06/03/2002 12:00AM

Douglas can dominate again in new summer home


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Last May, Rene Douglas was at home in south Florida. It may never be known who called whom first, but somehow, Douglas and jockey agent Dennis Cooper talked, and what they talked about was Douglas spending the summer at Arlington. Douglas wavered, then dove in.

"I didn't know if I'd make it in time for the meet," Douglas said last week from Churchill, where he has had a solid meet. "I got there one day before it started. Things were a little slow at first, because people did not know me, but then we got going."

As in going, going, gone. By midsummer, Douglas had fought his way to the top of the jockey standings. Another couple months and no one was in sight of him. Douglas wound up riding 134 winners, 68 more than his nearest pursuer.

Douglas isn't making any predictions, and he downplays his dominance last year. But the makeup of the Arlington jockey colony has not substantially changed this season. Mark Guidry - Cooper's former rider - is going to New York, leaving Douglas as an odds-on favorite to win another title.

"I can't wait to get started," Douglas said late last week. "I feel like I've been up there for a long time. People have been nice and the track is unbelievable."

Cooper, a tireless worker with great connections on this circuit, has helped a lot. By the end of last meet, Douglas had gotten an in with almost every major stable at Arlington.

"I was with Jerry Hollendorfer, Wayne Catalano. By the end of the meet I was riding for a lot of them," Douglas said.

Another thing about Douglas - he is not afraid to stay busy. He rode 569 horses here last meet, and on Wednesday, Cooper has found him a mount in all nine races.

Planning on larger fields

Arlington has raised its maximum number of starters per race from 12 to 14 in dirt races at most distances, and the track's tote board is in the process of being reconfigured to accommodate the additional starters.

Arlington hopes 14-horse fields, a rarity in this country, will attract interest from bettors, and while the option may not be used on a daily basis (the biggest dirt field opening day is nine), it surely will come into play during the Breeders' Cup.

Arlington also plans to cut down on the number of one-turn mile races this meet and emphasize distance racing. The about 1 1/16-mile distance, a race that was difficult to time and started virtually on the clubhouse turn, has been replaced by one-mile and 1 1/8-mile races.

Catalano readies annual campaign

Does Wayne Catalano point to the Arlington meet? Has Catalano won 76 races here during the last two seasons?

Catalano came two wins from repeating as leading trainer last meet. He gave way to Jerry Hollendorfer, but Catalano's only owner, Frank Calabrese, won the owner's title by 26 races. Calabrese can be difficult to please, but he could hardly want more than that.

There is little doubt Catalano has his ducks in a row for the start of another Arlington meet. With 34 horses to Hollendorfer's 50-something, it will be difficult for Catalano to keep pace this summer, but Catalano, Calabrese, and stable manager Steve Leving will have horses ready to go.

And when that group runs out of steam, they will bring in another set of horses.

"We're coming in okay, and we've got to fight from there," Catalano said. "It's a tough meet, a marathon meet. We won 17 at Arlington last year just with horses we claimed during the meet."

That's the kind of action Calabrese likes, and it's something Catalano and Leving have supplied for him the last couple of seasons. The stable has claimed 107 horses in the last 27 months while losing 88 horses to claims. Calabrese also took a fairly serious dip into the European market last season, and there are new Euros for this meet.

The most promising young horse in the barn might be Jaha, who Calabrese bought unraced at a French 2-year-old sale last year. A turf horse, Jaha won his career debut, then finished third here in the $75,000 Manila Stakes before being put away for the year. Jaha, Catalano said, is up to a half-mile in his breezes and should be ready to race before long.

Second string from Godolphin

Godolphin, the mighty international stable, is back at Arlington for the second year with a division of 2-year-olds trained by Eoin Harty. The Godolphin string, overseen on a day-to-day basis by assistant trainer Davey Duggan, will start off with 16 2-year-olds, a number that could increase as this meet goes on.

Just like last year, the best and most precocious Godolphin 2-year-olds are in California with Harty. Duggan is here with the projects, horses who lack the speed to keep up with Southern California talent, or horses who are behind in terms of maturity and development.

"It's pretty similar to last year," Duggan said. "We're kind of mid-division down toward the end."

Duggan said some of last year's late-bloomers who summered at Arlington have begun to pan out. The patience the operation showed last year gave them a chance to realize their potential as 3-year-olds. For instance, Dubai Fall, who started once here, won a May 18 maiden race at Belmont by more than 14 lengths.

The whole group of Godolphin 2-year-olds ship from their winter base in Dubai to California before the Chicago division splits off. Some California-based horses who don't handle West Coast racing can be shipped here later this summer, and Duggan said Harty is likely to send prospects for the Breeders' Cup to Arlington's 2-year-old stakes races.

Of the current group, none will be ready to run before the end of the month, though four horses, three colts and a filly, are getting close to a race.