06/07/2006 12:00AM

High Blues's turn to be class of the field


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - A Friday entry-level allowance race at Arlington Park has attracted a refugee from the Triple Crown prep wars, High Blues, who will try to bounce back from a disappointing try in his turf debut last month when he starts in the featured eighth race.

High Blues has at least one worthy opponent among nine entered against him Friday. Casino Evil has turned in five good races in a row, including a narrow loss against older horses May 24 at Churchill. Friday's Arlington feature, carded for 1 1/8 miles on the main track, is restricted to 3-year-olds. And High Blues, trained by David Paulus for Dixiana Stables has run against some of the best of them.

Besides a troubled sixth in the Florida Derby behind Barbaro, High Blues also faced Sunriver, Corinthian, Jazil, and Sharp Humor during his winter campaign at Gulfstream Park, where he twice finished third and once second in entry-level allowance races. Suffice it to say no such rival awaits this time at Arlington.

"Right now I'm trying to get through the 'a-other-than' condition, number one, and number two, to hunt for a stakes race if he does well this time," Paulus said.

If High Blues progresses from his spring form - and two sizzling recent works here, called his "best ever" by Paulus, suggest he will - he's likely to return to stakes company. But Arlington's 3-year-old stakes menu is heavy on turf, and since High Blues finished fifth of six May 6 in his first grass try, the near future might hold more dirt races.

"He should've run okay on grass based on his pedigree," said Paulus. "The rail was all the way out, the track was a little yielding, and he was bobbling and you could see he never was real comfortable on it."

Paulus said High Blues, who picks up leading rider Chris Emigh for Friday's race, is "razor, razor sharp right now." A win or good try Friday could land High Blues a slot in the $250,000 Iowa Derby.

Lord of the Game to New Bolton

Trainer Tom Tomillo has encountered a series of health problems the last several years, most recently having part of his leg amputated after breaking the limb because of complications from diabetes. But Wednesday afternoon in the Million Room at Arlington, there sat Tomillo, in a peach-colored shirt and high spirits, looking just about the same as ever. And when Gentleman's Club won the second race, it gave Tomillo his 11th win of the Arlington meet, good for a tie atop the trainer standings. In fact, Tomillo's 56 wins this year place him 18th in the country among trainers.

"Since I got out of the hospital this last time, everything's basically back to normal," Tomillo said. "I don't get out in the morning as much as before, but I'm going to be measured for a prosthesis, and after that, I'll get a golf cart and come out more. My help is so good. They know exactly what I want to have done."

Now, if Lord of the Game could only progress the way Tomillo has. The horse that went from a $10,000 maiden claimer to a Breeders' Cup Classic hopeful last year hasn't started since finishing sixth in the Fayette Handicap last Oct. 29 at Keeneland. Lord of the Game was galloping until about a month ago, but still is not right physically, and is scheduled to be sent to the New Bolton clinic in Pennsylvania - Barbaro's current home - on Sunday.

"If he was just another horse, he'd have run six months ago," said Tomillo. "But he's done good, and we'll get him looked at and see what we need to do from there."

Asmussen second-best this year

Steve Asmussen didn't run a horse at Arlington until May 28, but wasted little time in having an impact, winning with three of his first four starters here. Within about 10 days, Asmussen said, his barn will be full, and Asmussen has a horse - either Red Lifesaver or Annika Lass - for the Chicago Breeders' Cup Sprint next weekend,

Asmussen is having his typically mind-blowing season. Through Wednesday, his far-flung stable had won 196 races from 915 starters with earnings in excess of $6 million, a win rate only slightly slower than during 2005, and with higher earnings than at this point in any season so far. But Asmussen is well behind his pace in 2004, when his 555 wins set a single-year record for a trainer. And as of Wednesday, Asmussen was trailing Scott Lake by 70 wins in the national standings.

"He's kicking my butt," said Asmussen.

Lake, who had 266 victories, is on pace right now for 614 wins this year, which would smash Asmussen's 2004 record. And while Asmussen said he doesn't closely follow the national standings, there are always jokesters around to make sure he knows where he stands.

"People bring it to your attention," he said. "Everyone likes to poke at you."