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Backstretch Buzz

Closing Weekend; Record for Rivelli; Devil Eyes Another

Well, this is it folks. Seventy days in the books, and day 71, the last of the 2017 Arlington season, on Saturday.

Betting handle is up at the meet. Through Saturday, Sept. 16, gross handle had risen 13-percent compared to the 2016 season. Average handle per starter was up 10.6-percent, which is really strange, since races this season have averaged 7.16 starters per race compared to 7.49 last year. Field size is supposed to be a driver of handle, and since it usually is, imagine how strong handle would have been this season if every card looked like closing day.

There are 12 races – plenty of racing opportunities for trainers and owners – and more than 140 horses entered in them. Yes, it’s true, that does make it more difficult to pick up a check with the horse you own or train. But at the same time, growing field size – somehow, some way -- and making the product more attractive to gamblers is one surefire way, with no reliance on Illinois state government, to raise purses.

Just look at the effect we’ve seen from eight late-season overnight stakes races added to the Arlington schedule when that handle increase – unforeseen when Arlington put together a budget for the meet – left more money in the late-meet purse account than expected. Those stakes races have anchored weekend cards that otherwise would have been generally bereft of quality, and they also have allowed folks with higher-end stock stabled at Arlington a last chance to run their horse at the most attractive racing venue in the Midwest.

The opportunities have been especially welcome for the better Illinois-breds in the population, and horses bred in the state are all over the two closing-day stakes.

In the Steve Morgan Memorial, named for the late Chicago steward, Illinois-bred Prado’s Sweet Ride and Illinois-bred Lovely Loyree are the two morning-line favorites in a 14-horse field. Prado’s Sweet Ride, a Fort Prado mare bred and owned by Darrell and Sadie Brommer, was 10th last out in the Grade 1 Beverly D, but ran better than her deep finishing position suggests. Trained by Chris Block, she’ll have to run down Lovely Loyree, the excellent 6-year-old Cactus Ridge mare trained by Michele Boyce for Feel The Thunder Stable and Oak Creek Racing.

The Les Ahrens Memorial, named for the late Chicago-based jockey and trainer, drew 10 entrants, including 6/5 morning-line favorite Kasaqui as well as four capable Illinois-breds. Cammack, a 7-year-old Giant’s Causeway homebred owned by Team Block and trained by Chris Block, has won three of four turf races at Saturday’s one-mile trip and is quietly well spotted in this race. The other Illinois-breds are Christian C., who is having a strong summer for trainer Wayne Catalano and owners Don and Joe Cochonour; Oak Brook, the Virginia Tarra Trust homebred trained by Brian Williamson who was a close sixth in the Arlington Million before taking a surprising loss to Christian C.; and Coco Mon, a capable Beth Leverton-owned 7-year-old trained by Frank Kirby, who makes his first start since February.

Giving away some extra money at meet’s end is nice. Keeping it at home is even nicer.

Record for Rivelli

Larry Rivelli won three races on the Thursday card at Arlington. Not major news. Happens all the time this meet. But the third of those win was his 76th of the Arlington season, and that is more races than a trainer ever has won during an Arlington race meet.

Rivelli also captured two races early on the Friday card, giving him 78, has entries all over the Saturday program, and his win total for the season could top out over 80.

“This is my home,” Rivelli said. “It’s great to do anything you do here. And this is what I do.”

Wayne Catalano, who is second-leading trainer this summer, had the two highest-win seasons for an Arlington trainer before Rivelli put his name in the books. Catalano won 75 races in 2010 after winning 74 in 2007. On the one hand, competition at Arlington isn’t quite as strong as when Catalano amassed his grand totals. On the other, Catalano won his 75 during a meet at which there were 860 races. This year’s meet will have only 596. Catalano won 8.7-percent of all the races run at the 2010 meet, while Rivelli has won 13-percent of all 2017 Arlington races.

It only feels like it’s been far more even than that.

Devil eyes another

Trainer Michele Boyce was asked last weekend where the undefeated colt she trains, Devileye, might run next.

“There’s a race closing day for him, but it won’t go,” Boyce said.

Well, Devileye will race closing day after all. Five for five to start his career, 3-year-old Devileye has proved capable on Polytrack and on dirt, in sprints and in longer races, and Saturday he’ll get his first look on turf, a surface Boyce has been interested in trying all summer. It will be a class test for Devileye, as well, since the colt has only faced Illinois-breds and now takes on a salty crew of open second-level turf-sprint allowance horses as well as $50,000 claimers.

Devileye is by Indygo Shiner out of Deville, and that makes him a half-brother to Puntsville, who just won an overnight stakes for Boyce here at Arlington last weekend. Both horses were bred and are owned by the S.D. Brilie Limited Partnership of Steve and Diana Holland.