07/15/2010 12:00AM

Rivals meet again in Arlington Handicap


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - A lack of rain in New York has brought Just as Well and Marsh Side to suburban Chicago. Both horses would have started in last weekend's Man o' War at Belmont had the ground there not been so drought-parched.

"We were just looking for some ground with some give in it," said Neil Drysdale, Marsh Side's trainer. "The hard ground's not good for him."

Just as Well and Marsh Side will be joined by General Quarters, Free Fighter, and seven others in a strong renewal of the Grade 3, $150,000 Arlington Handicap, one of three graded grass stakes on the program here Saturday.

Marsh Side and Just as Well already have some history. Last September in the Grade 1 Northern Dancer at Woodbine, Marsh Side finished first and Just as Well second, but stewards disqualified Marsh Side for interference. Marsh Side's owner, Robert Evans, appealed the decision, and the Ontario Racing Commission recently overturned the ruling. Jonathan Sheppard, Just as Well's owner and trainer, never received his winner's share of the purse.

But whereas Just as Well likes Arlington and excels at 1 1/4 miles, the Arlington Handicap's distance, Marsh Side's situation is much shakier.

"A mile and a quarter is not his optimum distance," Drysdale said, "but I need to get him going again."

Marsh Side, a Grade 1 winner of more than $2.2 million, hasn't started since a two-race synthetic-surface experiment late last winter produced a pair of second-place finishes. Marsh Side may be running late in the Arlington Handicap, but it may be too late.

Just as Well comfortably beat a lesser field in this race last summer before finishing second in the Arlington Million. He was fifth last out in the Grade 1 Manhattan but encountered a world of trouble in the stretch.

General Quarters finished third in the Stephen Foster in his last start, and did not care for sultry weather that afternoon, said owner-trainer Tom McCarthy. In May, he won the Grade 1 Turf Classic on a wet Churchill turf course.

"I'm just hoping the weather won't go against him," said McCarthy. "I'd like to see it rain Friday night."

Alas - for McCarthy, at least - the local forecast calls for clear, hot weather on Friday and Saturday.

Workin for Hops finds stride in routes

Workin for Hops started his career late last summer at Arlington in a $40,000 maiden claimer. He is a much better horse than that. Workin for Hops started his career running six furlongs. It turns out he can go much farther than that.

Workin for Hops won at six furlongs, won at a mile, and won at 1 1/16 miles, but it was the way he stayed on for second behind high-class Paddy O'Prado in the 1 3/16-mile Colonial Turf Cup last month that truly demonstrated shorter is not necessarily better for Workin for Hops.

"I did have those questions about his distance ability earlier, but I don't anymore," said Mike Stidham, who trains Workin for Hops for Estrorace LLC. "He's learning to do things now that I didn't know he'd be able to do."

And if Workin for Hops keeps doing them, he stands a great chance of winning the Grade 2, $200,000 American Derby here Saturday. This race also will be contested at 1 3/16 miles, but Stidham feels Workin for Hops did just fine at the trip in his last start.

"I didn't feel like our horse was backing up the last eighth of a mile," Stidham said. "I think he just got outrun by a better horse."

On paper, none of the eight others in the American Derby is better than Workin for Hops, who won the Arlington Classic over this course in May. A City Zip gelding, he should be on or near a mild pace under Robby Albarado.

Workin for Hops beat Gleam of Hope by almost four lengths in the Arlington Classic, but the gap might be narrower with Gleam of Hope racing in blinkers. Trainer Tony Reinstedler made the equipment change after the Arlington race, and Gleam of Hope responded by winning the Jefferson Cup at Churchill Downs.

Dean's Kitten was a one-paced fifth behind Workin for Hops in the Colonial race but looks capable of a stronger performance. Asphalt finished second in the American Turf and third in the Jefferson Cup, both over the Churchill course.