05/09/2006 12:00AM

Quality on the upswing


CHICAGO - The second day of the second week of the 2006 Arlington Park race meeting has produced a card much better suited to this grand facility than at least two of the programs presented during the three-day opening week. Sunday's nine-race card was at least decent, but entries were exceptionally slow for Saturday, Kentucky Derby Day, and the resulting fields were weak on numbers and quality. Opening day, last Friday, was better than Saturday, but still below par.

So much for the track's new first week, which moved the lucrative Kentucky Derby simulcast from the National Jockey Club meet at Hawthorne over to Arlington. But things are looking up - way up, in fact - on Thursday's nine-race card. Even the opener, a $35,000 maiden claimer, has some substance and betting appeal, and other than conditioned claimers in the second and fourth, the card is made up of maiden and allowance races. Numbers are up, too, with 78 horses entered, an average of close to nine per race.

One of the short fields, however, comes in the featured eighth, carded at 6 1/2 furlongs for third-level allowance horses or $50,000 claimers. The race drew six entrants, with the focus on the two outside-drawn horses, Carroll County and Olympic City.

cleared the maiden ranks with a six-length victory here last July 8, and came back 22 days later with a 5 1/2-length entry-level allowance win. Both races came at one mile, but Olympic City followed later in the year with a good Keeneland win at about seven furlongs, and the shorter distance Thursday should be within range. Freshened since a third-place finish March 19 at Gulfstream, Olympic City shows two recent sharp five-furlong works over the Arlington surface.

Carroll County ran into Semaphore Man and Three Hour Nap in his last two Oaklawn starts, horses of higher quality than any in the Thursday feature, and the overall shape of his form suggests a return to a sprint after a two-turn race last out will work to his advantage.

Race 7, an entry-level sprint allowance for 3-year-old fillies, includes , one of the more promising 2-year-old fillies stabled here last summer. Party Planner missed several months after a debut win July 1, and did not appear at her best when she ran fourth in an April 8 comeback race at Oaklawn. But a return to Arlington, where she ran so well last summer, could bring about a return to her best form.