06/25/2007 11:00PM

Polytrack enables 'Cane'


CHICAGO - If Martin Collins International, the manufacturer of Polytrack, needs a poster boy for a future advertising campaign, they could do much worse than a 6-year-old gelding named Cane Garden Boy.

Hapless on dirt, Cane Garden Boy has gotten a radical form makeover since switching to all-weather courses this year. After losing five races on turf and dirt spanning late 2006 and early 2007 by a combined margin of some 130 lengths, Cane Garden Boy began coming around over the winter in two Turfway Polytrack races, and he has had an awesome Arlington meet. Cane Garden Boy won a $5,000 nonwinners-of-two claimer on May 5, won a $10,000 nonwinners-of-three race two weeks later, dusted Illinois-bred entry-level allowance foes two weeks after that, and on June 15 was a respectable fourth to Illinois-bred standout High Expectations in an overnight stakes race.

In Thursday's featured second race, an Illinois-bred second-level allowance, Cane Garden Boy actually might be favored in a seven-horse field.

"I know it's back quick, and I'm always worried eventually he'll hit that wall, but he seems to be coming back better every race," said Doug Matthews, who trains and owns the horse.

Matthews noted that there is a back-story to Cane Garden Boy's revival on Polytrack. Cane Garden Boy raced at 3, and according to Matthews "was cut out to be an all right turf horse." But Cane Garden Boy was hurt and missed two years, and hates running on dirt so much that he cannot even properly train over a conventional main track.

"He'd run so terrible, he wouldn't get any fitness on it," Matthews said.

Sent to Turfway over the winter, the horse suddenly turned his form around with a second and a third in low-level conditioned claimers. Matthews put the final puzzle piece in place by removing Cane Garden Boy's blinkers in his first Arlington start, and he has morphed from a distant also-ran into the horse to beat.

Standing between him and another victory are Princeton Hills, who has come close several times in races like Thursday's, and El Pollo Volando. One of only a couple of horses in the care of trainer Clayton Pierce, El Pollo Volando has won 2 of 4 career starts, including a sharp entry-level Illinois-bred allowance score May 25 at Arlington.