09/18/2009 12:00AM

Shrewd Operator yet to regain form


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - One keeps awaiting Shrewd Operator's return to the form he showed in 2007, but maybe that's not going to happen.

Shrewd Operator made one of the more impressive Arlington Park debuts of recent seasons when he won his first-ever start in August 2007. He scored that day by eight lengths, shading 1:09 for six furlongs on Polytrack, and Shrewd Operator backed up that performance with five more good races into the spring of 2008. But injury took him out of action for more than 13 months, and after three races this summer at Arlington, Shrewd Operator still hasn't gotten back to his best. Try number four comes in Sunday's featured ninth race, a second-level sprint allowance that drew nine entries.

Still, it seems too soon to stick a fork in Shrewd Operator, a Team Block homebred trained by Chris Block. His two most recent starts came on turf, and Shrewd Operator might well be a synthetic-track specialist. His comeback race June 21 came on Polytrack, but Block had predicted Shrewd Operator could tire in his first start back, and that's exactly what happened.

In fact, Shrewd Operator's best post-layoff chance for a win probably comes Sunday, but just as he may be ready to win, circumstances could work against him: Shrewd Operator pretty much is all speed, and two of his rivals are potentially capable of softening him up in the opening half-mile. Drawn inside Shrewd Operator is Cuban Missile, who might not have an opening quarter fast enough to contend for the early lead. Three races ago, Cuban Missile threw down a 44-second-and-change half-mile split, and that is fast indeed. And drawn on the far outside is Brooks Star, who more consistently shows speed than Cuban Missile. Brook Star was unable to stay with Shrewd Operator when the two met June 21, but figures to stick close enough to the front end Sunday.

If the pace gets too hot, Bergman could be waiting to pick up the pieces. Hugh Robertson trains Bergman, and Robertson also trains Trying Brian, the horse that ran down Shrewd Operator in June. Bergman hasn't started since May 16, but won an entry-level Polytrack sprint allowance by four lengths that day, and nearly overcame the strongest inside-speed bias of the 2009 Arlington meet when he finished second here May 2.

Also worthy of consideration is Prestidigitation, a sharp last-start winner in his second race since being claimed by leading trainer Wayne Catalano.