09/12/2007 12:00AM

Ultimate Goal no bargain as favorite

EmailARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - There was the suspicion before this Arlington Park season began that Todd Pletcher, with a string based in Chicago for the first time, might do as much training here as he did racing with his full barn of horses. Wrong.

When Pletcher's Arlington string, overseen by assistant Michael Dilger, won the sixth race Wednesday with Wild Union, it marked Pletcher's 34th winner and his 126th starter at the Arlington meet. Pletcher and leading rider Rene Douglas have become nearly as ubiquitous as leading trainer Wayne Catalano and his main rider this summer, E.T. Baird.

That Pletcher-Douglas combo should play a major role in the featured eighth race on Friday, a second-level allowance at one mile on Polytrack. Ultimate Goal, who came back from a 15-month layoff with a solid third-place finish here Aug. 17, looks like the favorite in a nine-horse field.

A WinStar Farm homebred by Storm Cat and produced by the excellent racemare Sister Act, Ultimate Goal showed his talent early in the spring of 2006, winning a maiden race at Gulfstream Park and a Keeneland entry-level allowance in consecutive starts, and winning both with authority. But after a fading second-place finish behind his stablemate High Cotton in the Sir Barton Stakes that May at Pimlico, Ultimate Goal fell off the map.

He resurfaced on the work tab here this summer, and did not have the cleanest of trips in his comeback race. Moreover, Friday's one-mile trip might be more to Ultimate Goal's liking than the seven furlongs of his last race, and it seems worth noting that Ultimate Goal cruised to his maiden win after a much weaker performance in his career debut.

Problem is, Ultimate Goal drew the rail, and has just enough speed to potentially put Douglas in a quandary. If Ultimate Goal flashes his speed, he could wind up in a pace battle with Tactical Weapon, who drew post 2 and regularly finds the front end, and I Got a Dream, a stretch-out sprinter.

Those looking to play against a potentially overbet favorite could settle on Slam My Heart, or even Tony Terrific. Slam My Heart was claimed for $50,000 out of a June 23 Churchill Downs win, and finished second racing for an $80,000 tag at one mile on turf last out at Del Mar. It seems like a positive sign that trainer Dale Romans starts the horse under allowance conditions Friday.

Tony Terrific won two straight to start his career - including a Polytrack win - and his Aug. 1 comeback from a long layoff came with significant trouble.