07/26/2007 12:00AM

Distance could be issue for Lewis Michael


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - The Washington Park Handicap either is a complete toss-up, or a race with a standout. All that depends upon how one views Lewis Michael, who as of entry time on Wednesday had not even been committed to the race.

Lewis Michael was one of eight horses entered in the Washington Park, a Grade 2, $300,000 handicap run at 1 3/16 miles on Polytrack. The field also included two horses from the barn of the country's runaway leading stakes trainer, Todd Pletcher. A.P. Arrow fits the spot decently, while Throng will have to show significant improvement to contend. Minister's Joy and Mustanfar, who finished noses apart when second and third this past spring in the Ben Ali Handicap over the Keeneland Polytrack, both ship in from New York. Minister's Joy attracted the services of Arlington's runaway leading rider, Rene Douglas, and thus will attract the attention of many bettors.

Douglas actually had ridden Lewis Michael in his last eight starts, but jockey E.T. Baird takes over on Saturday. Douglas has drifted away from the camp of Lewis Michael's trainer, Wayne Catalano, and owner, Frank Calabrese, this meet, and though he rode Dreaming of Anna to victory for them last fall in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, Baird was aboard her last weekend when she won the Virginia Oaks.

Lewis Michael is Dreaming of Anna's full brother, and may in the end be seen as a horse of comparable quality. His connections had initially decided to point for the Sea O'Erin, a one-mile turf race on Aug. 11, after Lewis Michael scored a seven-length win in a one-mile Polytrack allowance race July 15, but Catalano said this week that striking while the iron was hot might be the best way to go.

"I know it's back kind of quick, but he was really just breezing when he won the other day," Catalano said.

Catalano "two-minute clipped" Lewis Michael on Tuesday, when he was recorded by Arlington clockers working a half-mile in 48.60 seconds. "That should put some air in his lungs, help him get the distance," Catalano said.

And really, distance is the major question for Lewis Michael, who already has shown both Grade 2 class and a distinct fondness for Polytrack. Lewis Michael may indeed be cut more from a miler's cloth, but from on or close to what figures to be a moderate pace Saturday, Lewis Michael appears primed to win his first graded stakes.

If not, then the Washington Park could fall any number of ways. A.P. Arrow ran a couple of big races this past winter over the Gulfstream dirt, but has not looked as good in his two synthetic-surface starts. Minister's Joy is a decent horse, but hardly a stakes star. The 6-year-old Mustanfar has not won a race in 17 months.

Sweetest Chant: 'Sermon' on streak

Also on Saturday's card is the $45,000 Sweetest Chant, a prep for the Aug. 18 Arlington Oaks.

Pletcher sends out the likely favorite here, Mini Sermon, a winner of three straight races. But the Sweetest Chant (race 6) has some other possibilities, especially Early Vintage, who has the look of an improving filly for trainer Dale Romans.