05/13/2008 12:00AM

Clever Strike takes huge drop


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - On a Thursday afternoon in May, Arlington Park is - quite surprisingly - awash in allowance competition. Not one, not two, not three, but four allowance races made it onto the nine-race program. Combine that fact with some heavy recent local work tabs, a fair-playing Polytrack, and the early-meet returns are looking all right at the suburban Chicago racetrack.

Race 4, one of two second-level allowance races, comes up first among the higher-class races. Carded for one mile on Polytrack, it drew a field of six, four of whom are Illinois-breds - but Illinois-breds of some quality. Boudoir emerged as one of the top older females in the statebred-restricted set last fall, but may not be as good as Tour d'Aura, who won three times last summer on Arlington Polytrack.

The other second-level allowance (race 8), this one at six furlongs, drew a highly competitive 12-horse field, while race 6, an entry-level sprint allowance, lured a field of eight.

The day's real feature, however, is race 7, which is carded at 1 1/16 miles on turf for females that haven't won a grass race "other than" maiden, claiming, or starter. And it is safe to say that the 4-year-old filly Clever Strike is taking a class drop.

When last seen racing, Clever Strike was in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom on April 5 at Oaklawn, a race so tough that 2007 champion mare Ginger Punch finished third in it. Clever Strike had little chance to win that day - her connections were aiming high for a Grade 1 placing - but she didn't show her best either, winding up 16 lengths behind victorious Zenyatta in a performance distinctly inferior to her third-place finish in the March 9 Azeri at Oaklawn.

"We maybe made her lay up a little too close," said trainer Don Von Hemel. "But sometimes you just have to throw [a race] out."

Clever Strike has two workouts at Arlington since the Apple Blossom, including a sharp five furlongs in 1:00 last Wednesday.

"I think she worked the best she's ever worked," Von Hemel said.

Clever Strike finished a fast-closing fourth in her lone prior turf start, which at five furlongs was short of her best distance. She's by Smart Strike out of a mare by Clever Trick, a pedigree suggesting she may turn out at least as good on turf as dirt.

Clever Strike's main rivals would appear to be Aliysa, who raced effectively in Aqueduct inner-dirt stakes competition this past winter, and the Illinois-bred stakes stalwart Modjadji, who is 0 for 5 on grass.