07/10/2009 12:00AM

Giant Oak has found his niche


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - What is it about these Chris Block-trained horses? The millionaire 8-year-old Fort Prado has this big pink strip where his front leg meets his barrel, the result of a youthful encounter with a fence. Now there is Giant Oak, a rich chestnut whose broad white blaze wraps all the way around his muzzle. You can't miss him, and Giant Oak may turn out to be memorable for more than his looks.

Giant Oak began his career last summer on grass, and it is on grass this year at 3 that he seems to have found himself. After dabbling in things Triple Crown this past spring, Giant Oak was taken out of consideration for the Kentucky Derby even after running a solid second to Musket Man in the Illinois Derby. The goal became the Mid-America Triple on turf at Arlington - and the goal is now.

Giant Oak already has won the first leg of Arlington's three-race 3-year-old grass series, capturing the May 23 Arlington Classic with a flashy run between horses. Leg 2 comes Saturday in the Grade 2, $300,000 American Derby, in which Giant Oak was one of seven horses entered Wednesday.

The race is at 1 3/16 miles, and is diluted in terms of talent because of the $750,000 Virginia Derby next weekend at Colonial Downs. The only graded stakes winner in the race here is Oil Man, who won the Grade 3 Cinema Handicap on June 21 at Hollywood.

Oil Man may be second choice to Giant Oak, but he looks okay. Imported from England, where he had decent form at age 2, Oil Man has won his two most recent starts. Both came at 1 1/8 miles, and Saturday's 1 3/16-mile trip should suit Oil Man.

But Giant Oak should like it, too. Giant Oak has worked five times since the Arlington Classic, and his seven-furlong drill between races June 28 was a blockbuster. Giant Oak came home powerfully, and displays a fluidity of motion on grass that was not evident in his dirt races.

No Inflation finished second to Giant Oak in the Arlington Classic, and came back with a decent third in the June 13 Jefferson Cup at Churchill Downs. No Inflation is no speed horse, but tends to place himself forwardly, and there is a speed void in the American Derby.

Chamberlain Bridge in sharp form

Mr. Nightlinger won the Arlington Sprint Handicap last summer for trainer Bret Calhoun. Mr. Nightlinger is racing in Florida on Saturday, but Calhoun still has the favorite for the $200,000 Arlington Sprint, a 5 1/2-furlong grass race that serves as a Win and You're In race for the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint.

That would be Chamberlain Bridge, a former mid-level claimer who has won 8 of 14 starts running short on turf, and comes into Saturday's race off back-to-back wins. The most recent came at odds of 3-5 at Indiana Downs, but two starts ago, he scored an impressive victory in the Grade 3 Aegon Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs over high-class Cannonball and Smart Enough.

Chamberlain Bridge, however, may have some things against him Saturday. A leader-presser type, he is drawn in post 2, inside the other speed in the race, Shrewd Operator and St. Joe. Chamberlain Bridge does not seem like the type to take back and come around, and it will be up to new rider Jesse Campbell to work out a trip.

St. Joe looked good beating lesser in a turf sprint last out at Churchill Downs. Fort Prado comes off a win over lesser foes in a route, and has favorable turf-sprint form. And keep an eye on Yankee Injunuity, who has made only four turf-sprint starts, and was a close, closing second to Chamberlain Bridge at Indiana Downs.

Ansong tries turf

Ansong is a sister to multiple turf stakes winners, and should run well in her turf debut, the Diamond Ring, one of two $50,000 overnight stakes on the card. Ansong is one of eight 3-year-old fillies entered in the Diamond Ring, a turf route race. There are nine older female turf sprinters in the other overnight stakes, the Pink Ribbon.

Locally based Romacaca and Kentucky shipper Satans Quick Chick look competitive in the Diamond Ring. The Pink Ribbon could come down to Tequilas Dayjur and Classify.

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