07/19/2007 11:00PM

Stidham gives jockey a leg up

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - When Park at Dark won the only race of her career in March at Fair Grounds, she was ridden by Joe Talamo, who since has gone on to Southern California and made a splash. When Park at Dark returns to the races Sunday at Arlington Park, she will be ridden by Kerwin John, who left Southern California for the relative anonymity of Arlington.

John, who had a decent California run a few years ago, has made some inroads since arriving here early this month, and through Thursday had

booted home five winners. He has ridden the occasional horse for trainer Wayne Catalano, who has praised his talents, but has been most vigorously supported by Mike Stidham, Park at Dark's trainer.

"When I went to Del Mar, I watched him, met him, and liked the way he rode," Stidham said. "I told him if he ever came out here, I'd give him a shot."

John would appear to be on a live horse in Sunday's fourth, a first-level allowance race that is the only open allowance on the day. The race, scheduled for 1 1/16 miles on turf, drew a field of only seven, but for the class level, the quality is decent.

In her debut, Park at Dark went right to the front over the notoriously anti-speed Fair Grounds grass course, but she had no problem maintaining a strong gallop, scoring by 1 1/4 lengths in a full field.

"She's got natural speed, and she can carry it," Stidham said.

Park at Dark, bred and owned by Cobra Farm, needed time off following that debut win, but she has breezed steadily and at times impressively for her comeback. Her six-furlong move on July 15 was timed in 1:12.80.

The rub is that the race's other obvious contender, Pitamakan, is also a free-running sort. Fifth last summer in her career debut at Saratoga for trainer Bill Mott, Pitamakan had a long layoff of her own before returning June 22 to score a front-running two-turn turf maiden win at Churchill Downs. But if Pitamakan and Robby Albarado are intent on the early lead, that's okay for Park at Dark, according to Stidham.

"I think if there's other speed, she can sit off of it," he said.

Fonda Ronda Two should take up a pressing position. Stidham-trained Polysheba will be farther back, and Flaming Romance is a deep closer. But none of the off-the-pace types should end up the winner unless the two favorites run each other into the ground.