06/12/2008 11:00PM

Familiar target for Major Rhythm


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - It was just last month that trainer Doug Matthews sent a crusty old claimer named Gravano permanently out to pasture after the gelding had won a low-level claimer at age 10. Major Rhythm, age 9 and also a member of the Matthews stable, does not quite seem ready for life after racing.

Since the race was run moments after Big Brown had gone down to defeat in the Belmont Stakes, it kind of got lost in the shuffle, but Major Rhythm scored a minor upset Saturday in the $54,000 Rossi Gold Stakes, probably earning himself a slot in the Stars and Stripes Handicap here on July 4.

The Stars and Stripes, Major Rhythm knows pretty well. In 2006, he won the race by a head at boxcar odds of 37-1. Last year, the Stars and Stripes didn't go so well: Major Rhythm was seventh by more than 20 lengths, and he followed that defeat with eighth- and sixth-place finishes.

It looked like age might finally be catching up to Major Rhythm, who had won his career debut at Fairmount Park way back in September 2001. But owner James Messineo transferred Major Rhythm to Matthews's care last fall, and Major Rhythm revived one more time. He won an allowance race at Woodbine (shipping from Chicago and racing there for the trainer Beverly Chubb), finished second in the Grade 3 Colonel Bradley at Fair Grounds, and rebounded from a fifth-place finish here in the opening-week Illinois Owners Stakes with a solid half-length win in the Rossi Gold.

"He looks good, came out of that race fine," Matthews said Friday morning.

Matthews has been around older racehorses besides Gravano. As an assistant to trainer Noel Hickey, he helped care for Plate Dancer, who won his third-to-last start in 1996 at age 11. He also trained Runaway Victory, an 8-year-old at the time, to a win in the 2004 Cardinal Stakes at Arlington.

But Major Rhythm may be the best of those old-timers. He first raced at Arlington in 2002, finishing a close fourth in the Secretariat Stakes that summer, and has made at least one start here every year since.

"He's a real easy horse to be around," Matthews said. "He knows what to do. Every day when he goes to the track in the morning at Arlington, he pretty much drags you into one of the paddock stalls and just stands there. He's tough to gallop, but he just likes to train."

Old, yes - but still not over the hill.

Coragil Cat to experiment with turf

Coragil Cat has begun to look like a one-turn mile Polytrack specialist. He won an overnight stakes prep for the Hanshin Cup here on opening day, then won the Hanshin Cup itself by three lengths on May 24.

But long one-turn synthetic-track races are in short supply, and trainer Greg Geier is seeking to broaden Coragil Cat's horizons. Geier said he planned to work Coragil Cat on turf this coming Wednesday "to see if he likes it." If Coragil Cat seems comfortable on grass, then Geier can point the horse to the Sea o'Erin, a one-mile grass stakes here on July 26.

"He's doing excellent right now," Geier said.

Return to Paradise looks for a win

Return to Paradise can make a rather belated return to the winner's circle in the featured third race here on Sunday.

Trained by Todd Pletcher, Return to Paradise won her maiden by almost four lengths over the Monmouth Park grass course on Aug. 31, and she was a solid favorite to win two of her next three starts. Didn't happen, and Return to Paradise comes into Sunday's race, her first start on Polytrack, having lost four in a row.

She may benefit here from apparently modest competition in an entry-level allowance race restricted to 3-year-old fillies and also open to $50,000 claimers. Return to Paradise has solid works for her first start since February, and the guess is that she will adapt to synthetic-track racing.

The Mizzus, who wired a maiden field in her two-turn debut on May 30, has a chance to move forward and contend for the win.

Catalano not invincible - but close

The Wayne Catalano stable finally had a tough day. Catalano, who along with owner Frank Calabrese has run roughshod over the opening part of the Arlington meet, lost with two short-priced favorites Thursday. Put Back the Jewel could not hold onto a stretch lead in race 4, finishing second at even-money, while Bea Image's rally fell a whisker short of victory in race 6.

Catalano's win percentage stood at well over 70 percent not long ago; now it has "fallen" to just 60 percent, with 24 wins from 40 starters.

Tough times, indeed.

* The jockey Grant Whitacre, who came to Arlington from Charles Town a couple weeks ago, won his first race of the meet on Thursday, guiding Gallantin Guy to a narrow victory at odds of 42-1 in the sixth race.

* Arlington switches from four- to five-day racing weeks beginning next week, and will race Wednesday through Sunday until September.