04/12/2007 11:00PM

Ocampo proves good enough for Arlington

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CHICAGO - Anyone with a passing familiarity of the Chicago racing circuit knows that Chris Emigh has turned into the perennial leading rider at Hawthorne, and Emigh even won the Arlington riding title last year. So, it stood to reason that Emigh would eventually wear down young Israel Ocampo, who seized an early lead in the Hawthorne standings during the ongoing winter-spring meet. But it hasn't happened yet.

Through Thursday's races, Ocampo still held a 32-28 lead over Emigh, and even if he is caught during the final 12 days of the Hawthorne meet, the season represents another step forward for the 20-year-old Ocampo, a native of Mexico City.

Ocampo had a solid spring meet here last year, then went to Canterbury Park for the summer, finishing third in the standings there with 57 wins. But this year, he said he will shift his tack across town to Arlington Park when Hawthorne concludes, and the way Ocampo and agent Jodie Sinclair have grown their business, Ocampo should do fine at Arlington.

Ocampo said he won 127 races at the Hippodromo de last Americas, the racetrack in Mexico City, and was a top-five rider there before coming to the U.S. about 18 months ago. He went to New York, then Florida, exercising horses for trainers John Kimmel and Mark Hennig, before getting his jockey's license in Chicago. Ocampo, who has quickly picked up English and seems well liked around the racetrack, said he grew up in the city and got into racing at a young age because his brother was a Quarter Horse jockey.

In Chicago, he has had help from veteran rider Eddie Razo - "He taught me everything here," Ocampo said - as well as trainer Tom Tomillo and his assistant, Lalo Rodriguez. Tomillo was a main source of business for Ocampo before he caught on with other trainers.

Ocampo said he works horses every morning, and will also keep busy the rest of the time over the next few months. With Arlington starting out on a four-day racing week, Ocampo said he plans to ride on Arlington dark days at Prairie Meadows near Des Moines, Iowa.

Corrupt tentatively set for Forerunner

This is the time of year the stable of trainer Chris Block starts gearing up for Arlington, though Block has won at a high percentage this meet at Hawthorne with just a handful of starters. Fort Prado, who just finished second in the Connally Breeders' Cup at Sam Houston, is on his way back to Chicago and is scheduled to race opening weekend at Arlington, while Mystery Giver, who has evolved into a solid high-end turf claimer, already is back in Block's barn after wintering in New Orleans.

A third Block-associated turf horse, Corrupt, remains with trainer Jeff Trosclair and will race next weekend in the Forerunner Stakes at Keeneland if he breezes well enough there on Sunday, Block said. Corrupt won his two starts at 2 last year for Block, and was impressive taking his 3-year-old debut over the Fair Grounds grass for Trosclair, but he was basically eased as the heavy favorite in the Grindstone Stakes late last month.

"At this point we have no idea what happened," Block said. Corrupt was taken to the Rood and Riddle veterinary clinic in Kentucky, "and they came up with nothing, too."

Will Farish bought an interest in Corrupt, a Block family homebred, prior to the Grindstone, with a plan for Corrupt to join Block's Chicago string after the Keeneland meet.

* The featured race on Sunday's nine-race program could be the seventh, an entry-level allowance race also open to $50,000 claimers, or the eighth, which is for second-level allowance horses who were bred in Illinois. The open allowance race is a sprint, the Illinois-bred race a route, but what the two spots have in common is the lack of a solid favorite.