04/30/2007 11:00PM

Entry box stuffed for Arlington's opener

Email

CHICAGO - Day 1 of Arlington Park's new era will not lack for horseflesh.

Entries for Friday's opening-day program - the first of the 2007 season and the first conducted on Arlington's new synthetic racing surface - were taken Tuesday, and the racing office's cup runneth over. A booming total of 106 horses were entered on the 10-race card, impressive even for an opening day.

And while one day does not a season make, Arlington's racing secretary, Kevin Greely, was pleased with the initial response.

"It's nice to get off on the right foot," Greely said. "Arlington stepped up to the plate with the surface, and it looks like the horsemen are following suit."

There are four also-eligibles on Friday's card. Eliminate them, and the total on the overnight sheet comes down to 102, or 10.2 per race. That compares very favorably to opening day entries in 2006, which averaged just 8.3 per race before scratches. Arlington wound up averaging 8.35 entries per race and 7.44 starters per race during a troubled 2006 season. Greely and the track hope to build significantly on those totals, using Polytrack as an anchor for the push.

Horses have breezed over the Polytrack only since last Thursday, having begun arriving in the stables three days before. The number of horses posting timed workouts has increased each morning, up from 5 on Thursday to 70 on Sunday and 99 on Tuesday. The Polytrack surface, identical to the one used at the just-concluded Keeneland meet, went through a hard rain the day before it opened for training, and it also has weathered significant temperature shifts during the last week. So far, there have been few apparent problems.

"The horses we've worked on it, most of them worked good," said trainer Hugh Robertson, a noted independent voice on the backstretch. "A couple didn't work good at all on it - why, I don't know. Maybe they just weren't ready for a good work. It was a little fast there for a while, but it's slowed down."

The trainer Jim DiVito said his horses have trained well enough over the Polytrack, but he is adopting a wait-and-see approach to the new surface.

"You're going to find out more about it into the meet with older claiming horses who have more problems," DiVito said. "Let's see how they're going. I can't see it not being more forgiving, but the jury's still out. We've had dirt racing in this country for how long now? So, how you could you judge a track after this short a time?"