08/24/2008 11:00PM

Lewis Michael looks to be at his best


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Little sister Dreaming of Anna was a champion at 2 and a graded stakes winner on turf and dirt who is still going strong, but big brother Lewis Michael is catching up. He went to California last weekend and comes home to Arlington this week with the trophy from the Grade 2 Pat O'Brien Handicap, part of Sunday's Pacific Classic card at Del Mar.

Lewis Michael might have run almost as well winning the Washington Park Handicap last summer at Arlington, but his Pat O'Brien win was the most important of his career and confirmed the sense that Lewis Michael is a tiger on synthetic surfaces. He won the seven-furlong O'Brien by almost three lengths in a field that had 11 other horses, and he "came out of the race really good," according to trainer Wayne Catalano.

Catalano trains both 5-year-old Lewis Michael and 4-year-old Dreaming of Anna for owner Frank Calabrese, who bred both horses but no longer owns their dam, Justenuffheart. Lewis Michael was a nice prospect at 2, far enough along at 3 to almost win the Peter Pan Stakes, and a solid, useful stakes horse last year. But after a long break following a dud performance in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (and 70 yards) last fall at Monmouth, Lewis Michael appears to have hit a career peak. Once a disinterested work horse who needed company to put out in his training, Lewis Michael has started zipping through fast morning works all by himself.

"That's when they're supposed to be at their best, when they're 5, right?" Catalano said Monday.

Lewis Michael had a front ankle problem to get over in the winter and spring and was somewhat late into his 2008 campaign, finishing a close fourth in the Sea O'Erin - a one-mile turf race - in his comeback. The thought from Catalano coming out of that loss was "perfect."

"We thought a flat mile on turf to seven-eighths on Poly would set him up perfect, and that's the way it worked out," Catalano said.

Tuesday, it is back to Chicago by way of Kentucky for Lewis Michael. Catalano and Calabrese sent him to California for the Goodwood Handicap last fall, but a return for that race isn't in the cards. The main target is a Breeders' Cup race - probably the Dirt (synthetic-track) Mile, but perhaps the Sprint - and Lewis Michael could prep for the BC with a race at Keeneland, Catalano said.

Mr. Nightlinger eyes BC Turf Sprint

By Saturday night, Mr. Nightlinger was back in his stall at Churchill Downs, but he went home a course-record holder on the Arlington turf, easily establishing a record of 1:01.89 for 5 1/2 furlongs while winning the Arlington Sprint by two lengths Saturday. The grass course had been upgraded from good to firm by the Arlington Sprint, but jockey Jamie Theriot told trainer Bret Calhoun that the grass was in no way fast-playing or hard, making Mr. Nightlinger's scorching time all the more impressive.

Mr. Nightlinger now has won his last five starts, going undefeated since being switched to turf sprints. He earned an automatic spot in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint by winning Saturday, though the Breeders' Cup Challenge program only guarantees a slot in a given race; a horse's owners still have to pay BC entry fees.

Mr. Nightlinger's owners definitely intend to do that, but the question now is whether Mr. Nightlinger will race in the Morvich Handicap at Santa Anita as a BC prep or go straight into the Turf Sprint. Calhoun is a little worried about coming back 30 days after still another sizzling race from Mr. Nightlinger, but still seems inclined to point to the Morvich.

"I imagine that's what we'll do," Calhoun said Monday. "The only thing that bothers me is he's run a lot of fast races, and you want him to be best on Breeders' Cup Day. But we'll probably give him experience over that course; it's a little different."

Mr. Nightlinger has turf-sprinted only at 5 1/2 furlongs, but he has raced with at least modest success at distances up to nine furlongs in the past, and none of his connections feel the 6 1/2 furlongs of the Morvich and the BC Turf Sprint will present an impediment.

"I don't think six and a half is an issue," Calhoun said.