09/09/2007 11:00PM

How good is Shrewd Operator?

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - There's a third-level turf-sprint allowance race on Arlington's eight-race card Wednesday - the start of the meet's closing week - but the most interesting horse of the day goes earlier on the program in a race of supposedly lesser quality. That would be Shrewd Operator, whose lone start to date was a corker.

Making his career debut Aug. 5, Shrewd Operator broke on top from post 1, took the early lead, widened around the far turn, and hit the wire eight lengths on top. His six-furlong time was 1:08.85, the fastest three-quarters run so far on Arlington Polytrack. Shrewd Operator, it should be noted, was 13-1 in the race, probably in great part because he was an Illinois-bred facing open company. Wednesday, he's entered in race 5, the second division of a split entry-level allowance race carded for six furlongs.

"I'm curious to run him back just to see what he is," said trainer Chris Block, part of the Team Block family partnership that bred and owns Shrew Operator, a gelded 3-year-old son of Twining.

Shrewd Operator hit graded-stakes territory on the Beyer Speed Figure scale with a 99 for his race, but Block is the first to concede that his horse had at least some help from the Polytrack, which was very quick and promoted inside speed that Sunday afternoon. Still, a horse has to have the inherent talent to take advantage of the right conditions in order to run so fast, and Shrewd Operator did so. Block has given him plenty of recovery time since the debut, and Shrewd Operator has acted well enough.

"He's been mentally forward since his race," Block said. "I was afraid the race might set him off a little bit, but it hasn't."

The two most likely to upset Shrewd Operator are Smack Daddy and Big Red Ranger. Smack Daddy has excelled since being turned back to sprint racing following five two-turn tries to start his career; Big Red Ranger returned from a long layoff to finish second here Aug. 25.

The race in the feature slot, that turf-sprint allowance, looks like a crapshoot. Taletobetold ran poorly in her most recent start, but her last two outings have come at Saratoga, and she was good enough two races ago that she might be favored Wednesday. The pick, however, is Read the Label, who got in a useful comeback race here Aug. 2, and may get a good stalking trip while saving ground from the fence.