08/10/2010 1:36PM

Party of Eight soaring at age 9

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – There is a second-level Illinois-bred allowance race as well as an open entry-level allowance on the Thursday racing program at Arlington Park, but the most compelling horse on the card does not start in either one of those spots. It’s in race 2, a $5,000 starter allowance, that Party of Eight will try to add to an already amazing season.

Party of Eight entered this, her 9-year-old year, having won 5 races in 56 career starts, but she has more than doubled her win total in 2010, with seven victories in eight times out. The seven wins are two fewer than the national leader so far this year, World Gone Wrong, and Party of Eight is one of only 12 horses in the country with seven or more wins this season. There is a good chance none of the others went 0-11 in 2009.

There’s another layer of unlikely to this tale, too. Party of Eight was a gift horse before she ever started, according to trainer Dave Hinsley, who owns a piece of the mare himself. An original owner died, and Party of Eight, a daughter of Evansville Slew, was doled out to eight original partners (thus, Party of Eight) at no cost above training expense. She has earned $171,421 entering her race Thursday.

Hinsley felt Party of Eight had been overmatched during her winless 2009 season, and he told the partners of a change in approach entering the meet this winter at Tampa.

“I said, ‘Guys, we’re going to run her for $5,000 and see what happens,’ ” Hinsley recalled.

What happened was that Party of Eight, mainly a turf horse, won a $5,000 dirt claimer on Jan. 3 at Tampa Bay. She lost her next start – bouncing from the comeback-race win, Hinsley said – but has not been beaten since, winning four more Tampa dirt claimers, then capturing two $5,000 turf-sprint starter-allowance races after coming back to Arlington.

“If she wasn’t the age she is, we would have lost her over the winter,” Hinsley said. “She’s got her little problems. We’ve got to give her time between races. But all in all, she’s just gotten good. We’re trying to pick the right spots, and we’d scratch [Thursday] if it were off the turf.”

As for the two allowance races on the card, they, too, are scheduled for grass. Race 6, the Illinois-bred race, drew a field of eight entered for turf, and looks entirely wide open. Leading owner Frank Calabrese seems to have race 8, the entry-level allowance, well within his grasp regardless of which part of his coupled entry, Far from Shy or Friendly Selection, is tapped to start.