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AP Weekly Recap (5/26 - 5/29) By Marcus Hersh

Correas

Kasaqui’s second-place finish last summer in the Arlington Million evidently gave trainer Ignacio Correas IV such a good feeling that he decided to spend more time at Arlington.

Correas, a native of Argentina, is running an Arlington string for the first time this summer. He has 15 horses stabled on the grounds while keeping 16 more in Kentucky at Keeneland. And Correas is not just in Chicago for the atmosphere. Despite his relatively modest number of local runners, he was one of only about 20 horsemen with 10 starts are more at the 2017 meet through racing on May 29.

Correas was running horses but not winning races – until May 27. Correas sent out three Arlington starters that card and won with two of them, La Piba capturing a turf-allowance race and Malraux scoring a very flashy second-start maiden win. Correas came out of the four-day Memorial Day race week with three Arlington wins.

Malraux, a 3-year-old son of Speightstown, had finished a good second in his career debut in March at Tampa Bay Downs. Correas searched and searched for a follow-up spot, and when he finally found the Arlington race, he wasn’t about to scratch Malraux when his race was moved from grass to Polytrack because of wet conditions. Malraux showed good speed and won by more than nine lengths, and his 91 Beyer Speed Figure was promising indeed.

“I took blinkers off to get him a little more relaxed,” Correas said. “He always seemed to be very talented. Now everybody saw what he can do.”

Correas trained in Argentina, then served as an assistant trainer in Southern California before taking a job as private trainer for Kevin Plank’s Sagamore Farm in Mayland between 2010 and 2014. Correas took his stable public in 2015 and steadily has built his business; the 30-odds horses he has in training this summer are the most of his North American career.

“I like Arlington a lot,” he said. “Some people don’t like the synthetic but I’m used to it. I was in California and it was synthetic. No big deal. I have a lot of turf horses, and if they go off the turf I can still run.”

As for Kasaqui, the stable star, he twice has been second and once fourth in three 2017 starts, all in graded turf stakes and all with less-than-ideal trips. He runs next in the Wise Dan Stakes at Keeneland, but Correas plans to have Kasaqui try to win the Arlington Handicap for the second year in a row before making another run at the Million. And this year, the gelding can run out of one of his trainer’s own stalls.

Virtues of Patience

A big gray gelding named Fort Ridge won an Illinois-bred first-level allowance race by four lengths on May 27. He looked good doing it, too, but the real story behind the horse is buried far below his past performance lines.

Fort Ridge is a homebred owned by Team Block, one of the first families of the Illinois Thoroughbred racing scene. He is by the Block’s stallion Fort Prado and out of their stalwart mare Runaway Ridge, but Fort Ridge came out looking less than perfect.

“He was born real crooked,” trainer Chris Block said. “I remember the first thing my dad [Dave Block] said was that we were going to have to wait on this one.”

Not everyone has the luxury of waiting, but the Blocks take full advantage when they can. Fort Ridge didn’t see the races until late in his 3-year-old season, and even then, he didn’t seem like much. He finished fourth last fall at Hawthorne in a $20,000 maiden-claimer, the suffered exercised induced pulmonary hemorrhage in a distant seventh-place finish second time out. But in his final start at 3, Fort Ride won a $15,000 maiden-claimer, and over the winter, he blossomed.

Block ran him first time this year for a $16,000 tag at Tampa in a race for non-winners-of-three even though Fort Ridge had won only once.

“He just freaking sailed around there,” Block said.

For now, at least, Fort Ridge’s claiming days are over. He was traveling powerfully throughout his Polytrack win last week, and burst to the front once jockey C H Marquez Jr. found room.

“He’s a big, strong horse, and he’s even grown from his 3-year-old to his 4-year-old season,” said Block.

And none of this would have happened had Fort Ridge been pushed too hard, too soon.

Puntsville Still Has It

Superficial appearances to the contrary, Puntsville ain’t done yet.

One of the better Illinois-bred sprinters of recent seasons looked just about as good as ever winning the third race on May 26 at Arlington, a high-end Polytrack allowance, in a romp.

The sharp performance, which earned a good 90 Beyer Speed Figure, stood in stark contrast to Puntsville’s three previous starts between August and December last year. Puntsville probably ran back to quickly when she disappointed in an allowance race at Arlington last summer, then failed to handle a sloppy track at Churchill Downs in September, and wasn’t a happy horse over the winter at Tampa Bay Downs.

“She didn’t care for the Tampa track at all,” said trainer Michele Boyce.

But Puntsville, an S.D. Brilie Partnership homebred by Cashel Castel and the good-producing mare Deville, sped to the lead and won by six lengths Friday in her 5-year-old debut. Now it’s on to the June 10 Isaac Murphy Stakes, an Illinois-bred filly-and-mare sprint Puntsville won last summer.

“She’s game and she’s got speed,” Boyce said. “I do think that she might be even a little better this year.”

Cowboy Culture Wins Classic, Could Be Back For More

Cowboy Culture won the second graded stakes of the Arlington meet, the Arlington Classic on May 27, and won it well. Racing over a rain-soaked turf course, Cowboy Culture drew away late from six rivals and scored by almost six lengths in an eye-catching performance.

“It was impressive,” said winning trainer Brad Cox. “He ran like he’d been training over the Churchill grass course.”

Cox said Cowboy Culture was likely to return to Arlington to start next in the American Derby on July 8.

Nagy’s Piggy Bank Still Shaking

Nine-year-old Nagy’s Piggy Bank not only won his second race in a row, capturing the second race on May 26 in relatively comfortable fashion, the aging gelding still appears to have so much left in the tank that trainer Jim DiVito claimed him for himself for $14,000.

***Especially good racing weeks were had by trainers Steve Manley (13-4-1-2 for the four days), Larry Rivelli (12-4-3-2), Wayne Catalano (5-3-0-1), and Jon Cowan (3-2-1-0). On the jockey’s side, Jose Valdivia Jr. had another excellent week, going 26-9-6-4, while Carlos Marquez Jr. won six times from 22 mounts.