07/08/2001 11:00PM

Now, everything gets better


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - A month after its five-month-long meet started, Arlington gets a shot in the arm Wednesday with the beginning of its Summer Festival. The six-week meet within a meet brings increased purses, fresh blood in the jockey colony, and a free Churchill-to-Arlington horse shuttle that Arlington hopes will begin buzzing with regular passengers.

The purses are the most obvious draw, and should increase by about 25 percent on a daily basis effective immediately. "Our goal is for the [condition] book to come in at $275,000 a day," said vice president of racing and operations Frank Gabriel. "So far, we've been getting about $220,000. We had shot for $225,000 before the Festival."

The timing of the Festival's inception isn't arbitrary. The Midwest racing dynamic changes radically this week with the closing of Churchill Downs and the opening of Ellis Park on Wednesday. Churchill owns both Ellis and Arlington, which formerly were competitors, and is trying to optimize racing at both places. It is not unfair to call Arlington the "A" track and Ellis the "B" track. A maiden allowance purse at Ellis offers a $24,000 purse, $8,000 of which is earmarked only for Kentucky-breds. At Arlington, maidens are running for $38,000 during the Summer Festival. The focus at Ellis, according to Churchill, will be on claiming races.

Arlington hopes to attract Churchill-based horsemen to the meet, but there are no stalls available here now. Thus Arlington, as it did last year, will offer a free horse shuttle between the two tracks. Arlington racing secretary Dave Bailey said he hoped as many as 20 horses a week would ride the shuttle.

Churchill-based jockeys also will be relocating to Arlington. Robby Albarado, who won the riding title here in 1996, will begin taking mounts here July 21, he said Saturday. The twins Lonnie and Donnie Meche and Craig Perret also will ride at Arlington for the rest of the summer.

A Churchill-based horse, Where's Zealous, will probably be the favorite in Wednesday's featured seventh race, a second-level, six-furlong allowance. Trained by Paul McGee, Where's Zealous faces only five rivals in a field that is weak for the class level.

The eighth, an entry-level allowance for fillies, is much more competitive. It features the Frank Brothers-trained Arm Charm, a standout front-end winner on a speed-biased track here during the meet's opening week, as well as Emily Ring, a Churchill shipper who is equally speedy. Leading trainer Jerry Hollendorfer has two fillies in the race, Dream Every Dream and Cassie Anne.