06/10/2001 11:00PM

Revitalized track to run until autumn

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Two summers ago, Arlington Park, the palatial suburban Chicago racetrack, was empty, its doors closed after officials cited unfavorable economic conditions.

So much has changed since then. Arlington raced again last summer and merged with powerful Churchill Downs Inc. last summer. On Wednesday, Arlington launches its 2001 season, its first under the Churchill banner.

In the merger, Dick Duchossois, Arlington's owner, became Churchill's largest shareholder, and Arlington is prominently represented on the company's board of directors. Once rivals in the summer, the two tracks are now working together to strengthen their mutual position.

The first step in that direction came when Arlington altered its racing dates. Gone is the traditional Mother's Day opening, as Arlington and Churchill have created less overlap between their meets. Churchill's current meet ends July 8, while Arlington races through the end of October, a 102-day stand. The meet extends into the fall partly because Arlington hopes to host a Breeders' Cup and wants to prove the viability of its site in mid-autumn.

A more diverse and stronger group of trainers will stable here this year, and Arlington has built three new barns to help accommodate them. "There are about 20 trainers that weren't here last year," said Frank Gabriel, Arlington's director of racing.

Chief among the newcomers is California-based Jerry Hollendorfer, who has 47 stalls. Sam David, Ronnie Werner, and Chris Candies are shipping in strings from Lone Star Park. Kentucky-based Frank Brothers, Tom Amoss, and Hal Wiggins also have horses here. And far-flung Godolphin Racing has a string of blue-blooded 2-year-olds on the grounds.

Leading rider Mark Guidry returns to defend his title, but will be joined by Rene Douglas, a newcomer to the circuit. Robby Albarado is scheduled to move his tack here after Churchill ends, while Frank Alvarado is in from the West Coast and will ride many of Hollendorfer's horses.

Hollendorfer and Alvarado could make an immediate impact with Globalize, the likely favorite in the opening-day feature,.

The Arlington Million is worth $1 million again after having its purse doubled last year. The Grade 1 Beverly D., has gotten a purse increase, from $500,000 to $700,000. The Million, the Beverly D. and the Grade 1 Secretariat for 3-year-olds comprise the International Festival of Racing on Aug. 18.

Million Day Preview, July 28, features the Round Table Stakes, the Modesty Handicap, and the Arlington Handicap, all turf preps for the three Grade 1's in August.