• Chris Block’s Stakes Squad Primed for July
Jockey Channing Hill, who injured one of his scapulae in a one-horse spill on June 8, is ready to return to Arlington International Racecourse on Saturday, June 29. “My shoulder is feeling pretty good and I still have full rotation. It’s a little sore, but that’s normal and nothing I can’t manage,” explained the 25-year-old Nebraska native.
Though he returns with three live rides on Saturday, including Bluegrass VII’s tough Control Tower in a stakes-worthy allowance/optional claimer for leading trainer Wayne Catalano, he knows he must be patient when coming off an injury. “I’m taking this weekend as an initial step forward. I had rides on Sunday, but now they aren’t running, so I’m going to come back fully on Thursday,” he explained.
Prior to his injury, Hill had a comfortable lead in the jockey standings and was striking at an outstanding 25% - six points higher than his closest rival. Unfortunately, while on the sidelines he has had to watch that lead dissipate. Upon returning, he will be in the thick of a five-way battle with Kent Desormeaux, Emmanuel Esquivel, Florent Geroux and James Graham. All five riders are within two wins of one another as of Friday morning.
“At least I’m still in the hunt – I’m really happy about that,” said the tangibly optimistic Hill. “It would be great to be leading rider, but right now I want to focus on the daily rides. Hopefully by the end of the meet I’ll be there (in the lead). Right now, for me, I just want to focus on my clientele and winning races for them. If we win the title with those clients, then so be it – that would be great.”
Hill has definitely taken advantage of his forced furlough. “The vacation has been long, but it was a nice time to refresh. I would have definitely rather been riding, of course. Being forced to take a vacation is never great – but I tried to make the most of it. I took a couple weeks to visit my friends – got to go have some fun with (jockeys) Justin Shepherd and Brandon Meier up at Canterbury (Park) in Minnesota,” he said.
Still, Hill looks forward to jumping back into the literal saddle in what is a talented and competitive jockey race. “Sure, it makes you want to hustle a little harder to get those wins when you get injured and lose the lead. If circumstances would have gone differently, I feel like I would be a few wins ahead right now after a few of those jockeys picked up winning rides,” he noted. “But, right now I want to keep myself in a good state of mind and keep focusing on riding as best I can.”
CHRIS BLOCK’S STAKES SQUAD PRIMED FOR JULY
A hasty look at trainer Chris Block’s 2013 Arlington International Racecourse meet statistics can be highly misleading. For a trainer who finished second in the win standings in 2013 to currently be 12th could be considered alarming, but not when that conditioner has the breadth of stakes horses and higher-end stock like Block does.
Despite winning only six of 74 races so far this year, the talented trainer has accumulated 10 seconds (fourth highest of any trainer) and 15 thirds (highest) in a multitude of allowance and stakes races. More impressively, the trainer is currently a clear second in the standings as far as purses earned with $420,217. Such a richness in upscale stock is not only statistically evident, but will be visibly apparent in some of July’s stakes.
The most famous member of Block’s stable is Team Block’s Ioya Bigtime, who is currently burning up the track in the morning workouts – including four consecutive five-furlong bullets. “He’s an aggressive horse and he gets geared up to go – he goes,” explained Block. The multiple graded stakes-winning son of Dynaformer will be tough to beat when he defends his title in the Grade III $150,000 Stars and Stripes Stakes on July 13. “He’s doing well. He’s going to breeze again on Monday – this time on the turf – weather permitting. He’s on target and looks great.”
Joining Ioya Bigtime in the Stars and Stripes will be his Team Block stablemate Suntracer. A menacing fourth last out in the restricted Black Tie Affair Stakes on June 15, the son of Kitten’s Joy has been aimed toward the Stars and Stripes since the Spring. At 12 furlongs, the Stars and Stripes will offer a needed addition of real estate for Suntracer, who finished third in the 2012 edition. “He is training toward the race well. He was farther back last time than I wanted, but I think the race didn’t really set up for him. He needs a pace and a setup for him to run his race,” Block reported.
On the same day of the Black Tie Affair, Darrell and Sadie Brommer’s With a Twist finished a reputable third in its sister event, the restricted Lincoln Heritage Stakes. A beautiful and lightly raced gray 5-year-old mare, With a Twist has only competed five times in her career – winning three times with a second and the aforementioned third.
“She’s had some physical issues along the way, but she’s a very talented filly. Hopefully now we have her in a place where she’s through those issues and can get some solid racing through the season. She’ll go into an open allowance race next, and we’ll go from there,” the trainer stated.
A gifted but perplexing charge in the barn, Lothenbach Stable’s Bambazonki, will represent the stable in the upcoming $65,000 Coach Jimi Lee Stakes at seven furlongs on the Polytrack main course. After a productive winter in Florida where the wonderfully bred son of Hard Spun was turf stakes placed at Gulfstream Park, the colt threw in a proverbial clunker in the Grade III Arlington Classic over the lawn in May. “He’s been disappointing me. We will run him on the Poly around one turn (in the Coach Jimi Lee) and try to regroup with him,” reported Block.
Another skilled Block charge at a crossroads is recent restricted Addison Cammack winner Sweet Luca. After winning the Cammack at six furlongs on the main track, the son of Candy Ride may try the turf in the $100,000 Arlington Sprint on July 6. “Sweet Luca will breeze on the turf and we will see how he handles it. If he doesn’t like it, he will stick to the Polytrack. If he does, we’ll probably go in the (Arlington) Sprint,” said Block. Owned by Fortino, Inc., the consistent 4-year-old has only once finished out of the top four in 15 career starts.
The depth and breadth of Chris Block’s stable is about to be on display in July, as the aforementioned athletes account for only a percentage of the talented runners about to tackle the stakes schedule and allowance races.