04/28/2008 11:00PM

Season opener lures 92 for 10-race card


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Only 59 horses posted timed workouts at Arlington on a cold, gray Tuesday morning, and even that was the highest number working on any given day since Arlington reopened its track for training last Wednesday. Still, the horses are out there - some 1,300 of them on the Arlington backstretch as of Tuesday afternoon - and 92 were entered Tuesday for Friday's opening-day program here.

Arlington launches a 96-day race meet Friday at 3 p.m. Central, and horses still are assembling here for the summer. Some have yet to ship cross-town from Hawthorne, which just pulled the curtain down on its spring meet Monday, while others still are coming north from Kentucky. But within a couple weeks, Arlington hopes to have the bulk of its approximately 2,100 stalls filled with horses that will support the second season of Polytrack racing here in suburban Chicago.

The Polytrack has been firm and quick, according to anecdotal remarks as well as recent workout times. That's the norm in cool, wet weather, of which Chicago has seen plenty in recent weeks. A hard winter and a late spring have left local vegetation lagging behind typical seasonal development, and that includes the local turf course, which will be open for business Friday, but may have to be treated carefully until the grass comes fully in for the year.

"The weather just hasn't cooperated for us," racing secretary Kevin Greely said.

Two grass races were carded on Friday's 10-race program, but rain could easily wipe them out. One is the opening day feature, the $50,000 Double Delta, which drew 13 3-year-old fillies. Among them is Dreaming of Liz, who will try to rebound from a series of disappointing performances following her victory in the Arlington-Washington Lassie here late last summer.

Dreaming of Liz hails from the barn of leading trainer Wayne Catalano, who will try to win his fourth straight training title here, but with a smaller string than in recent seasons. The trainer colony will in general look much like last year's, as will the group of riders assembled for the Arlington summer. Rene Douglas, who won four riding crowns in the early 2000s, skipped two Arlington seasons, but was back last year to capture another crown, returns to defend his title.

"I'm a Chicago fan," Douglas said. "Hopefully, we'll get a good meet going. To me, this is one of the best places in America."