08/23/2008 12:00AM

Mr. Nightlinger uncatchable again


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. -- Friday at Ellis Park, the jockey Jamie Theriot hit the ground when a low-level claiming horse stumbled badly at the start and dumped him, but Theriot bounced back up and had no trouble making it to Chicago on Saturday. No way Theriot was going to miss the mount on Mr. Nightlinger, who is heading into autumn as one of the top turf sprinters in the country.

Theriot had no trouble staying on Mr. Nightlinger at the start of the $200,000 Arlington Sprint, which is a little surprising, since the horse broke like a bolt of lightning. Quickly clear and steered over to the fence by Theriot, Mr. Nightlinger fended off a challenge from pace-pressing Starticus, survived an objection by Starticus’s rider, Junior Alvarado, and won his fifth race in a row. Undefeated in turf sprints, Mr. Nightlinger earned an automatic berth in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint with his win Saturday, and topped off the afternoon by setting a turf course record for 5 1/2 furlongs. His time of 1:01.89 came over a grass course rated firm, but still drying out from recent rain.

“He’s unbelievable,” said assistant trainer Peaches Geier, who saddled Churchill Downs-based Mr. Nightlinger for trainer Bret Calhoun on Saturday.

Theriot has ridden Mr. Nightlinger throughout his five-race winning streak, and has never been behind a horse with this brilliant grass sprinter. Woodbine shipper Starticus had led at the first call in all but one of his eight starts, but Mr. Nightlinger, leaving from post 8, dashed clear of Starticus strides into the race, and crossed over to set the pace from the rail. He went in splits of 21.80 seconds for the quarter and 44.20 to the half on the way to his record-setting performance.

“That’s him,” said Theriot. “I just break with him, and he shoots out of there. He rates himself. I let him do what he wants to do.”

Alvarado claimed Theriot interfered with him about a furlong into the race, but stewards quickly dismissed the claim. Mr. Nightlinger paid a mere $3.40 to win. Starticus finished 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Prince Woodman, with Fort Prado fourth.