09/03/2009 11:00PM

Older crowd to celebrate holiday

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Barbara D. Livingston
Silverfoot, 9, will try to defend his Stars and Stripes Stakes title

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Between them, the three likely favorites for the Stars and Stripes Handicap have seen 25 years on this earth. Brass Hat is an 8-year-old, as is Rumor Has It, and Silverfoot, who easily won the 2008 Stars and Stripes, is 9. But it will be surprising if one of the elders does not wind up in the winner's circle on Monday afternoon at Arlington Park.

Those three are set to face three less proven and far younger rivals in the $125,000 Stars and Stripes, one of two Grade 3 stakes here on an all-turf Labor Day program. Also carded for Monday are the Grade 3, $200,000 Pucker Up for 3-year-old fillies; the $100,000 Sea O'Erin, for older milers; and the $60,000 Honor Glide for 3-year-olds.

Brass Hat figures to be favored in the 1 1/2-mile Stars and Stripes. Remade this year as a long-distance turf horse, Brass Hat comes off third-place finishes in a pair of Grade 1's, the Sword Dancer and the United Nations, and three starts ago won the Louisville Handicap at Churchill Downs.

Silverfoot won an overnight stakes here in June making his first start of 2009, but finished sixth of 12 in the Arlington Handicap on July 11. Rather than take a stab in the Arlington Million, Silverfoot's connections backed off and awaited the Stars and Stripes.

Rumor Has It has won a pair of overnight stakes this meet, and is tentatively being pointed toward the Breeders' Cup Marathon.

While the Pucker Up does not have a single horse with the talent of several recent winners, the race did draw 12 entries, and should be competitive. Locally based Romacaca has won three grass races this meet by more than 12 lengths combined, and probably is the one to beat. Peach Brew, winner of the Arlington Oaks on Polytrack, will try for her first grass victory.

Tizdejavu should be solidly favored in the Sea O'Erin, which drew nine entries, included a coupled pairing of Recapturetheglory and Brothers Nicholas.

Major Rhythm's race days over

At age 10, Major Rhythm's racing career seems finally to have drawn to a close. On Aug. 26, Major Rhythm posted a timed workout, prepping for a possible start in the Stars and Stripes Handicap here on Monday, and things went fine, trainer Doug Matthews said.

But on Sunday, after galloping, Major Rhythm "came up with a little issue," according to Matthews, and will be retired by owner James Messineo.

"He could have come back from it, but he was going to need some time off, and with him, it was time to go," said Matthews.

Matthews said he and Messineo had agreed not to run Major Rhythm for a claiming price less than $50,000, a factor in the decision not to try and attempt a comeback next year at age 11.

Major Rhythm compiled a record of 13-10-13 from 64 starts, and remained competitive in stakes even through this summer. He won the Stars and Stripes here in 2006, his only graded stakes win, but was victorious in several listed stakes, and as recently as January 2008, finished second in the Grade 3 Colonel Bradley Handicap at Fair Grounds. Messineo claimed Major Rhythm, a career earning of $771,530, for $30,000 in 2002 at Sportsman's Park.

"It's bitte rsweet," said Matthews. Messineo, the trainer said, "had a good seven or eight years with him. I hate to see him go, too. He was a neat horse to be around. You always had a shot with him."

Entries bouncing back

Thursday's eight-race card here had only 48 total starters, a fairly brutal number, but the pace of entries rebounded this week, and racing secretary Kevin Greely said Thursday he hopes Arlington still can finish the meet decently in terms of field size.

"Last year, we had a slow down around this time, and it's happened again," Greely said.

For the meet, Arlington is averaging 7.88 starters per race, a decline of less than half a horse per race over last year. And Greely said entries have been hampered by general systemic difficulties in racing right now. Claims at the ongoing meet have declined considerably, a sign of slow business. Through Aug. 26, there had been 71 fewer horses claimed for $1.2 million less than during the same period in 2008, Greely said.

Arlington will move back to four-day race weeks the rest of September, after running five times a week much of the summer, and that could help boost field size. In 2010, Arlington prefers not to regularly race five days per week at all, and applied for a four-day-a-week schedule with the Illinois Racing Board in late July.

Agent without a client

Dennis Cooper, who has been the agent for the leading jockey here eight of the last nine years, currently represents no jockey at Arlington. Jermaine Bridgmohan has left the colony to ride for Steve Asmussen at Remington Park, Cooper said, and Cooper's other rider, Fernando Jara, had to go home to Panama because his visa expired on Aug. 28.

"He'll be back as soon as he gets it renewed," Cooper said.

Ariel Smith, meanwhile, has joined the local jockey colony, and has been getting on a few winners for leading trainer Wayne Catalano.