06/18/2009 12:00AM

Gentleman Chester gets a boost from Borel


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - It looks very much like trainer Ralph Nicks is trying, step by step, to revisit late spring and early summer 2008. On May 4 last year, the Nicks-trained Gentleman Chester lost a turf allowance race. June 21, he won the Black Tie Affair for Illinois-bred grass horses by almost two lengths. May 2, 2009, Gentleman Chester lost a turf allowance race. Saturday, he will try to take another Black Tie Affair, and may well be favored to do so.

Not only is Gentleman Chester on the same pattern now that produced a convincing victory in last year's race, he has been working bullets over the Churchill Downs main track for Nicks. Casual Saturday afternoon bettors may also pounce for another reason: Calvin Borel, the most famous rider in the world this spring, will be in to ride Gentleman Chester for the first time.

Only rarely has Gentleman Chester come to Chicago to take advantage of his Illinois-bred status. In 2007, he won the Springfield around one turn on Polytrack in convincing fashion, and Gentleman Chester stands a good chance of winning a Prairie State Festival stakes for the third straight year.

Of course, that's old hat to 8-year-old Fort Prado, who won the Black Tie Affair three years in a row before finishing second to Gentleman Chester last year. Fort Prado went winless in 2008, and is 0 for 4 this year, but while he has lost a step or two from his peak years, he still can hold his own in statebred-restricted turf-stakes competition.

Chris Block trains Fort Prado as well as Free Fighter, who could be doubly unlucky Saturday. Free Fighter drew the outside post among 10 horses entered in the race, but worse is the weather this week: Free Fighter is a major player on a firm turf course, but never has shown his best racing over wet grass.

Agnostic may improve with blinkers

Agnostic rallied strongly up the rail to win the Land of Lincoln Stakes in April at Hawthorne. Favored at odds of 9-5 in a second-level Illinois-bred allowance May 21 at Arlington, Agnostic didn't rally at all. Agnostic will have to improve on that even finish to contend in the Springfield Stakes for 3-year-olds at one mile, but there are reasons to believe he can. Trainer Brian Williamson adds blinkers to Agnostic's equipment, and Agnostic has turned in three works since his allowance-race defeat. He also turns back in distance from a true route to a one-turn mile, and that also may help.

Williamson has another potential player in Ocean Ace. Ocean Ace finished a close third on turf in his most recent race, but won May 10 in his only try on Polytrack.

Pathway switches to Polytrack

With consecutive Arlington victories, including one in open competition, Pathway figures to be a strong favorite in the Purple Violet Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.

Pathway won her maiden sprinting on dirt, and has captured her last two starts going two turns on turf. What she has not done is race over Polytrack, and that may be the only chink in her armor.

Napoleon's Retreat, on the other hand, has 2 wins and 2 seconds from 5 Polytrack starts, and has the look of an improving filly for trainer Scott Becker. Stormy April was second to Pathway on May 24, but also has ability. Bow Tie Pasta dominated in the six-furlong Pretty Jenny Stakes on April 25 at Hawthorne.

Mares rematched in Isaac Murphy

Nicks beat Magnetic Miss in April. Magnetic Miss beat Nicks in May. The two sprinting mares face off again in the Isaac Murphy, which Magnetic Miss won last season.

Both horses are 5, but Magnetic Miss has made 31 starts, more than twice as many as Nicks. Magnetic Miss, however, has won 4 of 7 synthetic-track starts, and appears to be the controlling speed Saturday.

* The nine-horse Lincoln Heritage for fillies and mares at two turns on turf looks like a toss-up. Apple Martini, You Dancing Devil, Labar, and Love Handles are the most logical contenders.