Trainer Chris Block, born in
downstate Champaign, Illinois,
has still not reached the backside of 40 chronologically, but despite his youth
he is the acknowledged dean of Arlington
Park’s Prairie State
Inaugurated in 2000, the
Prairie State Festival consists of six stakes races restricted to Thoroughbreds
conceived and/or foaled in Illinois.
All of them have purses of worth $100,000, and Block has saddled 51 horses over
the years since the Festival’s inception and has won with 16 of them, far more
than any other trainer in both those categories.
However, over the last two
years Block has enjoyed admirable success running his horses in graded stakes
competition, most notably posing in the winner’s circle in last fall’s Grade I
Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs and last winter’s Grade I Donn Handicap at Gulfstream
Park with Virginia
Tarra’s Giant Oak.
Other recent graded stakes
wins for Block have come with Dundalk 5’s Dundalk Dust in the Grade II Falls
City Handicap and Team Block and Rich Ege’s Askbut I Won’ttell at Churchill
Downs last fall, as well as Churchill’s Grade III Louisville Handicap with Tom
Fedro Sr. and Team Block’s Free Fighter in the spring of 2010.
After that kind of success,
has Saturday’s Prairie State Festival lost some of its luster?
“Absolutely not,” said Block
during training hours Wednesday morning. “The Prairie State Festival has
always been and will always be first and foremost for me. All of this
other stuff (graded stakes wins) is great, but the Illinois
program is what my operation is all about. If we can expand beyond that
and win races in open company, that’s great, but our focus will always remain
on the Illinois
“People might see me say that
and think that is a lot of baloney,” Block said, “but I can tell you I’ll get
just as much of a thrill saddling those horses I have in Saturday’s Festival as
I did saddling Giant Oak in (Churchill’s Grade I) Stephen Foster last weekend.
“You see, I look at each race
as a challenge,” Block concluded. “The thing I like most about training
is the satisfaction I get from setting a schedule for each horse I have and
then enjoying it when they live up to my expectations.”
On Saturday, Block will saddle
Dundalk Dust, as well as Timothy Keeley’s Peyote Patty in the Lincoln Heritage
Handicap for state-bred fillies and mares on the grass; Team Block’s Hoodwinked
in the Black Tie Affair Handicap, also on the turf; Team Block’s defending
champion Shrewd Operator in the White Oak Handicap and Virginia Tarra’s Table
Games as well as Team Block’s Mavericking in the Springfield Stakes.
Festival fans are advised that Arlington
Park morning line
odds-maker Joe Kristufek will host a “Big Event Chat” previewing the Prairie
State Festival Friday evening at 7:30 p.m. on Horseplayernow.com.
JOCKEY BRANDON MEIER BACK IN THE SADDLE WEDNESDAY
Jockey Brandon Meier,
seriously injured in a spill at Hawthorne Race Course Feb. 18, was named to
ride John Carman’s Ripe Tomato in Wednesday’s first race for trainer Roger
Meier, named Arlington’s
Rising Star in 2007, is the son of longtime Arlington
reinsman Randy Meier.
“I’m glad to be back this
soon,” said Meier Wednesday morning during training hours. “It’s been a
long road back, but going through all that physical therapy was worth it.
“I don’t remember the fall at
all,” said Meier. “I came to in the hospital. I was in intensive
care for three days, and during that time I had two seizures. I messed up
the C-2, C-3 and C-4 vertebrae in my neck as well as my shoulder. I had surgery
on my shoulder, but the therapist healed my neck by placing her fingers in
between in each vertebra every day and bending everything back into place.”