07/06/2006 11:00PM

Douglas the first of late wave

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Jack Coady / Coady Photography
Coach Jimi Lee will probably have a prep before the Arlington Sprint.

CHICAGO - Rene Douglas, leading rider at Arlington Park for four straight seasons from 2001 to 2004, will ride the rest of the season here beginning on July 14, Douglas said Friday.

"I'm on my way over there right now," said Douglas, en route from Kentucky to Chicago.

Douglas declined to return to Arlington for the 2005 season, though he said it was difficult leaving a track where he had become a favorite of fans and horsemen alike. Instead, Douglas went to Southern California last year and had several strong months before his business slowed. This year, he rode at Churchill Downs rather than Arlington, and won 30 races against stiff competition, in great part because of his status as first-call rider for trainer Dale Romans, whose 36 victories at the meet are far more than any other Churchill trainer. But the Romans-Douglas partnership recently soured, and rather than slog out a Saratoga or Del Mar season, Douglas elected to return to Arlington, where agent Jay Fedor, who also represents leading rider Chris Emigh, will book his mounts.

Douglas currently is serving a five-day suspension, but said he would start getting on horses after spending "two or three days" with his family.

"I can't wait to get out there, and my family loves Chicago," Douglas said. "I guess things work out."

Douglas said he hadn't yet decided where he would ride after Arlington closes in September. "I've got a lot of options," he said. "Right now, I'm focusing on Arlington."

Robby Albarado also will join the local jockey colony later this month, and another expected midsummer arrival is Mark Guidry, who had a huge run last summer after coming from Churchill.

Too soon to tell on track treatment

The Arlington racing surface now contains the better part of a ton of ground-up pine bark, a fairly minor alteration to a track that has come under intense scrutiny after a rash of breakdowns during the first half of the ongoing meet.

The Arlington track maintenance crew began adding the pine bark Wednesday morning, a project that had been in the works before the series of in-race injuries drew attention to the track surface from major local media outlets, becoming front-page news and a staple of television news broadcasts last week. The pine bark is supposed to add cushion to the surface in hot weather, but Javier Barajas, Arlington's trackman, said any change might not be noticeable until all the bark had been mixed in and the track had a chance to settle into its new constitution.

Barajas said the pine bark is measured in yards, rather than weight, and Barajas said his crew had mixed in 150 yards of material Wednesday, and another 50 yards Thursday before conditions grew too windy. Barajas said he intended to add the remaining 60 yards of barn during the dark days next week.

"The harrows seem to be bouncing more, and hopefully the horses will bounce, too," Barajas said.

There were 110 published workouts on Friday, and horsemen haven't been hesitating either to work or enter their stock on the Arlington track.

"I gave it one day, didn't see anything that alarmed me, so I worked like six horses today," trainer Mike Stidham said. "I was pleased with the works, but to say the track's different, I couldn't say."

Additionally, the Illinois Racing Board has announced an initiative to administer prerace examinations to all horses entered to race at Arlington, using a rotating schedule of all four veterinarians employed by the state and the track, rather than only one of the four vets, as previously was the case.

Arlington Sprint goal for 'Jimi Lee'

Coach Jimi Lee came out of his third straight victory in the Iowa Sprint Handicap last Saturday night in good physical condition, trainer Jim DiVito said, but added he would wait until Coach Jimi Lee had resumed breezing to start zoning in on the horse's next start.

DiVito said he does have in mind the Aug. 26 Arlington Breeders' Cup Sprint, but wants Coach Jimi Lee to have a race before then. The Arlington Sprint also is the major local goal for the excellent Arlington-based sprinter Fifteen Rounds.

Coach Jimi Lee summers at Arlington, but may do his best work at Prairie Meadows.

"He likes a fast racetrack like that," DiVito said.

Bishop Court Hill, a Grade 1 winner, was heavily favored in this year's edition of the Iowa Sprint, but he was no match for Coach Jimi Lee, who won by almost five lengths.

"This was an awesome race," said DiVito.

Mystery Giver shows signs of life

Mystery Giver, a multiple graded stakes winner, won his first race in more than two years last Friday, taking a $40,000 turf claimer here by a nose. Although it was only a claiming race, the victory was a satisfying one for Mystery Giver's connections, the Team Block family partnership and trainer Chris Block.

Mystery Giver suffered a serious leg injury during the 2004 Arlington Million, and came close to being retired. Instead, he rehabbed for many months, gaining strength and condition, but the first two starts of his comeback were dismal, and another bad one might have ended Mystery Giver's career.

"It really meant as much to me as any win I've ever had," Chris Block said. "He means a lot to me, and he means a lot to my family."

* Sunday's nominal feature is a entry-level sprint allowance race for fillies and mares.