07/05/2007 12:00AM

White Oak distance appears perfect for Caruso


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - The legendary trainer Richard Hazelton had reservations about Arlington's Polytrack transformation before moving over from Hawthorne this spring. Hazelton has raced dirt horses since the first half of the 20th century, and this synthetic-surface thing - well, that was a whole new ballgame.

Hazelton's skepticism was well founded. After a loss in Thursday's second race, Hazelton had 2 wins from 50 starters at the meet - but his ace in the hole comes out Saturday. Caruso has never lost at six furlongs, and rather than try him at one mile in the Springfield Stakes for 3-year-olds - one of six stakes Saturday on Arlington's Prairie State Festival - Hazelton will take his shot against older horses in the six-furlong White Oak Handicap.

It's a formidable challenge. The White Oak includes Humor at Last, a top Illinois-bred sprinter coming back from a 20-month injury layoff, as well as Last Gran Standing, a lightly raced 4-year-old on the cusp of becoming a regular stakes player. Also involved is the Christine Janks-trained High Expectations, whose 7 wins in 11 Arlington starts include a victory in the 2006 White Oak.

"I don't think he can beat Christine's horse going a half-mile," Hazelton said.

Hazelton almost always downplays his chances to comic effect in advance of a race, then makes light of his accomplishments when he succeeds. And Caruso really does have a chance to hold off late-running High Expectations, who carries nine more pounds than the speedy 3-year-old.

Hazelton acknowledges that Caruso is well drawn in an outside post. And he concedes that after a six-week layoff, Caruso might not have been at his best when he set a fast pace and tired to finish third behind High Expectations and Last Gran Standing in the June 15 Zen Stakes at seven furlongs, which is farther than Caruso's best distance.

"I hope that race will help him," Hazelton said. "But bad as I'm going, I don't know."

Springfield: Wide open field of 13

The Springfield Stakes usually draws one of the deepest fields on the Prairie State program and this year is no exception, with 13 horses entered in the one-mile race for Illinois-bred 3-year-olds.

There's not a standout among them, either, with several potential upsetters to go with more clear contenders like Gentleman Chester, Stonehouse, and Navy Wings. Gentleman Chester's four starts have come in open company at Fair Grounds, Keeneland, and Churchill, and he has a win and a third in two recent Kentucky starts. Stonehouse was no match for Chelokee in the Barbaro Stakes and was second in his most recent start, but that race came on yielding turf and a one-turn Polytrack mile should suit him.

But a bettor could easily latch onto a horse like Grecoroman. Trained and co-owned by Ken Spraggins, Grecoroman has been pointed to the Springfield for quite some time, and his sixth-place finish against open company in the June 24 Native Dancer Stakes should be seen in that context.

"I told the jock, don't beat him up if he can't get into it because he's coming back in two weeks," Spraggins said.

Grecoroman didn't debut until late this winter at Hawthorne, and Spraggins said he is probably a better horse at two turns.

"He's been a little behind those horses that ran as a 2-year-old, but he's catching up and he's learning," he said.

Lincoln: Ms. Lydonia seeks repeat

Ms. Lydonia won the 2006 Lincoln Heritage Stakes, but in nine tries since, she hasn't won again. Maybe the race means something extra to Ms. Lydonia, who will have to overcome an outside post if she is to repeat in the Lincoln Heritage, a 1 1/16-mile grass race for fillies and mares.

While Ms. Lydonia breaks from the outside, the most likely winner of the Lincoln Heritage, You Dancing Devil, has the rail. You Dancing Devil, in contrast to Ms. Lydonia, won her most recent start, capturing a second-level allowance race moved from turf to Polytrack because of rain. You Dancing Devil, beaten a neck by Ms. Lydonia in this race last year, has finished second in her last three turf starts, but has lost each time to horses who would be heavily favored to win Saturday's race: Danzon, Rich Fantasy, and Bridge Game.

Purple Violet: Secret Kin streaking

Secret Kin trained okay last year at 2, but it took a winter of maturation to raise her game.

"Over the winter, she really grew mentally and physically," trainer Chris Block said. "She needed to mature, and she did that."

Secret Kin comes into the Purple Violet Stakes on a four-race winning streak, and she showed in her most recent win that her sharp closing kick is as effective on Polytrack as it had been on dirt. But there are plenty of other contenders in the one-mile Purple Violet, among them Lil Cora Tee, who has won two straight at this meet.

* Trout River Red kept playing third fiddle to Pretty Jenny and Bluesbdancing in Illinois-bred sprint stakes, but she beat them at Hawthorne this spring and will try for her third straight win in the six-furlong Isaac Murphy.