05/16/2008 12:00AM

Statebreds prominent in top races


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - With Prairie Meadows to the west offering ramped-up low-level claiming purses, and Presque Isle Downs to the east offering a Tapeta alternative, Arlington Park has pressure from both sides. But so far this second season of Polytrack racing, Arlington has found a nice niche. Allowance races are filling surprisingly well, and the quality of the racing - this week especially - has been high.

There were four allowance races on Thursday alone, and three more among the 11 races carded for Sunday. Racing secretary Kevin Greely agreed that the meet's solid opening has roots in a greater comfort level with synthetic-surface racing this season.

"The first year there was a big learning curve, what horses would take to it, how to shoe a horse, how to race-ride it," he said. "That's been learned now."

Of the three allowance or optional claiming races Sunday, two are scheduled for turf, one for Polytrack, and all are pretty interesting. First up is the Polytrack race, the fifth, which is at 6 1/2 furlongs and open to third-level allowance horses or $50,000 claimers. The seven-horse field includes three of the best Illinois-bred sprinters, Caruso, Last Gran Standing, and, to a lesser extent, Distorted Groom. There are several fast front-runners, among them Caruso and Last Gran Standing, with Last Gran Standing more likely to settle into a pressing trip than Caruso. A fast early pace could set the table for a closer such as Takedown or Deep Canyon, but Last Gran Standing is the one to beat here.

Race 8, another third-level allowance with a claiming option, also has Illinois-bred influence, with Dastardly Deeds, Majestic Zeal, and Rey del Sol all legitimate contenders. The pick in this one-mile race, though, is Tactical Weapon, whose last-place finish sprinting on Keeneland Polytrack last out was not a representative effort.

The Illinois-bred mare Love Handles should be a solid favorite in race 10, a second-level grass allowance. Love Handles won a division of the Illinois Owners Stakes over graded stakes winner Jennie R. here last summer, and concluded her campaign with a decent showing in the Grade 3 Cardinal at Churchill Downs. But Love Handles hasn't raced since November, and if she shows any rust, Polo Lounge might able to notch a mild upset.