06/19/2009 12:00AM

Major Rhythm still a serious player


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - You can find 10-year-old Thoroughbreds still out there plying the trade. But these animals tend to be holding desperately to the last tatters of a long career. Ten-year-old Major Rhythm - he's nowhere near the bargain rack yet.

Major Rhythm is scheduled to make the 63rd start of his career on Sunday at Arlington, and if you want to claim him, it'll still cost you $50,000. And this spot is no reach, class-wise, either. In two 2009 starts, Major Rhythm has finished fourth in an overnight stakes and second by a head here May 29 in a $50,000 turf claimer.

"Oh yeah, he still likes to train," said trainer Doug Matthews, who has had Major Rhythm in his barn for the gelding's last six starts. "He's still tough to gallop."

Hard to believe, but Major Rhythm has an Achilles' heel - well, not his heel, but his feet.

"He gets abscesses all the time, and the abscesses turn into quarter cracks," said Matthews. "I know that's been an issue since before I got him."

Major Rhythm has banked three-quarters of a million bucks for owner James Messineo, and won the 2006 Stars and Stripes over this course at age 7. Matthews was just watching then, but seems like a good fit for Major Rhythm. A native Iowan, Matthews has been kicking around these parts for more than two decades now. He came here from Nebraska in the mid-1980s, and spent seven years as an assistant to trainer Noel Hickey. Closer to home, Matthews got his start walking hots in high school for trainer Jack Van Berg. His first bet of consequence was on a Van Berg-trained first-timer at Ak-Sar-Ben: Gate Dancer paid about $15 to win, in Matthews' recollection.

Matthews isn't touting Major Rhythm for Sunday, but he doesn't have to: A 10-year-old still doing what Major Rhythm is doing touts himself.

Borel only visiting

Calvin Borel was to ride in three of six Illinois-bred stakes races here Saturday - but this is no preview of a more permanent engagement at Arlington this summer. Borel will ride the Saratoga meet after the Churchill Downs spring-summer season ends, and has no plans to come to Arlington, his agent, Jerry Hissam, said Friday.

Last year, Borel basically took the rest of the summer off after Churchill finished up. He went to Saratoga two seasons ago, winning nine races, five of them graded stakes.

Block opts for allowance

Turns out, the entry of Shrewd Operator in the White Oak Handicap here Saturday was only a backup plan. Instead of the White Oak, Shrewd Operator will make his first start in 13 months on Sunday in an open second-level Polytrack sprint allowance race here.

"I think this is where he needs to come back," Block said.

Shrewd Operator, an Illinois homebred owned by Team Block, was untouchable on Arlington Polytrack before going down with an injury, winning his three starts over the main track here by almost 20 lengths combined.

Shrewd Operator is not the only horse on whom to keep an eye during Sunday's card. Race 3 is for 2-year-old maidens at 4 1/2 furlongs, and lured from Keeneland an A.P. Indy colt named Hockley. Hockley is owned by the Darley Stable and trained by Eoin Harty. Last summer, those connections sent two graded-stakes-class 2-year-olds, Desert Party and Coronet of a Baron, to win their career debut at Arlington off Keeneland works.

Busy road to Iowa

Arlington-based horses will head en masse to Prairie Meadows for the stakes races there June 26 and June 27. Hooh Why could head the betting if she ships, as planned, for the Iowa Oaks, but trainer Donnie Von Hemel also has two horses for that race, Sweet Relish and Peach Brew. Von Hemel also said Euphony remains on track for the Iowa Distaff, in which she is all but certain to be favored.

At least three horses are shipping from Arlington for the biggest race of the weekend, the $300,000 Cornhusker Handicap. Secret Getaway, Stonehouse, and Shadowbdancing all are scheduled to make the westward haul out I-80 for Saturday night's race.

* Apprentice rider Brandon Meier was off his mounts late Thursday and all day Friday after suffering a minor concussion when his mount, Love Alaska, flipped in the gate before race 6. Meier was expected to return to action Saturday, said his agent, Tom Morgan.