09/15/2006 12:00AM

Emigh proud of Arlington title


STICKNEY, Ill. - There were some questions Friday afternoon about which parking place in Hawthorne's underground VIP garage would be reserved for Chris Emigh's SUV. Hopefully, Emigh got a prime spot. He has, after all, won the last four riding titles here at Hawthorne. But last Tuesday, Emigh took home a more coveted prize - his first Arlington Park jockey championship.

"Yes, that did mean something to me," said Emigh, 35 and one of the veteran reinsmen on the Chicago circuit. "That's something I didn't really think that I could do. It's a tough place to stay on top for five months."

Emigh took advantage this summer of an early-season void in the Arlington jockey colony. In recent years, it was Rene Douglas or Shaun Bridgmohan who came to Arlington with uber-agent Dennis Cooper and swept to the top of the standings. This year, Cooper stayed in Kentucky - then went to Saratoga - with Bridgmohan, and until Kentucky-based riders arrived in July at the end of the Churchill meet, Emigh, through his agent Jay Fedor, had a trove of live mounts.

"When Cooper didn't come the door was open," Emigh said. "Jay took over."

Emigh, who finished with 110 Arlington wins to runner-up Cisco Torres's 98, did have to overcome a mid-meet spill when a mount of his took a bad step about a half-mile from the finish, throwing Emigh hard to the ground.

"I thought the dream was over," Emigh said.

But after missing a couple days with soreness, then a few more from a suspension, Emigh got his rhythm back, and by meet's end was riding as well as he had at any point in the summer.

Now, it is back to more working-class Hawthorne, which, Emigh conceded, "takes a couple weeks to get used to."

So, Emigh, after 10 years of diligent work and cultivating strong relationships through his reliable, down-to-earth personality, has carved out a major niche in Chicago. There is of course a bigger world outside Arlington and Hawthorne, as Emigh acknowledges.

"I'm not part of the elite," Emigh said. "Everybody wants to ride the big tracks, get the big horses. But there's so much travel, and it's hard to do that when you have a family."

Emigh has a wife and two children - the family of Chicago's leading rider, regardless of which track.

Douglas to work from home

Rene Douglas, meanwhile, remains in a kind of jockey limbo. Douglas was to ride a handful of horses the first two days of the Hawthorne meet, but won't be around after this weekend. Sunday, he rides Dreaming of Anna in the Summer Stakes at Woodbine for trainer Wayne Catalano, and then Douglas plans to head home to Florida. He said the agent Danny Mellul, Joe Bravo's former agent, would book mounts for him, but Douglas at this point is marking time.

"I'm going to be in Florida, but I'll ship around," Douglas said. "If I have to go to Kentucky, go there, if I have to go to New York, I'll go there. I'll kind of stay there and wait for Gulfstream, unless something else comes up."

Vacare pointed to Queen Elizabeth II

Vacare, unbeaten after three starts, and an impressive winner of the Pucker Up Stakes last weekend at Arlington, has been invited to the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland and is likely to start in the race, trainer Chris Block said Friday.

Vacare, bred and owned by Bob Lothenbach, has yet to face a serious challenge, but should get one at Keeneland. Typically the fall's toughest race for 3-year-old grass fillies, the QE II could attract several high-class European fillies this year. Trainer Todd Pletcher also has two excellent 3-year-old turf fillies, Wait a While and Magnificent Song.

But Vacare, a plain bay horse of unassuming stature, came through her summer campaign in good shape, carrying her weight well and looking to the untrained eye like a happy horse.

"She looks good physically," Block said, "and mentally, that last race certainly didn't take anything out of her."

* Trainer Jim McCoy somehow went through the long Arlington season winless from 131 starters, and entering the Hawthorne fall meet, McCoy's record stood at a difficult-to-fathom 3 for 243. But Hawthorne in the fall is known for upsets, and there in the winner's circle after the second race of this meet on Friday was McCoy, co-leading trainer after Ferazzi won a $4,000 claimer at odds of 9-1.

* Sunday's Hawthorne races didn't fill as well as those on the first two days of the meet, but a third-level sprint allowance with a $40,000 claiming option made it onto the card as race 7. At six furlongs and restricted to females, the race drew a seven-horse field, which is somewhat difficult to separate. Bettors might settle on Miss Macy Sue, second in three straight stakes races, as the tepid favorite.