07/10/2008 11:00PM

Karlsson just keeps on rising


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - While remaining the only Swedish, former amateur boxer, female rider on the Chicago circuit (as far as we know), Inez Karlsson did something else of note on Thursday at Arlington Park: She won four times on a nine-race card.

That is not bad, not bad at all, especially for a 25-year-old who left home for Canada three years ago, having never been around Thoroughbreds before, and who began riding in races just last summer, scoring her first win here in September. That came on a horse named Death Valley - who happened to be one of the four winners Karlsson booted home Thursday.

The biggest afternoon of her brief career gave Karlsson 16 winners for the meet, a number far from the top of the Arlington heap, but not far from the top 10 jockeys, which is pretty strong stuff for a rider who only got her first boost of momentum during the spring Hawthorne meet, where she rode 27 winners in 115 races. Many young riders who make inroads at Hawthorne find themselves stopped cold when the action shifts to Arlington in the summer.

"I'm improving myself all the time," Karlsson said late Thursday afternoon, after her third victory and before her fourth. "You have to ride a lot of horses. I'm switching sticks better. I'm hand-riding better. Comparing to last year, it's a big difference. When I go back and watch myself, I understand why people didn't want to ride me last year."

Karlsson didn't speak English when she came to North America, and though she had some exposure to Standarbred horses back home, she had no grand designs on becoming a rider.

"I came to Canada because I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life," she said. "I never planned to be a jockey."

Karlsson has dealt with the latent sexism that resides within the sport (her agent, Penny Ffitch-Heyes, is a rarity in the male-dominated jockey-agent world, too), and she had a tough spell this spring when local jockeys were lobbying to raise their mount fees. Karlsson elected to continue riding for a lower rate at the end of the Hawthorne meet, a decision that caused friction with some fellow riders.

"It took awhile for some people to see me with friendly eyes again," she said.

Karlsson got a full-page profile in the Chicago Sun-Times this week, and her name seems to be reaching wider circles. Still, this is a quiet, minor celebrity. Karlsson can be seen after a day's Arlington work riding her bicycle, whip hanging from a satchel, toward her nearby basement apartment.

"I'm going to keep doing this and see how good I can get," she said.

Smooth Air goes to Florida to regroup

Ohio Derby winner Smooth Air's name made it onto a list of potential turf workers here Wednesday morning, and as the local clocking contingent began gathering their belongings around 10 a.m., getting ready to call it a morning, there was no sign of Smooth Air heading onto the Arlington grass course.

No wonder. Smooth Air, stabled at Arlington since late spring, had left the track and gone on to Louisville, Ky., but he was not long for Kentucky either. Trainer Bennie Stutts said later Wednesday morning that Smooth Air was flying back to Stutts's home base in Florida to try and get his body back in order again.

Stutts said a couple weeks ago that Smooth Air was troubled by sore feet, but his problems apparently have proven more intractable.

"We just need to get the horse back home and get him healthy again," Stutts said. "Calder is where he got good, and that's where we're going back to."

Smooth Air won the Hutcheson Stakes this winter and finished second to Big Brown in the Florida Derby. He had a troubled trip when he was well-beaten in the Kentucky Derby, and rebounded with a convincing score in the Grade 2 Ohio Derby. But after that, Smooth Air's health began to sour, and now there are no specific races on his agenda.

Law extends casino payments

The Illinois senate voted Thursday to extend until 2011 a law that requires the four highest-earning Illinois casinos to direct 3 percent of their adjusted gross receipts to the state's horseracing industry. The legislation (HB5585) is expected to be taken up by the House of Representatives when that body reconvenes next week.

The impact-fee legislation originally passed in 2006, but the affected casinos quickly filed a lawsuit against it, declaring the law unconstitutional. A circuit court judge sided with the casinos, but the Illinois Supreme Court overturned that ruling this summer. The casinos filed a motion to reconsider with the state Supreme Court earlier this month, an action that has delayed the distribution of millions of dollars to racing interests until at least September, when the court will address the appeal.

The original legislation expired late this spring, and the casinos currently are not paying an impact fee. If the extension becomes law, casinos would start depositing funds into an escrow account again, as they did during the two years the issue was held up in courts.