03/10/2009 11:00PM

Realistic Houghton still needs convincing


CHICAGO - Veteran trainer Roy Houghton has seen too many rodeos to look at horses with anything other than cold-eyed realism. A colt he trains named Lui Luhuk seemed at least a little like an Illinois-bred stakes prospect winning his last two starts of 2008 by a combined 9 1/2 lengths. But Houghton still wants to see more.

"I don't know," Houghton said, when asked how far he thought Lui Luhuk might be able to rise. "He ain't beat nothing worth more than $15,000 yet."

Lui Luhuk tries to climb another rung up the allowance ladder in the featured sixth race on Friday at Hawthorne, an Illinois-bred second-level allowance carded for 5 1/2 furlongs.

Lui Luhuk drew the rail in a seven-horse field. It will be the first time he breaks from the inside, and he faces the stiffest competition he's yet seen, but a third straight win is possible.

"I think he'll run well," said Houhgton. "He had a good winter."

Lui Luhuk had a disastrous career debut last Oct. 2. "He got slammed real hard out of the gate, and Perry [Compton] almost came completely off him," Houghton said. "He lost his iron, and halfway down the backstretch the horse decided he'd try to run off."

Lui Luhuk still beat seven of 11 rivals that day, and he came back about three weeks later with a four-length maiden win, followed Nov. 22 by a 5 1/2-length victory over entry-level Illinois-bred allowance horses.

Lui Luhuk appears to have three main challengers Friday: Dontcallmeshorely, Big Vic, and Blue Knight. Dontcallmeshorely won an open entry-level allowance race at the end of the fall-winter season at Hawthorne, and has worked fast for his first start this meet.

Big Vic and Blue Knight both hail from the barn of Christine Janks. At his best, Big Vic has a strong stretch rally, while Blue Knight races from much closer to the early pace.

Track superintendent leaves Arlington

Javier Barajas, the well-liked and respected track superintendent at Arlington Park, has left the suburban Chicago track for a job in Dubai. Barajas began working on the Arlington track crew in 1976, and was promoted to track superintendent in 1996. Barajas oversaw the installation of Arlington's Polytrack surface before the 2007 season, a surface that had far fewer early problems than many of the synthetic tracks around the country.

Barajas was hired by the Dubai Racing Club. Frank Gabriel, the longtime Arlington vice president, is the CEO of that organization, and Gabriel and Barajas had a strong relationship before Gabriel left for Dubai.

Barajas will return to Chicago in the beginning of April and help Arlington prepare the turf and main tracks for its May opening. Arlington has commenced a search for a replacement.

* There will be 26 overnight stakes at Arlington this season worth a total of $1.3 million. All Arlington overnight stakes are worth $50,000 this year.