08/29/2004 11:00PM

Rocky River targets Futurity


CHICAGO - Rocky River, arguably the most impressive 2-year-old to race this summer at Arlington, earned a slot in the Sept. 19 Arlington-Washington Futurity with his dominating win Sunday in the $50,000 Spectacular Bid Stakes here.

"I thought he was very impressive, and he came out if it in fine form," trainer Don Von Hemel said Monday morning. "We're very excited about him."

Rocky River easily beat what looked on paper like a solid group of opponents, scoring by 4 3/4 lengths over the upstart Santana Strings and running seven furlongs in 1:23.90, a respectable time on a track that produced moderate to slightly quick times Sunday. Better than the time of the race, at least for Von Hemel, was the way Rocky River went about his business. He was not entirely comfortable rating behind the pace for jockey Chris Emigh, but he allowed Emigh to guide him back behind horses, and Rocky River finished stronger than he had in his debut victory.

"What I was trying to do is to get him off the pace," said Von Hemel, who trains Rocky River for Thunderhead Farms. "He'd relax, then he'd want to run, then he'd relax again. A little maturity, and that will come."

Rocky River, who fetched $220,000 at auction this past spring, is by Concorde's Tune and has a sprint-oriented pedigree, but Von Hemel feels confident his colt can at least get through the one-turn mile of the Futurity.

"After that, you have to take it one step at a time," Von Hemel said. "You never know."

Raving Rocket set for comeback

Raving Rocket, the first eye-catching 2-year-old of the Arlington season, hasn't run since winning his career debut early this summer, but the colt is nearing a comeback race, and trainer Larry Rivelli also has his eye on the Arlington-Washington Futurity.

Rivelli said Monday that Raving Rocket would start next in a minor stakes race Sept. 6 at Prairie Meadows, a sprint designed to set him up for the Futurity.

"He might need the race," Rivelli cautioned. "The Futurity is the goal."

Raving Rocket came up with a sore shin following his impressive blowout debut victory in a short sprint. He was out of training for about 45 days, Rivelli said, but has been training steadily for his return.

"He's had three five-eighths [works]," Rivelli said. "He's been training great."

Matron field coming up strong

If the race holds together this week, Saturday's Arlington Matron Handicap, a Grade 3 with a $150,000 pot, will have its best field in years, headed by defending Breeders' Cup Distaff champ Adoration, who ships in from California for trainer David Hofmans.

But she will not run unopposed. As of Monday, eight others were expected for the nine-furlong Matron. The field also is expected to include Allspice, Bare Necessities, Hennie's Song, Indy Groove, Julie's Prize, La Reason, Miss Fortunate, and Tamweel.

Tamweel, who makes her graded-stakes debut, exits a pair of sharp wins at Arlington, both since she was privately purchased by Turf Express Inc. and turned over to Wayne Catalano. Monday, Tamweel worked a half-mile in 48 seconds, a breeze Catalano termed "just maintenance."

"We're real happy with her," Catalano said.

Catalano and Turf Express might have another stakes horse at Arlington. Intelligent Male followed up on his Claiming Crown Jewel upset with a blowout allowance victory here Aug. 21, and he is probably headed for a stakes race at Mountaineer Park, Catalano said.

Promising statebreds meet in sprint

Two of the most promising young Illinois-breds at Arlington, Just See James and Camp Nagawicka, square off in Wednesday's third race, a second-level allowance sprint restricted to statebreds.

Owned by Ed Fortino and trained by Chris Block, Camp Nagawicka was held back by minor physical problems, and only made his career debut May 29 at age 4. He was a troubled fourth that day, but won his next race, and after a gutty loss to a colt named Defense Motion, Camp Nagawicka cruised to an entry-level allowance win here July 24. Camp Nagawicka is fast and improving, and he has a better post than Just See James, who drew the rail.

"I'd love to have drawn outside of Chris's horse," said Joe McKellar, Just See James's trainer. "Speed and the rail have been the kiss of death all meet."

* Trainer Steve Asmussen begins serving a 15-day suspension Wednesday, the result of a positive drug test about a year ago at Retama Park. During the period of his suspension, Asmussen's horses at Arlington will run in the name of assistant trainer Toby Sheets.