06/26/2006 11:00PM

Track passes initial examination


CHICAGO - With concerns still circulating about an unusually high number of breakdowns during races this meet, Arlington Park has taken measures to ensure the safety of its main track, but so far, no one has found anything amiss with the surface.

Arlington went so far as to close the main track for training Monday morning, but plans to pull back the top of the track and inspect the bottom layers had to be scrapped because of the weather.

The track reopened for regular training Tuesday, when 30 horses posted timed workouts over it.

Arlington president Roy Arnold addressed the situation in a release disseminated to some members of the media last week, saying Arlington has "had discussions with the state veterinarians, trainers, jockeys and track maintenance crew to seek opinions on the reason for these incidents.

"If repairs are needed, we will make them."

Arlington's actions followed breakdowns in consecutive races last Thursday. In the second race, one horse was pulled up on the backstretch and vanned off, and another horse broke down badly inside the final furlong. Less than a half-hour later, a third horse broke down partway around the far turn. And on Friday, still another horse went down in the seventh race. The breakdown rate is running well above normal, but there is still hope that Arlington is merely going through an unfortunate spell.

"Arlington's trying to be proactive," said trainer Joe Kasperski, who serves as president of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. "We're not saying there's a problem. Until the meet's over we don't know if it's a cluster or if it'll even out."

The surface often has produced fast times. Thursday's second race, during which Point of America broke down in deep stretch, was for $5,000 claimers, but the half-mile fraction in the 6 1/2-furlong race was 44.39 seconds.

"Every time the temperature goes to 90 degrees, it's really hard to slow them down," said Javier Barajas, Arlington's track superintendent. "I can dig it up, but then you get into pulled tendons and things."

Nationally respected trackman Joe King has been brought in as a consultant. He walked the entire main track Monday with Barajas, but according to Barajas, King came to the same conclusion Barajas has - there's nothing obviously wrong.

"I asked him at various times what he thinks the problem is, and he said he'd never seen a track so uniform," said Barajas.

The idea had been for Barajas and King to examine the entire depth of the track surface Monday, but Barajas said he couldn't risk opening up the track with rain in the area.

"With the storms circling around us, it could've been a disaster," he said.

Barajas said Arlington plans to mix finely ground pine bark, which is used on some tracks as a cushion, into the existing surface, a task that requires dry weather. The pine bark could be added during next week's dark days, weather permitting.

Also, a delegation from the Illinois Racing Board is scheduled to meet with Arlington officials Wednesday morning at Arlington to discuss the surface, a meeting that could produce further initiatives.

Tally Ho Dixie's record in question

Arlington's fourth race Friday produced a course record for about five furlongs on turf, but the time may not stand.

Tally Ho Dixie was timed in 55.76 seconds when she won a third-level allowance race by three-quarters of a length. While decent, the field had no superstars, yet Tally Ho Dixie's time was significantly faster than the course record of 56.20 seconds established by Nicole's Dream, one of the Midwest's top turf sprinters. The turf course was labeled firm but was not unusually fast Friday, and the race featured a strikingly quick second quarter-mile of 21.99 seconds for the portion of the race run around the turn.

Arlington has many different positions where it can situate its inner turf rail, which can make timing complicated. Timing officials attributed Tally Ho Dixie's record to an unusually long space between the gate and the electronic eye that triggers the timer, a gap that creates what is called the run-up time. But employees for Equibase, the racing data collection company, hand-timed the race from a pole yards past the starting gate in about 58 seconds, a much more logical time.

Arlington's racing secretary Kevin Greely said over the weekend that he hadn't been convinced of the record's legitimacy.

"They have to prove it to me, and they haven't done that yet," Greely said.

Eight likely for Arlington Classic

The $1 million Colonial Turf Cup last weekend in Virginia will take a bite out of the quality in Saturday's Arlington Classic, but it still is shaping up decently, with a field of perhaps eight. A turf race for 3-year-olds, the Arlington Classic could include Storm Treasure, a tough-luck third last out in the Jefferson Cup at Churchill Downs, and Proudinsky, a German horse owned by Gary Tanaka.

Sunday's Grade 3 Stars and Stripes Handicap at 12 furlongs on turf may draw a field of similar depth, with New York-based Silver Whistle the possible favorite, according to Arlington racing officials.

* The Thursday feature, race 8, is for Illinois-bred second-level allowance horses at six furlongs, and has Ripe Tomato, Trout River Red, and L'Esprit d'Or as the likely favorites in a seven-horse field.