07/28/2006 12:00AM

Vacare aces second-race test


CHICAGO - Beating nationally anonymous fillies named Flama del Sol and Queendom is not going to earn anyone an Eclipse Award, but regardless of what has been behind her so far, it's hard to imagine a horse being much more impressive than Vacare in two starts this Arlington meet.

Vacare offered odds of 14-1 to win her career debut, a two-turn turf race June 9 at Arlington, but win it she did, scoring by four lengths despite earning double trouble lines from the local chart-caller - broke slowly, bore out. But when Vacare came back for her second start on Wednesday, the long odds were conspicuously absent. Bet down to 6-5, Vacare did not disappoint, winning with even greater aplomb than in her debut. Ninth early under Carlos Marquez, Vacare (pronounced Vuh-kar) eased her way into contention on the far turn and flashed to the lead at the top of the stretch. She scarcely appeared to take a deep breath winning by almost six lengths.

"I think the first time she ran she surprised me," said trainer Chris Block. "I didn't know she had that kind of talent. The question the other day was can she go out there, be behind horses with other winners, and do the same thing. I think she passed the test."

Looking on keenly through these two starts was Bob Lothenbach, who bred Vacare and still owns her. The name should ring a bell. Lothenbach lives in Eden Prairie, Minn, and operates a printing business situated a couple blocks from Canterbury Park, and when Canterbury opened in the mid-1980's, Lothenbach dove in. For a time, he operated a major claiming operation, with a band of runners numbering almost 100 at its peak. But gradually, Lothenbach scaled back, and now he is in the game from an entirely different angle.

"First, we started going to the sales to buy, then what I did was start a breeding operation," Lothenbach said, reached Friday by telephone. "I breed to sell, but I'm happy to race them, too. What I do is take everything I can to the sale, have two different people give me an evaluation of what they'll bring, set the reserve right under that. If they don't meet that price, I'll race them. I prefer the racing end, but what's happened, my business has exploded, and I've invested so much in that."

Vacare, Lothenbach said, was one of the horses who failed to meet her reserve at auction - though the filly could yet change hands. Lothenbach said he has already gotten plenty of calls from potential purchasers, and isn't sure whether he'll keep Vacare or not.

"The way I look at it is, go ahead and make an offer," Lothenbach said. "Right now, I'm just enjoying it. It's been a while since I've had a good one."

Leonor Fini may need longer

Leonor Fini might have the best late kick in the featured eighth race Sunday at Arlington, but at one mile, the turf race may be shorter than she would prefer. Moreover, Leonor Fini will need racing luck to rally and win; a full field of 12 plus two also-eligibles were entered in this second-level allowance race.

Leonor Fini hails from the barn of Mike Stidham, and in her most recent start she was second to the good mare Atlantic Frost in an overnight turf stakes. Imported from Ireland, Leonor Fini has made five U.S. starts and at age 5 still appears to be improving.

Her main competition could come from a pair of horses who figure to race much closer to the pace: Sun Spun, who makes her turf debut, and Jennie R., who probably was using a turf sprint last time out as a prep for this longer race.

Lewis Michael romps

Lewis Michael rebounded from a ninth-place finish in the Colonial Turf Cup with a sizzling win in a second-level allowance race late Friday afternoon at Arlington. Making an easy lead under Rene Douglas, Lewis Michael beat an overmatched field by 8 1/4 lengths, and was timed in 1:34.10 for one mile on dirt.

Trainer Wayne Catalano said afterward that Lewis Michael was tentatively being pointed to the St. Louis Derby at Fairmount Park next month.

Racing board to try another adviser

The Illinois Racing Board announced Friday it will contract a second consultant to inspect Arlington Park's main track, while investigating whether board rules were violated when the first consultant it hired, Gregory Coon, put together a favorable report on the track surface.

A press release from the board said that Coon communicated "recommendations for alterations to the track surface and track maintenance procedures" to Arlington that were not included in Coon's final report to the board. The release went on to say that Coon "had met with track management after his inspection but before drafting his report."

The Arlington surface has come under scrutiny because of an unusually high rate of catastrophic breakdowns during May, June, and early July. Arlington hired trackman Joe King as a consultant before the board brought in its own independent consultant. The board's release did not refer to a time frame for hiring a second consultant, nor did it mention candidates for the job.