08/10/2004 11:00PM

Fairmount Park track report


COLLINSVILLE, Ill. - Fairmount Park is a scrappy little oval with more than its fair share of down-on-their-luck $3,200 claiming horses. But such a dreary scenario hasn't deterred a handful of savvy Fairmount barns from putting a shine on their home track by shipping their more talented Thoroughbreds far and wide in hopes of stealing out-of-state stakes races. And this year, one filly in particular, the 4-year-old Wildwood Royal, has managed to put together such a potent string of stakes victories away from home that rival track bettors might think twice before throwing out Fairmount-stabled racehorses.

Wildwood Royal has four wins in seven 2004 starts, including a 3-for-3 record and two stakes wins at Prairie Meadows. Her only out-of-the-money race came in a fourth-place finish in the Grade 3, $200,000 Gardenia Handicap this past Saturday at Ellis Park.

"She acted like she didn't care for the course any," said Wildwood Royal's trainer, Jimmy Zook, noting that it was the horse's first trip to the Kentucky track. "She was nervous in the paddock. She missed third by a head."

Zook works exclusively for Wildwood Stables, the Collinsville-based barn of William Stiritz, the former Ralston Purina CEO who owns Fairmount Park. While Zook and Stiritz have fielded many stakes-caliber horses over the years, the trainer says Wildwood Royal is the barn's all-time greatest.

"I think it tells people across the country that people can come from a little, cheap track and be good horsemen," said Zook, who acknowledges that money is the motivator for the barn's decision to point roughly half its entries to tracks other than Fairmount.

Zook is next planning on entering Wildwood Royal in the Grade 3, $150,000 Arlington Matron Handicap at Arlington Park on Sept. 4.