08/20/2003 11:00PM

Has Cashel Castle lost some of his zip?


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - On the scale of Beyer Speed Figures, no 2-year-old of 2001 ran faster than Cashel Castle. For winning the $102,000 Hoosier Juvenile in November of his 2-year-old year, Cashel Castle was given a towering 108 Beyer, a figure he backed up with two powerful wins to begin his 3-year-old campaign.

But no formula for measuring Cashel Castle's speed can predict how he'll run Saturday in the $100,000 Arlington Sprint. The race will be Cashel Castle's first start since April of 2002, and his first since suffering a leg injury that nearly ended his career.

Cashel Castle has six opponents in the six-furlong Arlington Sprint. Among them are Bet on Joe, a sharp winner of two straight races, and Out of My Way, who turns back to a sprint following a race at one mile, which is a furlong beyond his best distance.

For raw talent, none of them can match Cashel Castle, a Silver Ghost colt trained by Chris Block. Cashel Castle raced six times before he was beaten, and he lost only because his health was beginning to unravel. Block thinks running fast on hard tracks last spring began Cashel Castle's decline. The colt's left front leg began giving him trouble, and by May, his season was over.

Block had resisted the temptation of putting Cashel Castle on the Triple Crown trail, knowing in his heart that the colt was suited only to sprints and middle-distance races. But, despite doing the right thing by the horse, Block nearly lost him - for good.

"When I went down [to Florida] and looked at him in December, I didn't think he'd make it back to the races," Block said. "I didn't like the way his leg looked. It's a credit to all the people that worked to get him back, and a credit to the horse that he made it this far."

But Block has no idea if the same Cashel Castle that left the track will return Saturday. His workouts have been strong, but there is nagging concern than the injury will have compromised him.

"I don't think he'll be rusty, but I just wonder if he's lost a step," Block said. "The only way you'll find out is to run him."

Out of My Way, an Illinois-bred, may be the horse to beat in the Sprint. He tried to stretch his speed one mile in an overnight handicap here July 27, but was nailed on the wire by San Pedro, who returned to run well here last weekend. At six furlongs, Out of My Way has won 5 of 15 starts, and he has drawn well outside in post 7.