07/03/2010 11:00PM

Informed Decision clear choice in Chicago Cap

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - A nearly flawless 2009 campaign earned Informed Decision an Eclipse Award as the top North American filly-and-mare sprinter, and a case could be made that her trainer, Jonathan Sheppard, had an Eclipse-worthy 2009, as well.

In graded stakes races, Sheppard compiled a remarkable record of 16-8-6 from 50 starters; in all stakes races, his mark was 22-17-30 from 90 runners. The graded stakes record in particular is staggering -- and, of course, unsustainable.

"Over a period of time your luck evens out, and it seemed last year we could do no wrong," Sheppard said Friday. "There were some races, at the head of the stretch I'd put my glasses down and thought we were beat, and there we came. I said to myself over the winter that it's not going to happen two years in a row, and I better get prepared for it, and that's just the way it has turned out."

True enough. Sheppard's graded-stakes starters in 2010 have been firing, but just not winning: His record in 20 such races so far this year is a tough-luck 1-5-5. Informed Decision herself has gone down to defeat in both her 2010 starts, but it figures to take more than run-of-the-mill bad luck for her to lose the $100,000 Chicago Handicap on Sunday at Arlington Park. Informed Decision won the 2009 edition of the race by almost five lengths at odds of 1-5, and she figures to be a similarly short price facing seven foes on Sunday. Informed Decision was assigned a weight of 125 pounds, and concedes at least seven pounds to her opponents.

The Chicago Handicap will be contested at seven furlongs on a synthetic track, and Informed Decision has proven nearly unbeatable under those conditions. Seven furlongs is the 5-year-old mare's best distance, and until she finished third in the April 8 Vinery Madison Stakes at Keeneland in her 2010 debut, Informed Decision sported a 7-for-7 mark in synthetic-surface starts.

Informed Decision's third-place finish in the May 1 Humana Distaff can be chalked up to circumstances: She is at her worst on wet dirt tracks, and Churchill's was a sea of slop that afternoon. But Sheppard blames himself for Informed Decision's loss in the Vinery Madison.

"I really do think I let her down a little bit training-wise," said Sheppard, who trains Informed Decision for owner George Strawbridge. "You've achieved all your objectives the previous year, and maybe that incites a little complacency. My natural instinct is to do as little as possible with a horse, and maybe I started thinking that way with her."

In retrospect, Sheppard said he should have taken Informed Decision from Camden, S.C., to Keeneland "a few days earlier and given her a work over the track. I thought she could overcome it."

Informed Decision was en route via van on Friday from Presque Isle Downs, where she worked five furlongs in 59.40 seconds last Saturday, to Arlington. Julien Leparoux, who returned from an injury layoff this week, will be in to ride.

An upset Sunday appears unlikely, but if the champ goes down again, Never Retreat looks like the most likely alternative. Never Retreat was turned back from routes on turf and dirt to a one-turn Polytrack mile on May 30, and looked good winning an Arlington allowance race.

Hooh Why won the 2009 Ashland Stakes, but has lost six straight starts dating back more than one year.