The name, Mike Dini, is very familiar to longtime Arlingtonians. But it is getting less so all the time, and the two horses he runs Saturday at Arlington figure to be among his last, at least for the foreseeable future.
Dini, who has done as much horse-hauling as he has done horse-training at points in his life, first showed up at Arlington as a head trainer the year before the track closed for two seasons, in 1997. He’d run horses here every year since – topping out at 15 wins during the 2006 meet – until last year, when not a single Dini-trained runner showed up during the Arlington season.
This year he has two starts during the meet’s first month, has Ghost Train in Saturday’s third race and Track Magic in the 10th, and has plans to ship the good Illinois-bred 3-year-old filly Bramble Queen here for the Purple Violet Stakes later this month. Bramble Queen, by Silent Name out of Regal Rose, by Empire Maker, just finished a decent fourth in the $75,000 Boiling Spring Stakes at Monmouth.
Monmouth has become the summer home for Dini, who has 27 horses there this year, and his considerable stock if Illinois-breds has dwindled to a handful as his main patron, the Ballybrit Stables of Dr. Alan Lustig, has moved on to Florida-breds.
Dini used to drive his van all over the Midwest and East, hauling his own horses and others’ that needed a lift. That business has slowed what with a stable nearly 30-strong able to pilfer the rich East Coast purse structure.
“After this year, we’ll probably be just about done in Illinois,” Dini said. “Hopefully Arlington can come back strong again.”
Boyce sends sprint stars
Puntsville begins her fifth summer of Arlington racing when she starts as the heavy favorite Saturday in the $75,000 Isaac Murphy Handicap, one of two Illinois-bred sprint stakes on the card.
Puntsville is nowhere near the level of Arlington Million winner The Pizza Man or Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Work All Week, but she does occupy some lower rung of Illinois-bred royalty, one befitting an appealing mare with 10 wins and more than $330,000 in career earnings from just 21 starts.
Puntsville, trained by Michele Boyce for her breeders, Steve and Diana Holland, won the Isaac Murphy in 2016 and finished second in the race last year. Assigned 125 pounds by racing secretary Chris Polzin, Puntsville gives weight to all her rivals Saturday – as befits a 4-5 morning-line favorite. A different kind of weight is what concerns Boyce, who had hoped to find a prep race for Puntsville.
“She got quite plump over the winter. I found it harder to get her into racing shape this year,” said Boyce.
Puntsville always has run well fresh, but always has never included her 6-year-old debut. The speedy gray filly will be in front at some point in the Isaac Murphy, but between the weight of her body and the weight on her back, Puntsville might be no sure thing in the Isaac Murphy.
By the time Puntsville gets down to business around 4:30 Saturday afternoon she’ll already know how her little brother made out in the Addison Cammack, the second stakes on the program. Lil bro is named Devileye and he might be even better than big sis – might. Both horses were produced by Deville, whom the Hollands have sold; Puntsville is by Cashel Castle, 4-year-old Devileye by Indygo Shiner.
Devileye is just 4 and after six of his eight starts he has paid a visit to the winner’s circle. Unlike Puntsville, Devileye did get in a prep race for his Saturday stakes start, but the Cammack, thanks to the presence of Recount and Goneghost, is a far tougher race than the Murphy, and at six furlongs it falls a little short of Devileye’s ideal distance.
“Both those high-weights are really nice horses, and I was really impressed with Goneghost the other day,” said Boyce.
It was hard not to be. Goneghost, a gray-white son of Cherokee Rap out of Ghost White, by Silver Ghost, took a four-length lead to the stretch call in the Grade 3 Hanshin Cup on May 12 at Arlington. He was nailed on the wire but lost little in defeat, and Bill Stiritz’s Scott Becker-trained homedbred might have an edge on the estimable Recount in the Cammack.
But Devileye might run them both down.