09/05/2009 12:00AM

Gran Estreno wires Washington Park

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Four-Footed Fotos
Gran Estreno, with E.T. Baird riding, wraps up a gate-to-wire victory in the Washington Park Handicap.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - In the same way you know Calvin Borel is coming up the fence if he can, you just know that jockey E.T. Baird is going to the lead if at all reasonable. Yet Baird still put them all to sleep Saturday at Arlington Park, guiding Gran Estreno to a front-running victory in the .

Gran Estreno was the last to load in the Washington Park, and a split second after the back door closed behind him the gates opened for the start of the race. But Baird still was ready. Gran Estreno crossed over to make an early lead - and all but slowed to a common gallop. The first quarter-mile of the one and three-sixteenths mile Polytrack race went in 25.87 seconds, the half in 52.42. The six furlong time was so pokey (a little more than 1:19) that the Equibase data-collection-system refused to allow it - too slow to be possible, the computer believed.

So, when it came time to cut at the top of the stretch, Gran Estreno hadn't even taken a deep breath. He outsprinted pace-pressing Dubious Miss to the finish to win by a half-length in a race where the running order did not change between the stretch call and the finish.

Gran Estreno earned an automatic entry into the Breeders' Cup Classic, but he is Argentine-bred and not BC-eligible, and it would take a boatload of supplemental funds just to start. But put all that aside. Right now, Gran Estreno is just an excellent $20,000 claim. The Feel the Thunder Stable (Marty Nixon, principal) took the horse for that price on May 1, turning him over to trainer Mike Stidham. Gran Estreno won right back for a $35,000 tag, won for $50,000, won the $99,000 Claiming Crown Emerald, and on Saturday, took home the $116,400 winner's share of the Washington Park purse.

"Gotta be," said Stidham, asked if Gran Estreno was the best claim of his career.

Gran Estreno paid $12.20 to win, and was timed in 2:00.61 for the 1 3/16 miles. Dubious Miss finished 1 1/2 lengths better than third-place Wicked Style, with Eldaafer fourth. Favored Church Service backed up to finish last, beaten almost 15 lengths by the winner.

Dixie Band wins Arlington-Washington Futurity

This year, Wayne Catalano gets to keep the Arlington-Washington Futurity trophy.

In the 2008 edition of the race, the Catalano-trained Jose Adan finished first, but was disqualified and placed second for stretch interference. The only thing Dixie Band did in the stretch of Saturday's was draw steadily away from U Appeal to Me, posting a 1 3/4-length win for Catalano and owners Darrell and Evelyn Yates.

"This one sticks!" Catalano cried, coming out of the winner's circle.

Dixie Band, a Dixie Union colt, ran his career record to 3 for 3, all the victories having come here at Arlington. Catalano said the colt is likely to make his next start in the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland.

Dixie Band broke on top for David Flores, who was in to ride at Arlington for the first time in many years, but Flores eased him off the speed, racing a couple lengths behind pacesetting Beware the Tiger, who cut out fractions of 23.57 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, and 47.78 to the half. Now, Dixie Band has some talent, but both trainer and jockey said he is not the most willing horse in the world. Flores said he asked Dixie Band for a little run at the half-mile, but his nudging got little response. By the quarter pole, Flores had the colt in a hard drive.

"He's lazy," said Flores. "If you let him, he'll fall asleep on you and come off the bridle."

Flores made certain that did not happen, and Dixie Band seemed to be going better the final furlong than he was off the turn, pulling away before the wire. He stopped the timer in a mild 1:39.45 for one mile, though the Arlington main track produced sluggish clockings all afternoon.

Just as he had in the overnight stakes prep for the Futurity, U Appeal to Me narrowly held second after leading in midstretch.

"He's still learning," said trainer Mike Stidham.

Monmouth invader also came under heavy pressure around the far turn, and ran on mildly for third. Dixie Band paid $3.60 to win as the heavy favorite.

She Be Wild romps in Lassie

Horsemen hate comparing different horses they've trained. Bad politics. But Wayne Catalano had no problem uttering the names Dreaming of Anna and She Be Wild in the same breath late Saturday after She Be Wild had captured the by 5 3/4 lengths.

"The filly's on track to be in that company," Catalano said. "She's incredible when she works, and she brings that in the afternoon, too."

Dreaming of Anna won the 2006 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, and went on to be named champion 2-year-old filly that year. She Be Wild not only is 3 for 3 after her romping win in the Grade 3, $150,000 Lassie, she has won the first three starts of her career by more than 18 lengths combined.

She Be Wild, an Offlee Wild homebred owned by Nancy Mazzoni, was entered and taken out of sales in 2007 and 2008, and failed to meet a $19,000 reserve at a 2-year-old auction this past spring. Because of that fact, because She Be Wild was, in Catalano's words, "just a little-bitty thing then," and because She Be Wild was battling sore shins at the time, Catalano started the filly off in a $40,000 maiden claimer on May 30. She went unclaimed, and Catalano thought all along there was almost no chance anyone would reach in and take her.

He was right about that, and was all right on Saturday, also taking the Arlington-Washington Futurity with Dixie Band. Dixie Band ran one mile in 1:39.45, but She Be Wild was timed in 1:38.67.

"She'd probably beat him right now," Catalano said.

She Be Wild broke sharply, but was quickly taken back by Junior Alvarado to race in behind the lead group, with Gabba Girl on top early through a fast opening quarter-mile in 22.61 seconds. Racing at the front of the second group, She Be Wild relaxed completely for Alvarado, accelerating rapidly when her rider asked her to go get Tiz Miz Sue, who had swept four wide to take a clear lead into the stretch. But Tiz Miz Sue had rocked back just when the gates opened, jockey James Graham said, and then rushed up into contention on the backstretch. She was losing momentum just as She Be Wild had started to run, and the Lassie was over. She Be Wild was by herself again at the finish, paying just $3.80 to win. Tiz Miz Sue held on for second, a neck in front of Screen Legend.

She Be Wild, like Dixie Band, is headed to Keeneland, and is slated to start next in the Alcibiades Stakes there.