05/04/2006 11:00PM

Strong cast for initial Wexler run

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The Arlington Park stakes schedule is just about the same in 2006 as previous years, but opening weekend boasts a new race on the calendar, and based on the entries alone, consider the first running of the Avers Wexler Stakes a success.

The Wexler, named for a prominent local owner, offers a $100,000 purse and is open only to Illinois-owned horses, but despite that fairly severe restriction the turf race has drawn one of the more solid fields of older horses recently seen here this side of the Arlington Million.

Mr. Wexler himself has two entered in the race, though one of them, No Tolerance, might run instead in an overnight stakes race Saturday. But his other entrant, Kid Grindstone, appears to be a legitimate contender based on a good last-out win in the Grade 3 Fifth Season Breeders' Cup at Oaklawn Park. The Fifth Season is a dirt race, but Kid Grindstone's career ledger also shows three grass wins.

"He's one of those rare horses who seems to be just as good on both turf and dirt," said trainer Mike Campbell.

So is Purim, who deserves to be favored in the Wexler despite a clunky seventh-place finish in his most recent race, the Oaklawn Handicap on April 8.

"Maybe he just didn't run that day, I don't know," said trainer Tom Proctor. "He came out of the race real well, that's all I know."

About a month before the Oaklawn Handicap, Purim won the Razorback Handicap by two lengths, and has won 5 of 11 career starts, including 2 of 4 on turf. Purim spent last summer at Arlington, where he won one turf stakes, the Arlington Classic, and missed by a nose in another, the American Derby.

It was two summers ago that Mystery Giver, once the Illinois horse of the year, saw action at Arlington. Mystery Giver suffered a serious leg injury in the 2004 Arlington Million, and went through a lengthy rehabilitation process in Florida. After several months of rest, Mystery Giver started swimming regularly, then went into light training at a farm. He answered every challenge, and finally made it back to the races in a March 26 allowance race on the Tampa turf, only to be victimized by a glacial pace that took Mystery Giver out of his race.

And there are still more horses with a shot. Home of Stars ranks as one of the better Illinois-breds in training, while Major Rhythm and Scooter Roach both are solid listed-stakes-type turf runners.