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Defending Champion Gran Estreno Seeks Grade III Washington Park Handicap Repeat
Feel the Thunder Stable's Gran Estreno, who posted a mild upset when winning the 2009 edition of the Grade III Washington Park Handicap, returns in search of a repeat bid in Saturday's $150,000 race that offers its winner an automatic berth into the Grade I $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs as part of the Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In."
A son of Lucky Roberto, Gran Estreno has an affinity for Arlington Park with five victories and two third-place finishes from seven runs here. The Mike Stidham-trained 7-year-old won a third-level allowance over this surface in early May before finishing third in the Grade III Hanshin Cup later that month. In his last start, which was on the turf, he was bumped and steadied at the break but recovered to again finish third. Michael Baze picks up the mount aboard Gran Estreno who shares co-starting highweight of 118 pounds for the mile and three-sixteenths affair.
Also in at 118 pounds is Virginia Tarra's Giant Oak, a graded stakes winner with earnings in excess a half-million dollars. Though winless in six starts this year, the Chris Block-trained son champion Giant's Causeway has been keeping good company. Earlier in the summer, the 4-year-old colt ran fourth in the Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs and most recently endured a troubled trip to finished fifth, beaten only 1 ¼ lengths for all of it, in the Grade III Arlington Handicap on turf. Junior Alvarado gets the riding assignment Saturday.
The co-highweights will spot their five rivals from one to five pounds.
Hickory Tree Farm's Coolcullen Times and Jim Tafel's Country Flavor each have been assigned 117 pounds for the Washington Park. The former, a son of Rock of Gibraltar comes in off a third-place run in the $70,000 John's Call Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 6. The Graham Motion trainee is winless in four North American starts but is a minor stakes winner in his native Ireland. Jesus Castanon will ride.
The latter, by Empire Maker, won the Grade III Hanshin Cup over this course in May and has been awaiting this start ever since. The Greg Geier-trained 4-year-old will be ridden by Inez Karlsson.
Others in the field for the Washington Park Handicap (with jockey and weight assignment) are: Bonnie Heath Farm, Holiday Stable, Bright Brook Farm & Hinkle Farms' Mad Flatter (James Graham, 116 pounds), a wire-to-wire winner in allowance company in his last start here Aug. 6; Meritage Holdings' Cure for Sale (Eduardo Perez, 114), third in the $100,000 Windward Stakes at Presque Isle last out July 27; and Team Valor International's Elusive Beat (Florent Geroux, 113), third in a Del Mar allowance in his last start Aug. 7.