Race of the Week 2017

Dark Cove Targets Washington Park

Arlington Park.

Joseph Engelhart and Magdalena Racing’s Dark Cove is a bay, but because he has never run at Arlington Park, the 4-year-old son of Medaglia d’Oro might be overlooked in Saturday’s Grade III Washington Park Handicap at Chicago’s northwest suburban oval.  Nevertheless, such a handicapping stance could prove precarious.


Trainer Ken McPeek breezed Dark Cove five furlongs in 1:03 flat over Saratoga’s Oklahoma training track on Travers Day morning and will send the 4-year-old to Arlington for Saturday’s 77th renewal of one of Arlington’s most tradition-rich stakes races.


“It was a good solid breeze for him,” McPeek said while speaking over the phone Sunday morning from the hurricane-ravaged northeast.  Dark Cove has made more than half of his 13 lifetime starts on turf, most recently finishing sixth in Saratoga’s grassy $81,000 John’s Call Stakes on Aug. 5, but he was only beaten four lengths for all of it despite his three-wide trip.


However, when Dark Cove made his first start on Polytrack in first level allowance company at Keeneland last fall, he dug in late after altering course and got up to win the race by a head.  When sent back over that same synthetic surface on April 28, Dark Cove won by a length and a half after circling five-wide. 


“He seems to like (Polytrack) all right,” said McPeek.  “When he ran (over Polytrack) in the (Grade I Hollywood) Gold Cup (July 9), the mile and a quarter was just too far for him.  I’m not sure he’s a really top horse, but we’re still trying to find out where he fits best.  This might turn out to be the best level for him.”





Jim Tafel’s Fast Alex breezed five furlongs in 1:01.80 over Arlington’s Polytrack Saturday morning in probable preparation for Saturday’s Grade III Washington Park Handicap.


 “He worked fine,” said trainer Greg Geier Sunday morning.  “Right now, we plan on running Saturday, but we’ll see how he comes out of the work after a couple of days.”


Geier, 54, a longtime assistant trainer for the revered late Chicago horseman Gene Cilio, went out on his own after Cilio’s death in 2003, but only after inheriting his mentor’s cautious ways.  He likes to space out Fast Alex’s time between starts.


The homebred belonging to Barrington resident Tafel is a 4-year-old son of 2005 Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Afleet Alex and has not raced since June 25 when he ran a disappointing ninth in the Grade III Cornhusker Handicap at Prairie Meadows. Geier discounts that performance.


“He just didn’t seem to get over that surface out there very well,” Geier said.  “He never really looked comfortable the whole way around.”


However, in his start before the Cornhusker in Fair Grounds’ Grade II New Orleans Handicap March 26, Fast Alex had an impressive fourth-place run behind Twin Creek Racing Stable’s Mission Impazible.  That horse had always shown a preference for the Crescent City surface that included a win in the Louisiana Derby the previous year.





Arlington guests have already shown their appreciation for the track’s new bugler Rachel Serber with their appreciative applause, and she likes them as well.


“The people have been really friendly toward me,” said Serber in the midst of her first full weekend flying solo at the local oval.  “The whole Arlington experience has been great.


“I’d never been to a racetrack before I came here around the time of the Arlington Million,” Serber explained, “but I guess it’s sort of a rite of passage for any trumpeter.”


Serber, who met Arlington’s regular bugler Jean Laurenz while both were at Northwestern and ended up as her roommate, graduated with a Master’s Degree in Music Performance at Chicago’s Big Ten University last year.  Laurenz left Chicago last week to pursue further studies at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.


 “Jean was in the midst of her drive up there when the earthquake hit last week,” Serber said, “but she told me she never felt a thing while she was driving in her car.”


 Born in Plymouth, Minnesota, the 26-year-old Serber did her undergraduate work at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and occasionally played at Phillies and Eagles games during her stint on the East Coast.


At the present time she is a regular member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago.



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