08/10/2006 12:00AM

Latest report declares track safe


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - A third inspection of Arlington Park's main track has produced the same conclusion as the first two, namely that the track surface here is safe for racing despite an unusually high rate of catastrophic breakdowns earlier in the season.

Michael Peterson, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Maine, conducted an analysis of the track Tuesday. The Illinois Racing Board contracted Peterson, but Arlington Park paid for his services because it was deemed responsible for the necessity of Peterson's inspection. In July, a Florida-based track consultant named Gregory Coon had inspected and reported on the Arlington surface at the behest of the IRB, but his work was said to be compromised by improper contact between Coon and Arlington officials. Coon and Arlington president Roy Arnold had an informal meeting, during which Arnold said he merely made certain that Coon had received ample cooperation and assistance. Coon also submitted written advice and recommendations to Arlington concerning the surface that weren't in his final report to the board, but the letter containing them also was given to the IRB.

Peterson, who works with high-tech ground-penetrating equipment, reported that the track surface here was not "a significant factor in either fractures or soft-tissue injuries"

"At this point," the report said, "the results are quite clear. All of my measurements indicate that the surface at Arlington Park is safe for racing."

Peterson conducted a superficial inspection of the track, and used radar to analyze the condition of the limestone base lying beneath the surface.

The in-race catastrophic breakdown rate slowed markedly during July and the first part of August: Since July 2, two horses have suffered catastrophic breakdowns during a race, a rate well below the national average of breakdowns per 1,000 starters. In all, there have been 18 fatalities in races during this meet, which began May 5.

Solid stakes bolster rest of card

Besides the three Grade 1 events that make up the International Festival of Racing, three $45,000 stakes are on a blockbuster 12-race Saturday card at Arlington.

The deepest of the three has been strategically carded between the Million and Secretariat: the Forward Pass (race 10), a seven-furlong race for 3-year-olds. Several horses entered off wins figure among the favorites in what should be a terrific betting race, including Irene's Mon and Off Duty, both of whom captured recent allowance races at Churchill Downs, and Run Lucky and Prosico, winners of Arlington allowance races.

The two other races, the Smart Deb (race 5) and Cigar (race 7), precede the Festival.

In the Smart Deb, Kentucky shipper Morner makes her second out-of-town start after getting away to an uncharacteristically sluggish start in the Grade 3 Azalea at Calder last month. Morner, with Julien Leparoux to ride, figures as part of a sizzling pace in the six-furlong Smart Deb, which also drew Dixie's Jubilee, a speedy Brahms filly who makes her stakes debut after three straight wins to open her career, and Performing Diva, who makes an interesting switch to a dirt sprint after most recently trying a turf route.

In the Cigar, Straight Line figures as a solid favorite, at least partly because of his Arlington record: 7 starts, 4 wins, 2 seconds. With Arlington's leading rider, Chris Emigh, named to ride, Straight Line is one of eight older horses entered in the one-mile Cigar.

O'Brien names new riders

Kieren Fallon, denied permission to ride on Million Day by the Illinois Racing Board, has been replaced on his Aidan O'Brien-trained mounts Saturday. John Velazquez has been named to ride Ivan Denisovich in the Secretariat, while Garrett Gomez has the mount on Ace in the Million.

Fallon was banned from riding in England after being charged with fraud in a case involving the online gambling site Betfair.

- additional reporting by Marty McGee