05/11/2009 11:00PM

Giant Oak working rapidly for turf campaign

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Four-Footed Fotos
Giant Oak, winning his career debut on grass last summer, will return to turf for the Arlington Classic.

No need to focus on what might have been, when what actually is seems to be progressing so well. Yes, had things worked out a little differently, Giant Oak might be on the Triple Crown trail this very minute. But after a somewhat disappointing Fair Grounds campaign, and a second to Derby third-place finisher Musket Man in the Illinois Derby, Giant Oak was taken out of consideration for the classics to focus on a summer turf campaign. And from the look of his Arlington Park Polytrack work pattern, Giant Oak is coming up to the May 23 Arlington Classic in excellent shape.

On April 25, Giant Oak had his first work back from the Illinois Derby, going a half-mile in 47 seconds. On May 3, he tore through five furlongs in 58.80, and on Sunday, he went five furlongs again, this time in 59.80. These are faster works than what Giant Oak was turning in this past winter and spring on dirt, and according to trainer Chris Block, they probably are better works, as well.

"I think he does work better on the synthetics than he does on dirt," said Block.

Giant Oak won his career debut last summer going two turns on the Arlington grass course, and he won a nine-furlong allowance race over the Arlington main track, too, his lone start on a synthetic surface. Grass, though, is Giant Oak's immediate goal, with the Arlington Classic the first leg of the Mid-America Triple, the Arlington grass series that carries a $500,000 bonus this year for a horse that wins all three races.

Southern Anthem, a turf allowance winner last Saturday at Arlington, is being pointed to the Arlington Classic, as is grass stakes winner Proceed Bee. Summer Bird, sixth in the Kentucky Derby, has been considered for the race, but is much more likely to head to the Belmont Stakes, trainer Tim Ice said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Block sent out Shrewd Operator to work a half-mile in 48.80 seconds Sunday, the horse's first published breeze as he prepares to come back from a year-plus layoff. Shrewd Operator won 3 of 6 starts with two seconds and a third before going down with an injury about this time last year. Block said he has no specific comeback race in mind for Illinois-bred Shrewd Operator.

Track superintendent's duties divided in two

Ricardo Malagon and Gabriel Ruiz have been named co-track superintendents at Arlington, replacing their longtime boss, Javier Barajas, who in March accepted a position in Dubai.

Malagon is charged with overseeing the care of Arlington's main track, which is composed of Polytrack, while Ruiz is in charge of the turf course. Malagon has worked at Arlington since 1989, while Ruiz has been at the track since 1991.

"After conducting a thorough international search for a new track superintendent to replace Javier, we found we did not need to go any further than our own backyard, and it is especially rewarding to be able to promote from within," Arlington president Roy Arnold said in a press release.

Excessive Heat can handle any surface

Thursday's ninth-race features is a third-level optional $62,500 claimer carded for five furlongs on turf - but good luck with that. Storms with heavy rain are forecast Wednesday and Wednesday night in the area, and the Thursday feature could be washed onto the main track.

Turf or Poly, Excessive Heat looks like the horse to beat. She nearly doubles her claiming price off a last-start win May 2 at Arlington, but Excessive Heat's current back-to-back wins came on both turf and Polytrack, and the class hike alone should not keep her from taking another on Thursday.