04/09/2011 2:00PM

Churchill's Alysheba Stakes next target for Giant Oak


STICKNEY, Ill. – Chris Block is a Chicago man through and through. His family, which races as Team Block, is a leading owner and breeder in Illinois, and the heart of Block’s season as a trainer is the Arlington Park meeting. But at the moment, Block has more high-level stakes horses than at any point in his career, and to accommodate them he has opened a small division in Kentucky for the spring and early summer. Block, just after saddling first-time starter Knightfiester, who won Hawthorne’s first race on Saturday, said he had five stalls secured for the Churchill Downs spring-summer meet. Four of them will be occupied by stakes runners Never Retreat, Askbut I Won’ttell, Mister Marti Gras, and stable star Giant Oak.

Giant Oak, winner of the Donn Handicap and third last out in the New Orleans Handicap, worked a half-mile in 49 seconds at Keeneland on Saturday, a day before he was scheduled to move to Churchill. Giant Oak’s 49-second breeze was nothing remarkable time-wise, but Block said the horse had galloped out strongly, and was doing well.

“I’m excited about him,” Block said.

Giant Oak is scheduled to race on Kentucky Derby Day in the Alysheba Stakes. Block and Chicago-area owners Rudy and Virginia Tarra hope to get Giant Oak to the Stephen Foster Handicap in June.

Shake N Quake steps up in sharp form

There is plenty of strong current form in the featured eighth race on Tuesday at Hawthorne: Four of the seven fillies entered in a second-level Illinois-bred sprint allowance were winners of their most recent race.

Shake N Quake tops that quartet of last-start winners. Though she beat only $17,500 conditioned claimers on March 30 at Hawthorne, Shake N Quake was a middling stakes runner in 2009. The fact that trainer Jim DiVito (11 for 27 so far this meet) boosts Shake N Quake back to allowance competition suggests the filly really is back on her game.

The problem is that Shake N Quake’s game is speed, and there are others in the race who also prefer the front end. A fast, contested early pace could set things up for Raspberry Jam. Raspberry Jam has raced on or near the lead in two recent claiming-race wins, but has run equally well from off the pace, and enters Tuesday’s race on a serious roll.