05/03/2007 11:00PM

Clean start for Polytrack


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Nobody got dirty.

Jockey Eddie Razo had three pairs of goggles strapped to his helmet. The extras, Razo said after winning the first race of the Arlington season on Friday, were there in case the pair he was wearing got smacked by a flying horseshoe during the race. But they weren't going to get dirty.

There is no dirt anymore on Arlington's main track, and the Polytrack era here began under overcast skies and before a moderate crowd that saw exciting finishes - a hallmark of Polytrack racing at Keeneland - in the first two races. Early fractions were modest, as were final times, but these were far from the classiest horses at the track. Inside speed stopped cold, just as it often has at Keeneland - which has a racing surface identical to Arlington's - and horses rallying wide ran well in both races.

Do the Wave won the opener, a $10,000 maiden claimer, in his 14th start. Razo said he benefited from the synthetic surface, which always is labeled fast, and is not supposed to kick back in trailing horses' faces the way conventional dirt tracks do.

"I rode him before, and as soon as the dirt hits him in the face, he sucks back right away," Razo said.

This time, Do the Wave rated like an old pro.

Young Israel Ocampo, fresh off a riding title at Hawthorne, found himself on the lead and the rail in the opener, and his mount, Mokey Shea, stopped quickly at the quarter pole. Ocampo might have been on the wrong part of the track, but he was surprised at the feel of the Polytrack.

"It's really quiet, really comfortable out there," Ocampo said.

Douglas returning to Arlington

Reached by phone early Friday afternoon, Rene Douglas was only a few hours away from riding 2006 2-year-old filly champion Dreaming of Anna in the Kentucky Oaks, but Douglas had no difficulty looking beyond Oaks Day and on to the summer. Saturday, Douglas will move his tack to Arlington Park, and for the native of Panama City, Panama, it feels like coming home.

Douglas, a relative unknown in these parts at the time, spent an entire season here for the first time in 2001, and won the Arlington riding title. He also won it in 2002, 2003, and 2004. No other rider in Arlington's long history has captured four straight riding titles. Steve Brooks won three straight in the late 1940s; so did the legendary Bill Hartack in the mid 1950s. But Douglas was the first with four.

This time last year, Douglas was riding first call for trainer Dale Romans and spent the entire Churchill season in Louisville.

"Riding for Dale Romans, that was not good, it was great," Douglas said. "It made my job easy, and I think we did great. But I wasn't feeling at home, that was the thing. You can give me everything you want, but Arlington Park to me is like home, and I was really missing it."

Douglas said he'd decided as far back as last summer to spend this season at Arlington. He said his family is joining him here, and with agent Dennis Cooper in his corner - Cooper's jock almost always comes out on top at Arlington - Douglas has to be favored to take his fifth title. Sunday, he rides the second Todd Pletcher-trained starter of the meet, and Douglas said he expects to get regular business from Pletcher and perennial leading trainer Wayne Catalano, Dreaming of Anna's trainer.

Douglas, 40, also lauds the implementation of Polytrack at Arlington, and said be believes synthetic surfaces are "the best thing to happen to racing."

"I think it's going to teach a lot of jockeys to ride," said Douglas, who believes Arlington's surface will play like Keeneland's, favoring come-from-behind runners. "The horses aren't getting away any more, just blasting out of the gate. You have to have patience, know how to relax horses. It's more like a turf race."

Rey Del Sol, Princeton Hills return

Arlington horseplayers are pondering a question with no definitive answer this week: How will the new synthetic racing surface play? But the handicapping puzzle in the featured seventh race Sunday looks more conventional: Which layoff horse is more ready to turn in a winning effort?

The featured seventh is carded for Illinois-bred second-level allowance horses at 1 1/16 miles on turf, and neither Rey Del Sol nor Princeton Hills - who both showed the necessary talent to win a race like this during their 2006 campaign - has started in months. Both last raced on dirt at Hawthorne on Dec. 15, neither running anything close to his best, but Rey Del Sol won well on turf last October at Hawthorne, and Princeton Hills raced well in both his turf tries.

Give an edge to Princeton Hills, whose three-breeze work tab includes a bullet five-furlong work on April 22 at Hawthorne for trainer Leo Gabriel. And also consider Snapphok, who unlike his two main rivals got in a prep race on March 24 at Tampa Bay Downs.