08/21/2006 12:00AM

Two breakdowns in one race


Until Sunday, the occurrence of breakdowns that had dogged Arlington Park since the track began its race meet on May 5 had slowed remarkably. Since July 2, only two horses had suffered catastrophic breakdowns at the Arlington Heights, Ill., track, a rate well below the national average.

But all it took was one race - and two breakdowns - for the subject to become relevant again. Big Attlet and Our Memento both were euthanized after breaking down during the second race Sunday, a $4,000 claiming race at 6 1/2 furlongs.

Big Attlet, the 8-5 favorite, broke down late in the far turn. Moments later, Our Memento broke down in midstretch. The fatal breakdowns were the 19th and 20th since the meet began.

Three in-depth inspections of the Arlington racing surface - most recently an Aug. 8 inspection by an associate professor of mechanical engineering who was hired by the Illinois Racing Board and paid by Arlington - concluded that the track is safe for racing.

"That's the first horse I've ever had to put down because of a breakdown, morning or afternoon, since I started training in 1997," said Lon Wiggins, trainer of Our Memento. "I'd been very lucky until now."

Wiggins said Our Memento was "very sound." He added that jockey Larry Sterling Jr. said afterward that Our Memento "was moving just fine, and [the accident] happened from one step to the next."

Wiggins called the breakdown "one of those freak deals. I really don't know if I can blame it on the track. The only thing I can say about the track is I don't think there's enough cushion, but that's just my opinion. When the meet's over, I hope they really take a good look at it, with the veterinarians, trainers, and jockeys being part of the deal."

Tom Tomillo, trainer of Big Attlet, declined to comment on the subject.

Vacare slightly ill

Vacare was scratched from the $40,000 Hatoof Stakes on Saturday after coming down with a low-grade lung infection, said trainer Chris Block. Vacare, unbeaten in two starts, figured as a solid favorite in the 1 1/16-mile turf race for 3-year-old fillies.

"She wasn't running a temperature, but she did have some mucus production in the lungs," said Block. "We'll try to get her healed up and get her back to breezing, hopefully in time for the Pucker Up," a Grade 3, $200,000 race on Sept. 9.

The one-two finishers in the Hatoof, Chetten County and Ladyburn, both are expected back for the 1 1/8-mile Pucker Up.

Meanwhile, Block said his older turf star, Fort Prado, will make his next start in the Sept. 4 Edward DeBartolo Memorial at Remington Park, or the Sept. 30 Robert Carey Memorial at Hawthorne.

Officer Rocket impressive in prep

Two potential preps for the Grade 3 juvenile stakes that will help close out the Arlington meet next month were run Sunday, with the winner of the colt division looking especially dominant.

Officer Rocket, with John McKee riding for trainer Bob Holthus, was a 13-length winner of the $41,750 Spectacular Bid for 2-year-old colts and geldings, stamping himself as a major contender for the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Futurity on Sept. 10.

Officer Rocket, by Officer, "ran very good in his first start here, and he came back and duplicated that today," said Holthus. "Even though Officer was primarily a sprinter, it looks like this horse will go on."

Officer Rocket completed seven furlongs in 1:23.96.

In the filly counterpart, Sea the Joy held off favored Lenaro in deep stretch to win the $42,125 Top Flight Stakes by three-quarters of a length. Both fillies are prime candidates to run back in the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Lassie, also set for Sept. 10.

Several options for Cryptoquip

Trainer Tom Proctor said Cryptoquip, who earned graded black type for the first time with her half-length triumph Saturday in the Grade 3 Arlington Oaks, has several attractive options awaiting her.

Proctor said Cryptoquip likely will not run again until the weekend of Oct. 6-7, with the $400,000 Indiana Breeders' Cup Oaks being his first choice. Two other possibilities are the $500,000 Cotillion on Oct. 7 at Philadelphia Park and the $100,000 Best of Ohio Distaff at Thistledown on Oct. 6.

* Trainer Wayne Catalano officially declared Lewis Michael out of the Travers Stakes on Monday, saying the Rahy colt most likely would be shipped to Fairmount Park for the $250,000 St. Louis Derby instead.