and finished second twice, racing once last summer at Arlington before going on an extended racing holiday that ended May 14. In his 2-year-old start, This Is My House finished second to Oak Motte, who was highly regarded at the time by the Tom Amoss stable. And while This Is My House went down to defeat at 6-5 here last month, he had a less-than-ideal trip after breaking from the rail, and lost only to Mam Bird, who was as impressive winning an allowance race last week at Arlington as he was in beating This Is My House.

Backstabber, the Catalano charge, faded to sixth at 6-5 in his career debut on Gulfstream dirt, but was much better second time out on turf.