05/11/2004 11:00PM

Douglas's time to shine begins now


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - It's good to be king. And it's not unfair to say that Rene Douglas, who enters his fourth season here, rules the Arlington Park jockey colony.

Douglas has won the riding title three years in a row, finishing last year with 132 winners, 43 more than Eddie Razo. That was a close race. In 2002, Douglas's 167 wins almost doubled the next-best total, and that year, he won 11 stakes here. Strange that a racetrack far away from home - south Florida - became Douglas's bread and butter. But it has, to the point Douglas can afford to exhale much of the rest of the year. Douglas rides at Gulfstream Park - he was on, then off, then on the top 3-year-old filly Madcap Escapade this year - but he and agent Dennis Cooper scramble for live mounts in Florida.

"You've got seven Hall of Famers in the jocks' room," Cooper said. "It's not easy."

Not only did Douglas scale back this winter, he has hardly ridden at all the last month. But Douglas, 37, said the break is of little consequence now.

"I'm back," Douglas said Wednesday morning, fresh from working horses. "It's not hard for me to get used to this again. When I get here, I get pumped up."

In the first weeks of this meet, Arlington can look much like Hawthorne Race Course. Douglas didn't ride at Hawthorne, and horses from that meet already have riders for Arlington races. What it means is that Douglas probably won't zoom out of the gate. In 2003, his season built momentum as the year wore on. But there might be more depth this year in the ranks of local riders. Cruz Contreras and Tim Thornton, both bug riders, had a good spring at Hawthorne, where Contreras topped the standings. Another bug boy, James Graham, should command attention. Razo had a breakthrough year last season, and Corey Lanerie is spending the entire summer in Chicago this year.

More races for low-class horses

Trying to adapt to the horse colony here, Arlington has tweaked its racing program, increasing its menu for lower-level horses. New to the 2004 condition book are $5,000 claimers written for horses that have never won two races. A $10,000 never-won-three condition, added late last season, also returns.

"We've made some adjustments to the [condition] book to deal with the population we have," said Frank Gabriel, Arlington's executive vice president of racing operations.

Said Gabriel: "I've been here a long time, and I've seen both sides of the cycle. We had to do this in the 90's. You've got to make adjustments."

Gabriel also has added a claiming option to 3-year-old allowance races: $50,000 claimers can be entered in entry-level allowances, $62,500 claimers in second-level allowance races. The hope is the changes will increase average field size, as will an increase in early-season turf races. This year, there are 22 grass races in the first condition book, compared with six last season.

"What really helped us there was an extra month for the course last fall," Gabriel said.

In 2002, with the Breeders' Cup at Arlington, the course had less time to recover at the end of the year.

Summer Mis sharpens for stakes

Summer Mis, one of the top Illinois-breds in training, worked three furlongs in 37.40 seconds here Wednesday and is scheduled to race here Saturday in the $40,000 Fit for a Queen Stakes.

Summer Mis's stablemate and sister, Julie's Prize, is being pointed for the June 12 Estrapade Handicap, according to trainer Tony Mitchell.

Mitchell has what appears to be a bumper crop of 2-year-olds - there will be 12 here in all - including a half-brother to Summer Mis and Julie's Prize by Charismatic.