06/03/2010 12:00AM

Quite a Handful needs to progress


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Take your pick in the featured ninth race Saturday at Arlington Park: Six-year-olds racing for a $40,000 claiming option, or 4-year-olds entered under second-level allowance conditions. It's proven players versus plausible potential.

The race is carded for 1 1/16 miles on turf, and 11 were entered in the field's main body, with Rector to run (and probably contend) only if weather forces a move to Polytrack.

Of those 11, six were entered for the $40,000 claiming price, including 6-year-old win threats Swains News (the likely favorite), Unpaid Crusade, and Voy Por Uno Mas, and 5-year-olds Mr Maccool and Approvedbythemint. Those horses have combined to win 23 races, and all have knocked out their second allowance condition, but at this point, handicappers pretty much know what they are. Four-year-olds like Fly'n Lion, Belfast, and Quite a Handful have accomplished less than their elders, but are eligible to improve more.

"I think he's better than he was last year," trainer Andy Hansen said of Quite a Handful.

Quite a Handful makes his third start of 2010 on Saturday. Hansen gives him excuses for a sixth-place finish on Churchill Downs turf in his seasonal debut, as well as a close fifth on Arlington's Polytrack in the May 15 Illinois Owners Stakes. Quite a Handful was good enough in 2009 to finish a close sixth in the Grade 1 Secretariat and third in the Grade 3 Hawthorne Derby, and he can win with forward progress.

Belfast hasn't been out since November, when he lost previously good form and finished last of six in a minor Fair Grounds grass stakes. But before that performance Belfast had been improving race by race; he's only 4, with just nine turf starts, and it's entirely possible Belfast might have more to give.

"He's been doing really well," said trainer Dale Bennett, into whose barn Belfast came in late April. "His hair looks good, his weight looks good. I've worked him with some pretty good horses, and he held his own."

Belfast's owners have designs on a Claiming Crown race, Bennett said. Belfast's 4-year-old debut on Saturday will help sort out where he actually belongs.

Swains News, one of the race elders, finished second to talented Tajaaweed in a race at this class level on May 16, but regression is possible at a short price. Unpaid Crusade was third in that nine-furlong race, and will benefit from running a shorter distance Saturday. But among the claiming set, Mr Maccool gets the nod. He was third last out behind Tizdejavu and Recapturetheglory, and gets a meaningful class drop.