Chris Block, one of the most decorated and respected trainers in Illinois, is rallying his equine troops for his annual assault on Arlington International Racecourse. A Prairie State native and 2012’s runner-up in the trainer standings, Block is poised to commence what could be an exceptionally rewarding meet.
This reverence for the Illinois industry is echoed in his enthusiasm for hopefully running many, if not all, of his big guns in the imminent Arlington meet. His most renowned stable star, Ioya Bigtime will be among them.
The recently crowned Illinois Horse of the Year, Ioya Bigtime is being primed for another exciting go at two of Arlington’s marquee events – the Grade III Stars and Stripes on July 13 and Arlington St. Leger, part of the International Festival of Racing in August. Defending champion in the former and runner-up in the latter, the Team Block homebred should be very difficult to beat, despite a puzzlingly poor showing last week at Keeneland in the Grade III Elkhorn Stakes.
“He got a leisurely pace and never fired. It’s not like him to do that, so we’re going to throw that race out as much as I hate to do that,” reported Block.
Another homebred and Arlington favorite, Suntracer, returns to competition this meet. The son of 2004 Secretariat Stakes victor and prolific sire Kitten’s Joy is “pointing toward an Illinois stakes first, and then we’ll go from there,” according to Block. A similar route last year saw the 5-year-old horse place in the Black Tie Affair Handicap and Stars and Stripes – the latter behind his aforementioned stablemate.
Lothenbach Stable’s Mister Marti Gras, a talented multiple graded stakes winner, “can run on anything,” according to Block, and will be entered accordingly. Such includes a possible defense of his title in the Grade III Washington Park Handicap, as well as a third attempt at the Grade III Arlington Handicap on Million Preview Day, July 13, in which he finished second and third the last two years.
Perhaps the most exciting horses in Block’s barn are a couple of lightly raced sophomores, Lothenbach Stable’s Bambazonki and Timothy J.Keeley’s My Option. The latter, a beautifully built daughter of Mister Marti Gras’s sire, Belong to Me, is once-beaten in four career starts, including a superbly impressive five-length tally on Saturday in the restricted Pretty Jenny Stakes at Hawthorne Race Course.
“My Option will run in the Purple Violet on June 1, and then down the road if she’s in good form we’ll probably take on open company at some point. I’m going to take my time with her and let her develop into a quality 3- and 4-year-old,” said Block.
Bambazonki, an extremely well-bred son of Hard Spun out of an Unbridled’s Song mare, established serious credibility when finishing behind Kentucky Derby starter Charming Kitten in Gulfstream Park’s Kitten’s Joy Stakes in January. “If he is good enough, we are aiming him at the Mid-America Triple,” kicking off with the Grade III Arlington Classic on May 25.
When asked if he had a pick for the Kentucky Derby, Block quickly spoke the praises of the Todd Pletcher-trained duo of Revolutionary and Overanalyze, “Revolutionary would be the one. Overanalyze really stepped up there, too. He looked good.” Being on that kind of national platform is important to Block, but it will have to be homegrown process for the loyal native.
“What I’d like to see is Illinois racing move forward and get back in the national spotlight. I’d like to continue to train with current clientele and concentrate on racing year-round in Illinois, while shipping out for other big races. I enjoy the homebreds here in Illinois and running here. It’s important to me,” Block expressed.
After becoming a member of the 1,000-win club in January and winning ‘Person of the Year,’ you can imagine Block hopes his next accolade is Arlington’s leading trainer.