08/29/2006 11:00PM

'Sub Futz' seeks two straight at same level

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CHICAGO - About five years ago, the phrase "optional claiming" still was swaddled in obscurity, calling to mind financial analysts or economics professors. But the optional claimer, one among many condition-book innovations in an era of short fields, took firm root in the industry, and it now is a staple of tracks across the country.

If the optional claimer allows racing secretaries to combine allowance races with claimers - the "option" to be entered for a tag - and thus create a larger field, it also allows horsemen opportunities that were unavailable in pre-optional claiming days.

"It lets you fool around with them a bit, get a horse in the right spot, and win a couple in a row," said trainer Hugh Robertson.

That's exactly what Robertson will try to do with Sub Futz Jr. in the featured eighth race Friday at Arlington, written for third-level allowance horses or $62,500 claimers at about five furlongs on turf. Sub Futz Jr. just raced at the same class level Aug. 2, winning by 1 3/4 lengths while running for the $62,500 claiming price. Sub Futz Jr., however, still has his third allowance condition intact, and this time, Robertson has opted not to use the claiming option.

Robertson already has worked the game to perfection this summer with City Number, who happens to be entered main-track-only in Friday's sixth race. In May, City Number won for a $50,000 tag in a race also open to entry-level allowance horses; less than two weeks later, he came back to win again, this time racing under allowance conditions.

Sub Futz Jr., however, may need to improve Friday, since this race looks deeper than the one he won last time out. From Kentucky comes Justice for Auston, whom trainer Dale Romans has entered under the claiming option, and who faced some of the better turf sprinters seen during the Churchill meet. Justice for Auston has never won on the Arlington turf, however, with a record here of 5-0-4-1.

Chosen Chief, another Kentucky shipper, plus locals Rapid Raj, Casual Cat, and Connections make this a deep enough race, but Sub Futz Jr. has been admirably consistent this meet and has the added advantage of bringing a stalking style to a race filled with pace elements.

"He turned out to be a much better horse than I thought he'd be when I got him," said Robertson, who took over as trainer late last summer. "He runs wherever you put him."

And with an assist from optional claiming, Robertson may have him in the right spot again.