09/16/2010 3:50PM

Turf sprints remain popular fare


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – The Saturday card at Arlington Park is reminiscent of this entire meet: Short and green.

Arlington already has run a record number of turf races this meet, and the number of turf sprints carded here this summer also has risen to an all-time high. The two open allowance races on Saturday’s program, race 4 for first-level allowance horses and race 8 for second-level optional $40,000 claimers, both are carded for five furlongs on the grass.

As recently as 2005, Arlington hosted just 21 turf sprints during its entire meeting, but all over the country, short grass races have gained popularity in recent years. In 2008, Arlington hosted 42 grass sprints; last year, that number rose to 50; and entering Wednesday’s action here, with two race weeks left in the meeting, Arlington horseplayers already have been given 76 five- or 5 1/2-furlong turf races to tackle this summer. A total of 257 turf races had been run as of Thursday, eight more than the record 249 grass heats held here last summer.

The 4-year-old filly Dashel has found plenty of opportunities, since turf sprinting is what she does, and she looks like the favorite in the featured eighth on Saturday. Dashel starts under the race’s $40,000 claiming option, which means she drops one allowance class after finishing third in her most recent start, on Aug. 22, and winning by a nose two races ago. Starting at this same class level, and against two of her Saturday rivals, Dashel scored a 1 1/2-length win here June 25.

Still, since Dashel has banked more than $62,000 already this year, and has managed just nine starts less than four months from her fifth birthday, she is no slam-dunk to hold her form. Big Sister is a potentially appealing alternative. She hasn’t raced since April, but has turned in a series of encouraging works for trainer Wayne Catalano, who will add blinkers to Big Sister’s equipment package Saturday. Big Sister makes her turf debut, as does Lookn Even Finer, a filly who has finished first or second in her last four starts.

Chris Block trains likely favorite Dashel, but Block has a longer-priced chance in race 4, the entry-level allowance. Park Boys had a difficult trip Aug. 21 in his first try turf-sprinting, and he has a chance to spring an upset over shorter-priced contenders Skiff’s Argument and Quality Diplomat.