As the winner of last year’s Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs, W S. Farish Jr.’s Pool Play will bring a certain amount of welcome window dressing to Saturday’s 79th running of Arlington’s Grade III Washington Park Handicap.

It’s been seven years since a Stephen Foster winner last captured the $150,000 Washington Park, and that horse – Stonecrest Farm’s Perfect Drift – was doing it for the second time in three years.

Unfortunately, Pool Play suffered a strained tendon injury some time after the biggest victory of his career under the Twin Spires, was forced to miss last summer’s Washington Park ‘Cap and only returned to competition this summer after more than a year of inactivity.

“In his first start back I thought he ran very well,” said trainer Mark Casse Thursday when speaking of Pool Play’s fourth-place effort when beaten less than two lengths in Woodbine’s $100,000 Ontario Jockey Club July 2 over Canadian turf. “That was a big effort considering it was his first time back.

“In fact, it might have been a little too big,” Casse added after a pause. “In his last start (a dull fourth-place run in Woodbine’s Grade II Seagram Cup on Polytrack August 4) he was a little flat. Maybe in that first race he gave a little too much.

“Anyway, he seems fine now,” said Casse. “He’s very close to being all the way back. What he will need Saturday is some pace to run at. Like I was telling the owner the other day, it doesn’t matter what kind of race he’s in – whether it’s an allowance race or a stake – if he has some pace to run at, he can beat very good horses. If he doesn’t, even an average horse can beat him.

“The horse is still at Woodbine right now, but he’ll be leaving later this afternoon for Arlington,” Casse concluded. “I won’t be at Arlington, an assistant of mine named Katherine Sullivan will be there to saddle him. I’ll be back at Woodbine because I’ve got a very nice filly named (Melnyk Racing Stables’) Roxy Gap running in the (Grade III) Seaway Stakes Saturday. She’s won four of her last six starts and we’re looking for another big race from her.”


Lothenbach Stables’ Mister Marti Gras, hero of last summer’s Grade III Washington Park Handicap, would join Feel The Thunder Stable’s Gran Estreno as the second horse in the last four years to win back-to-back renewals of Arlington’s richest event for older horses on the main track should he successfully defend his championship this Saturday.

“All we have to do now is lead him over there on Saturday,” said Mister Marti Gras’ trainer Chris Block, speaking from Arlington’s apron during training hours Thursday morning. “I was very happy with his work the other day (five furlongs in 1:04 Sunday over Arlington’s turf course with the “dogs” well out from the rail). “The work was steady and solid just like he is and he seemed to respond very well.

“I would like to see a little bit of a pace in there on Saturday,” added Block. “All we can do is let our horse run his race and hope he has something to run at. Right now it looks like (Barry Golden’s) Workin for Hops might be the lone speed in there so I hope somebody goes up there with him if that’s the way it sets up.”


Eagle Valley Farm’s Ballyjamesduff has been scratched from Thursday’s fifth race by trainer John Haran in favor of a run in Saturday’s Grade III Washington Park Handicap as the headline event during Arlington’s extended four-day Labor Day weekend series of racing programs.

Haran’s homebred gelding lit up Arlington’s tote board with a $111.80 win mutuel on June 24 this summer when going the same nine-furlong distance as Saturday’s featured test but was a closing fourth in his most recent start August 9 when going the one-turn mile distance.