06/10/2008 12:00AM

Red-hot Fires climbs all-time list


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - With a victory on Saturday at Arlington Park, Earlie Fires became the ninth-leading rider in racing history in terms of wins. More surprising is the fact that through Sunday's racing, Fires was tied for fourth in the jockey standings at the current Arlington Park meet.

Fires has ridden 17 winners so far at Arlington. That's the same number as Chris Emigh, but where Emigh has needed 128 mounts to get his total, Fires has done so with only 39 rides. That comes out to a 43 percent strike rate, an amazing number for any jockey, and especially for a 61-year-old man who appeared to be in the waning twilight of a prolific career. In all of 2007, Fires won just 31 races, and was victorious with 10opercent of his mounts. In 2006, he won 40 races at a 13 percent clip.

Fires pointed to the old adage: The horse makes the rider.

"Before, maybe I was getting a chance to win two races a week," he on Sunday afternoon. "Now, I'm getting a chance to win two a day."

That chance has come from runaway leading owner Frank Calabrese (28 Arlington wins this year) and his trainer, Wayne Catalano (24 wins already this meet). Entering the Arlington meet, Fires had a paltry 1 win from 17 mounts in 2008, but Calabrese and Catalano began putting him on horses, and Fires has responded. The Catalano-Fires team is the leading jockey-trainer combination at Arlington, with 12 wins from 20 starters.

"I can think of at least three horses I thought were going to get beat that didn't because of him," Catalano said.

Among those would be Its Never to Late, whom Fires muscled home in Saturday's eighth race after the horse was passed in midstretch.

That was one of three winners Saturday for Fires, whose career win total through Sunday stood at 6,452, three better than Sandy Hawley on the list. Fires said early this meet that he had a personal milestone he wanted to pass this summer, at which point he would consider retirement. On Sunday, Fires conceded that passing Hawley for ninth on the all-time list was indeed the milestone.

"Who knows how many races Sandy would've won if he hadn't have got cancer and had to retire," Fires said. "It means a lot to pass him."

But Fires, who said last month he planned to hang up his spurs sometime this summer at Arlington, demurred on outlining retirement plans. He is more than 300 wins behind the next rider on the all-time list, Jorge Velasquez, but at the same time, his current run marks the greatest success he has had in years.

"I feel good, and I'm riding good, so I still don't know," Fires said.

This much is known, though: If Fires is going out, he's going out with a bang.

Dreaming of Anna to Mint Julep

Dreaming of Anna will join Ciao as Arlington-based entrants in the Early Times Mint Julep Stakes on Saturday at Churchill Downs.

Ciao had been penciled into the Mint Julep a couple weeks ago, while trainer Wayne Catalano confirmed that Dreaming of Anna was headed to Kentucky only Tuesday morning.

Dreaming of Anna, champion 2-year-old filly in 2006, also had been considered for races at Woodbine, Belmont, and Colonial Downs. She also is under consideration for the major female grass race of the summer at Arlington, the Beverly D. on Aug. 9.

Dreaming of Anna, who suffered a somewhat surprising loss in the Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill last out, worked five furlongs in 1:00.40 on Saturday.

"She worked very well, soft and easy," Catalano said.

Dreaming of Anna's breeze was third-fastest among 45 five-furlong works Saturday, and the Catalano-trained Lewis Michael was one of the two horses to work faster, going five panels in a bullet 1:00.

Unraced since finishing a distant fifth in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile last fall, Lewis Michael now has had five works as he prepares for his 2008 debut. When and where that will come, however, remains uncertain, Catalano said.

Rivelli unveils a fast one

The trainer Larry Rivelli already was having a strong Arlington meet, and on Sunday the Rivelli barn sent out the sharpest 2-year-old to race in Chicago so far this year. That was My Dominick James, an Illinois-bred gelding with a modest pedigree but plenty of speed. Racing on a Polytrack that was producing times slower than par for this meet, My Dominick James zipped 4 1/2 furlongs in a fast 51.22 seconds, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 93.

"I've worked this horse so many times," Rivelli said. "He works three-eighths, gallops out a half in 46, but I've never released him. In my mind, this is probably the best young horse that I've had. He's smart, and he acts like he'll run long."

My Dominick James is named after Rivelli's 4-year-old son, and Rivelli is the horse's co-breeder and co-owner. Rivelli said future plans aren't certain for My Dominick James, the product of a mating between the sire Dance Master and a Robyn Dancer mare named Smiling Mindy.

Rivelli has 9 wins from only 23 starters at the Arlington meet.

Baird to ride here regularly

E.T. Baird, who has ridden sparingly this spring but finished fifth in the Kentucky Derby aboard Recapturetheglory, will begin riding regularly at Arlington this week.

His agent, Penny Ffitch-Heyes, will book Baird's mounts, but is no longer representing jockey Ramsey Zimmerman, who now has Jim Ernesto as an agent.