05/11/2011 3:43PM

Catalano takes pride in his part in developing Animal Kingdom at Arlington


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – Trainer Wayne Catalano sat at a shaded table just outside his Arlington barn on an unseasonably warm Wednesday morning and pointed in to stall number 1, situated right next to the barn office. That was where a big, gangly chestnut 2-year-old took up residence last June 25, a Team Valor colt by Leroidesanimaux whose best days figured to be well ahead of him. His name was Animal Kingdom, and last Saturday at Churchill Downs, Catalano and the rest of the racing world watched him win the Kentucky Derby.

It was Catalano who helped sculpt Animal Kingdom from the raw animal who shipped to Arlington early last summer into the promising beast who sharply won a maiden race in his second start last fall at Keeneland. By the time Animal Kingdom left Arlington, Catalano claims he was calling the colt his Derby horse. But when Animal Kingdom got here, he had only raw talent. Randy Bradshaw, a former racetrack trainer, broke the horse and sent him to Catalano after four workouts of three and four furlongs at a training center. In the comments section of the shipping sheet that accompanied Animal Kingdom upon his Arlington arrival, Bradshaw had this to say:

“Colt trains well but has not put much effort into his works. Probably will take a race to get him interested. He definitely is a 1 1/8, 1 1/4-mile horse. . . . He needs company as he is lazy!”

Bradshaw had it all pretty well pegged. Animal Kingdom debuted with a runner-up performance in what turned out to be an excellent maiden race late in the Arlington meet: The winner, Willcox Inn, would go on to finish third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, and third-place Mavericking is developing into a solid runner. At Keeneland, Animal Kingdom showed off improved speed and overall focus capturing a nine-furlong maiden race on Polytrack. But not long afterward, Barry Irwin, the president of Team Valor, told Catalano that Animal Kingdom was leaving Catalano’s barn, part of Team Valor’s consolidation with trainer Graham Motion.

And so on Derby Day, Catalano watched from the stands as his old charge powered home to comfortably capture the world’s most famous horse race.

“I have no remorse whatsoever,” Catalano said Wednesday. “We’re going to get one of our own someday.”

English trainer arrives with half-dozen Europeans

It’s usually midsummer, with the Arlington Million just around the corner, that European horses start showing up in Chicago, but the Euros are here early this year. English trainer Gerard Butler has taken an allotment of 10 stalls for the Arlington meet, and six Butler-trained horses arrived here last weekend after clearing quarantine in New York, and the septet was out for their second day of Arlington training Wednesday morning, brazing unusually hot and humid conditions.

“All of them are doing fine,” assistant trainer Andrew Morris said, wiping his brow.

Butler’s first wave of ship-ins includes Pachattack, Burj Alzain, Beauchamp Viceroy, Joe le Taxi, Akhmatova, and Maristar. Akhmatova, Beauchamp Viceroy, and Burj Alzain all are nominated for the May 21 Hanshin Cup, and at least one of the three figures to start. Three-year-old Burj Alzain may be the most promising of the Butler horses that have arrived, with two wins, a second, and a third from his four career starts, all on synthetic surfaces. Pachattack finished sixth in the 2010 Beverly D., and is being pointed for another start in that race, Morris said. Butler himself will be in town this weekend, when he figures to firm up near-term plans for his very remote Arlington string.

Stidham has two for upcoming stakes

Trainer Mike Stidham’s two-string summer setup will tilt more heavily toward Delaware Park than ever before, but Stidham still has the bulk of his stakes horses stabled here at Arlington. That group includes Upperline, Willcox Inn, and Workin for Hops, all of whom could see Arlington racing action in coming weeks, Stidham said Wednesday.

Stidham said he could find no ready excuse for Upperline’s disappointing ninth-place finish Saturday in the Distaff Turf Mile. Upperline had impressively won the Bayou Handicap in her previous start at Fair Grounds, and will return to Polytrack racing in the May 28 Arlington Matron. Last summer, Upperline won the Arlington Oaks under conditions similar to the Matron.

Workin for Hops, second to Get Stormy in the Grade 1 Makers Mark Mile on April 15 at Keeneland, is likely to make his next start here May 21 in the Hanshin Cup, a one-turn-mile Polytrack race. Workin for Hops hasn’t started on a synthetic surface since his first two races back in the fall of 2009.

Willcox Inn also has been penciled in for a May 28 Arlington start, his in the Arlington Classic, the first leg of the Mid-America Triple series of 3-year-old grass stakes here. Willcox Inn beat Derby winner Animal Kingdom in a Polytrack maiden race here last summer, and finished third in the BC Juvenile Turf. He was a fine second to the solid colt Great Mills in his 2011 debut over the Fair Grounds grass course, and finished a mildly troubled eighth switching to Polytrack in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, his only other race at 3.