Updated on 09/18/2011 1:24AM

Fires scores upset on Major Rhythm

Benoit Photo
Major Rhythm ($73.40) wins the Stars and Stripes Handicap at Arlington Park on Sunday.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - An unlikely winner joined a familiar weathered face in the Arlington Park winner's circle Sunday, as Major Rhythm, all $73.40 of him, won the by a desperate head, with 59-year-old Hall of Famer Earlier Fires aboard.

Fires came back drenched with sweat on a sultry day. He had to work for the winner's share of a $200,000 purse.

"This horse needs help the last 70 yards," Fires said. "He's not a top horse, but he gives you all he's got."

Major Rhythm, a 7-year-old, has some class to him, but hadn't won a race of any sort, much less a decent Grade 3, since Sept. 6, 2004. And Fires was in his own drought. This was his first graded-stakes victory since he guided Ray's Approval to a win in the Carey Memorial, 1999 edition.

Also worthy of mention is trainer Ed Beam, who was not part of the postrace festivities. Beam had run 15 horses all season and came into Sunday with one victory, and so hands-on is this horseman that he went immediately back to the barn with the winner.

Major Rhythm stalked a soft pace in the 1 1/2-mile Stars and Stripes. Ascertain, who wound up third in a three-horse photo, made the lead by default, and though Don'tbother-

knocking came up the inside to take the lead about a mile into the race, Ascertain was well in hand after a mile in 1:40.91. Ascertain quickened on and made the lead at the top of the stretch, but Come on Jazz was rallying up the rail, while Fires had Major Rhythm going at least five paths off the rail. And Fires, known for his strong finishes and vigorous use of the whip, prevailed.

Runner-up Come on Jazz, a 16-1 chance, ran well in defeat, as did Ascertain, who was a clear third over the even-money favorite, Silver Whistle. Silver Whistle lacks push-button acceleration, and raced in traffic behind the sluggish pace most of the way.

"I was just kind of stuck in there, and then they quickened away from him," said jockey Robby Albarado.

Major Rhythm, owned by James Messineo, was timed in 2:29.93 over firm turf.