06/27/2006 11:00PM

Creative Force a budding star?

Four-Footed Fotos
Chris Block will use the Arlington Classic to gauge Creative Force's talent level on turf.

CHICAGO - From Reno Rumble to Mystery Giver, and now Fort Prado, the lineage of excellent Illinois-bred grass horses trained by Chris Block grows longer by the year, and 3-year-old Creative Force might be next. A solid turf allowance win May 20 at Arlington earned Creative Force a starting berth in the Arlington Classic on Saturday, and the race will tell Block whether he has another Illinois-bred worthy of open stakes competition.

Creative Force was one of eight horses entered Wednesday in the Grade 3, $150,000 Arlington Classic, the first in Arlington's three-race series of 3-year-old turf races. Even though the race itself swims upstream against last Saturday's $1 million Colonial Turf Cup, which included two Arlington-based horses - Lewis Michael and Chin High - that failed to make an impact, the Arlington Classic drew a decent group. Storm Treasure, a solid third last out in the Grade 2 Jefferson Cup at Churchill, looks like the favorite, but Awad Stakes winner Equal Opportunity will have his supporters. Proudinsky's two career starts came in Germany, while Icy Ridge comes from California, and Desert Wheat from Texas. Kingship and Arbuckle Bandit are based at Arlington.

So is Creative Force, a major plus for Block, who rarely ships out of town. Creative Force debuted last fall, finishing second in a turf race, but won his maiden and the Jim Edgar Futurity on dirt, and then ran poorly Feb. 12 in a Gulfstream Park turf stakes. Block started to think Creative Force might prefer the main track, but the colt lost twice on dirt at Hawthorne, and was back on turf for his allowance win last month.

"I wasn't sure what he was, what direction he was headed," Block said. "In fact, we're still kind of feeling our way, but he ran well enough last time to think he could improve."

Creative Force beat only five opponents in his Arlington win, but overcame a slow pace and a wet turf course, and made a positive visual impression in victory. And the more Creative Force has raced, the more Block has learned about his habits. Creative Force looks the part of a high-class horse, but needs prompting to take care of business

"He's not an easy horse to ride," said Block. "He'll get lazy on you, and you have to keep his mind in the game."

Jockey Eddie Perez figured it out last time, and gets another chance, this time on a bigger stage.

Track surface passes inspection

Two trainers, Arlington officials, and representatives of the Illinois Racing Board met Wednesday morning at Arlington to discuss concerns about an unusually high rate of breakdowns during races this meet, and came out of the conference feeling no major changes to Arlington's track surface were required.

Arlington plans to mix ground pine bark into the track during the dark period next week, an effort to make the surface kinder when it begins baking hard and fast in hot weather. Also, late Wednesday afternoon, the top 3 1/2 inches of the surface - from the rail and out three paths - were peeled back between the half-mile pole and the three-sixteenths pole so that the track's base could be inspected. This task was to have been performed Monday morning, when noted trackman Joe King was at Arlington as a consultant, but wet weather forced the in-depth examination to be postponed.

"It's exactly what I expected to see," said track superintendent Javier Barajas, as he walked the track. "Everything is even and it looks really good."

King had inspected the surface and analyzed samples taken from various parts of the track, and gave it a passing grade.

"Joe King said he cannot find anything wrong with this racetrack," Arlington racing secretary Kevin Greely said Wednesday. "He said it's very consistent."

Joe Kasperski, a trainer and president of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, also said that he believed the track itself wasn't to blame for the recent problems.

"We've come to the conclusion based on trainers, jockeys, and Joe King's assessment that the racetrack's safe," he said.

The track was closed for training Monday in anticipation of the inspection, but reopened Tuesday. The Wednesday afternoon excavation won't effect training or racing the rest of the week, Barajas said.

Shelly Kalita, general counsel for the Illinois Racing Board, also attended the meeting and said the IRB was focused on "initiatives we could take from a regulatory standpoint" that would address the breakdown rate.

Kalita said Dr. Joe Lokanc had recently been hired as one of two state-employed veterinarians at Arlington, filling a gap in staffing, but since Lokanc had already been working as a racetrack-employed vet, the total regulatory staff remained one person short.

"Once we're up to a full complement of four vets, we ought to be able to better coordinate prerace soundness programs," Kalita said.

Prerace exams are conducted the morning a horse is entered to race at Arlington, but not every horse is checked. Kalita also said the IRB was considering case-by-case investigations of fatal breakdowns. "Right now we take blood samples for drug-testing, but we're looking into doing medical histories, too," she said.

* Leading rider Chris Emigh, who hasn't ridden since he sustained minor injuries in a one-horse spill last Wednesday, is scheduled to return on Friday's card. Emigh's agent, Jay Fedor, said Emigh was feeling better, and that he was expected to work horses at Arlington on Thursday morning.

* Jockey Miguel Mena, tied for eighth place in the Arlington standings with 16 wins, has left Chicago and will ride at Ellis Park. Noted agent Steve Elzey will represent him. Elzey's main Arlington rider, Rafael Mojica, now is represented here by Randy Romero II, who had been booking mounts for Mena.