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Backstretch Buzz

Overnight Stake Races; Roussel Hits Milestone

The series of overnight stakes races added to the Arlington season late this meet because purse revenue from betting handle beat pre-meet projections has allowed many of the better horses stabled in Chicago-land to get in another start this meet. Good for their connections, good for Arlington fans, and good for the quality of race cards being beamed out into simulcast-land.

The meet’s penultimate Saturday includes two such $65,000 races, bittersweet affairs, since both are memorials named for longtime Chicago trainers that passed away this year, Richie Scherer and Jeff Lynn.

The Jeff Lynn comes first as race 4, and is for older horses at six furlongs on Polytrack. Shogood, the accomplished William Stiritz-owned sprinter, was cross-entered in an allowance race on the Saturday card and runs there. Stiritz still has Goneghost for the race, but with Shogood out, Goneghost faces for the second time this meet the unenviable task of chasing Good Bye Greg.

Good Bye Greg, trained by Larry Rivelli for Vince Foglia’s Patricia’s Hope LLC, is a minor Arlington legend, in great part because he rarely races anywhere else. Difficult to keep sound, Good Bye Greg has settled into a pattern of resting for most of three seasons and racing summers at Arlington, where he has won six times in seven starts. No wonder his connections opted for the Jeff Lynn Memorial over the Bold Venture Stakes on Saturday at Woodbine, a race in which Good Bye Greg was made the 2/1 morning-line favorite.

Good Bye Greg, the rare successful runner from the stallion Teuflesburg, first showed how fast he is in 2014, when his 95 Beyer Speed Figure tied for the 12th-fastest Polytrack figure of the season. In 2015, Good Bye Greg had the fourth- and fifth-fastest Polytrack Beyers at Arlington, and in 2016 he had the third-fastest. This year, Good Bye Greg’s pair of 93s, both in Polytrack wins, are the sixth-fastest main-track figures of the meet.

Who’s number 1? Thanks for asking. That would be Goneghost, who is the reason Shogood starts in the allowance race. Goneghost, a Stiritz homebred by Cherokee Rap out of Ghost White, has moved toward being the top dog this summer in the vast Stiritz operation, especially after the crack turf sprinter Hogy was claimed for $80,000 at Saratoga. Goneghost has won three of four since June, and his 101 Beyer in an Illinois-bred allowance sprint is the fastest Polytrack Beyer of the meet.

Goneghost’s lone loss since April? That came to Good Bye Greg on July 8.

“Yeah, it looks like we have to chase him again,” Becker said when asked about Saturday’s race. “At least we’re drawn outside of him this time. That’s something.”

As fast as Goneghost has run on Polytrack this year, he might or might not be the fastest Illinois-bred sprinter racing Saturday at Arlington. That’s because the excellent mare Puntsville is the horse to beat in the Richie Scherer, race 6, drew seven entrants that won’t beat Puntsville if she runs to form.

Five-year-old Puntsville, an S.D. Brilie Limited Partnership homebred by Cashel Castle, has a 3-year-old brother, Devileye, who also ranks as one of the current stars of the Illinois-bred program. Both horses are trained by Michele Boyce, and both were produced by Deville, who was a good racehorse and has proven to be a hell of a broodmare. Puntsville has won nine of her 19 starts and half her eight races at Arlington, and she is back at her home track Sunday after capturing an open stakes sprint last out at Canterbury Park. Puntsville’s one loss from three starts this year came because Boyce had to run her back to quickly. Puntsville has gotten ample rest this time, and she should pad her resume, all things being equal.

Roussel Hits Milestone

Fifty years after sending out his first starter as a trainer, Louie Roussel III won his 1,000th race as a trainer Friday at Arlington when 2-year-old filly Heavens Whisper, a horse he bred and owns, won her career debut in the fourth race.

Roussel had been stuck on 999 wins for more than a week despite running a couple heavily favored horses. Ironically, Roussel hadn’t won with a first-time starter at Arlington since 1993.

The name of the milestone winner was fitting, too, since Roussel is a devoted religious man.

“Thanks, and praise the Lord,” Roussel said. “Everyone has been so kind to me my whole life in this business. I want to thank the valets, the gate crew, the exercise guys, the jockeys, the grooms and the hot-walkers. It’s them, it’s not me. I was just lucky enough to be here today.”

Roussel, a 71-year-old New Orleans native, had local fame at birth as the son of a colorful and financially successful New Orleans entrepreneur that bore the same name. Roussel III, an attorney, gained national attention in 1988 with his horse of a lifetime, Risen Star, a son of Secretariat who suffered a tough trip in the Kentucky Derby that year before notching wins in the Preakness and Belmont well above standard.

Roussel owned Fair Grounds Racecourse in New Orleans  from 1977 through 1990 before selling the track to the Krantz family. But Roussel never really left Fair Grounds. He still owns the barn on the edge of the backstretch that stables his stock, and can be found every morning – a kind word for anyone that cares to stop by – watching his horses train from his white SUV. A gentleman trainer, perhaps, but a successful one, too.