07/31/2006 12:00AM

Three Hour Nap joins long list of breakdowns

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CHICAGO - Arlington Park, under scrutiny the last month because of a series of catastrophic injuries during races, had another eventful weekend with the breakdown of Three Hour Nap in the Washington Park Handicap on Saturday. That followed a statement by the Illinois Racing Board raising questions about a recent independent inspection of the track surface.

Three Hour Nap, who sustained a fracture in his right front leg, underwent surgery in Kentucky on Monday to stabilize the injured area and is expected to make a full recovery. The previous weekend at Arlington, a 3-year-old filly named Just Ducky broke down during an overnight stakes race and had to be euthanized, the 19th such case this meet. The breakdown rate this season is significantly higher than last year, when 12 horses were euthanized during the entire season, but has not yet reached the total number of catastrophic breakdowns during races in the 2004 season, 24, according to an Arlington official.

On Friday, the Illinois Racing Board issued a statement that raised questions about a recent inspection of the track surface by an outside consultant, Gregory Coon, because of of what the board said was improper contact between Coon and Arlington president Roy Arnold. The statement said Coon had provided written recommendations to Arlington that weren't included in Coon's final report to the racing board and had spoken with Arnold after completing his inspection and before filing his report.

Arnold said Monday that the board initially asked him not to comment on the matter but cleared him Saturday to respond. According to Arnold, the improper personal contact with Coon was no more than an informal office visit.

"I told him, 'I want to look you in the eye and be satisfied that you've gotten everything you need and have had full access,' " Arnold said.

Coon's written recommendations to Arlington, which did not suggest any major alterations to the track, were submitted simultaneously to the board, Arnold said. According to Arnold, he first learned about the letter containing them from an IRB official last Wednesday.

Coon's report found nothing amiss with the Arlington track surface - the same finding made by Joe King, a track-surface consultant brought in by Arlington in June - but the IRB remains committed to conducting another inspection.

"As we speak, we're recruiting our second independent consultant to not only review the previous findings of the other two, but to do a comprehensive analysis of the track," Marc Laino, executive director of the IRB, said Monday.

Laino declined to identify candidates but said the board hoped to have a report completed by the end of this week. The extent of the new inspection has yet to be determined, Laino said, and he was not certain whether the analysis would include an examination of the track's base. Dirt tracks typically contain three layers: a limestone base, a clay pad, and a mixed surface cushion.

"The timing of that, whether that could be accomplished over a two-day time period, or whether that's a larger-scale, meet-end project, or whether there's an immediate need to inspect the base, we don't know yet," Laino said. "Both Joe King and Gregory Coon made it clear that the cushion and the pad were perfectly sufficient. Coon examined the individual hoofprint of horses, dug them up, and determined the hoofprints weren't even reaching the pad."

There has not been a general outcry among horsemen or riders about problems with the track, though some are treading cautiously. Not leading trainer Wayne Catalano, who said he's training and entering his horses as he would during a regular season, and won a race Friday with one of his stable stars, Lewis Michael.

"I don't know what's going on with the breakdowns, but if I thought it was dangerous out there, I wouldn't be sending these horses out," said Catalano, who had to euthanize a claiming horse who fractured a leg earlier in the meet and had another claimer bow a tendon during a race. "If it were that kind of track, I wouldn't be out there at all."

Hugh Robertson, whose good filly Grandelena had to be euthanized because of a training injury early in the meet, didn't blame the racing surface for Three Hour Nap's breakdown.

"I think it was just an unfortunate accident, but who knows?" Robertson said. "The track was extremely fast that day. I'd prefer to see these horses not running so fast."

Three Hour Nap sustained fractures to both cannon bones late in his 2-year-old season, but those injuries weren't related to the one he sustained on Saturday, which started in the right front ankle joint and spiraled up the leg. Three Hour Nap had a metal plate and 12 screws inserted to stabilize the main fracture, and two more screws were put into the ankle to help heal another less serious break in the ankle. The plate is scheduled to be removed after 90 days, Robertson said, and since the bone did not splinter or break fully apart, Three Hour Nap is expected to recover, provided he avoids infection and founder in his opposite leg.

"They said he can run again, but whether we'll run him or not, we don't know yet," Robertson said.

Pacific Classic next for Perfect Drift

Perfect Drift came out of his second-place finish in the Washington Park in good condition and remains on course to make his next start in the Pacific Classic, trainer Murray Johnson said.

Perfect Drift was seeking his second consecutive and third overall win in the Washington Park, but Suave beat him by five lengths, setting a track record for 1 3/16 miles.

"To win, we would've had to run a huge race, and we would've been knocked out for the [Pacific] Classic, and that's the race we're looking for," Johnson said.

Perfect Drift finished second by a half-length in last year's Pacific Classic after winning the Washington Park.

Trippi Street begins comeback

The featured eighth race Wednesday is for third-level allowance horses or $62,500 claimers going about five furlongs on turf, but the most noteworthy horse in the entries here Wednesday is Trippi Street, who makes her comeback from a nine-month layoff in race 7, an entry-level sprint allowance.

Trippi Street won her career debut by nine lengths last Oct. 8 at Hawthorne, then finished a troubled second in the Pocahontas Stakes.

A bone chip that was surgically removed led to her layoff, but Trippi Street has been working strongly for her comeback, and faces only five rivals she should easily handle with even a decent effort.

Horse, jockey unscathed in spill

Neither jockey Tim Thornton nor the 3-year-old colt Strategic Sun sustained serious injuries during a spectacular spill in Sunday's ninth race. Pacesetting Strategic Sun still was vying for the lead in the stretch run of a two-turn turf maiden race when he turned to the left while racing on the inside, bursting through the breakaway inner turf rail, throwing Thornton, and running loose on the infield for several minutes. Strategic Sun, who was making his third start and first on turf and at two turns, appeared to shy from Thornton's right-handed whip, but trainer Bill Lazuka wasn't certain what had happened.

"He went through the rail like it wasn't there," Lazuka said. "I don't know what provoked him."