05/22/2007 11:00PM

Nothing sloppy about a win

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AUBURN, Wash. - Rider Gallyn Mitchell, who scored his 50th Emerald Downs stakes victory when he booted Dinner at Arlene's to an authoritative sloppy-track win at 21-1 in Sunday's Hastings Park Handicap, described his mount's obvious affinity for wet surfaces in one way.

"This kind of track moves her up 10 lengths," he said.

Doris Harwood, who trains Dinner at Arlene's for Jerre Paxton's Northwest Farms, disagreed with her rider's choice of words, if not with his point.

"I don't think a wet track really moves any horse up, but it bothers some less than others," she said. "It doesn't bother this mare at all. She strides out just as far on a wet track as she does on a fast track. She's probably the most confident horse I've ever seen on a wet track."

Either way you look at it, the sloppy surface on Sunday seemed to make a huge difference for Dinner at Arlene's, a 5-year-old daughter of Forestry and the Linkage mare Connecting Link. While she finished 11 lengths behind divisional leader Kissntheboysgoodby in a 5 1/2-furlong prep for the six-furlong Hastings Park that was run over a fast track on April 22, she beat that rival by 2o3/4 lengths on Sunday. And while she was rather easily outrun for the lead by She's All Silk in the prep race, she sprinted to a half-length lead over the same foe with fractions of 22 and 44.80 seconds in the Hastings Park.

"Our plan was to go to the front," said Harwood. "I really thought she would be faster than She's All Silk over this kind of track. Once she got the lead, my only concern was that she would be a little short. That was where Gallyn came in. He does such a great job of riding front-runners. He just has a real talent for keeping them going."

Dinner at Arlene's not only kept going, she increased her margin to nearly three lengths over runner-up Kissntheboysgoodby and stopped the timer in 1:09.40.

Harwood, who is suddenly red-hot with 4 winners from her last 8 starters, is optimistic that Dinner at Arlene's can continue to be a force in the stakes ranks as the distances increase. She noted that Dinner at Arlene's scored her lone prior stakes victory in last year's 1 1/16-mile Boeing Handicap, which was, incidentally, conducted over a fast track.

"It's a case of the farther the better with her," said the trainer. "Things will just get better for her as they stretch out, rain or no rain."

That doesn't mean, of course, that more rain won't be welcome.

Serious money for old-timer

Saturday's eighth race, which was won by the venerable Salt Grinder in a dazzling 1:07.60 for six furlongs, was noteworthy on a number of counts. It marked the fifth time in the 8-year-old Salt Grinder's career that he won his first start of the year, for one thing. For another, it ended an uncharacteristic win drought for Washington Hall of Fame trainer Jim Penney, who was winless with his first 25 starters at the meet. Most remarkable of all, Salt Grinder was claimed for $32,000 by trainer Sharon Ross for owner Rick Beal.

That's not a record claim at Emerald Downs, but it is surely a record for an 8-year-old. If anybody can make it work, however, it is Ross. The trainer is best known for her work with old geldings such as Military Hawk, who won races through the age of 11 and retired with earnings of $686,128, second only to Saratoga Passage's $800,212 on the list of leading Washington-bred money winners. Ross declined credit for claiming Salt Grinder, however.

"It was Rick's idea," she said. "I never like to claim horses, so whenever I do it you know it's the owner's idea. I'll say one thing, though. Salt Grinder is a really nice old horse, and I know we'll have some fun with him."

Kaenel is thinking comeback

Don't be surprised if Jack Kaenel begins accepting mounts here within the next couple of weeks. Kaenel, nicknamed "Cowboy Jack," has been galloping horses here in the mornings. He reported that he is lighter than he has been in many years and is contemplating a comeback.

Kaenel, 41, made national headlines when he won the 1982 Preakness Stakes on Aloma's Ruler at age 16. He rode with success at tracks around the country, including Longacres, where he rode for a month or two in 1990 and won 24 races. During that stint he put up a memorable ride on a Craig Roberts-trained 2-year-old named Exclusive Chance. Kaenel's saddle slipped at the start and he lost both irons. He gradually worked the saddle back on top his mount, regained his irons on the turn, and managed to win both the race and the award for the most outstanding riding feat at the Longacres meeting.

Citing weight problems, Kaenel retired from riding in September of 2005 with 2,046 wins from 15,270 starts. He may soon begin adding to those totals.

* Emerald Downs fans in attendance on Saturday contributed more than $13,600 to the Barbaro Memorial Fund, which will support research aimed at curing laminitis, the disease that ultimately caused the death of last year's Kentucky Derby winner.