Racing & Wagering

Barn Notes: Saturday, September 22, 2012

| Churchill Downs Communications | 09/22/2012 #

In Today's Notes: 'Shorty' Perez Standing Stall in the Saddle After Pucker Up Tally; Arlington's Jackpot High 5 Returns $296,981 Friday; Arlington Festival Horses Work Toward Upcoming Engagements

Veteran Arlington jockey Eddie Perez, in midst of his latest consistent Chicago season, moved into the 14th spot among Arlington's all-time leading riders during the summer of 2012, but the highlight of the local meeting for him came in mid-September when he rode Team Block's Leading Astray to a neck tally in Arlington's Grade III Pucker Up Stakes.

"That was tough race for her," said Perez of the Chris Block-trained sophomore filly who had won Arlington's $65,000 Hatoof Stakes on Arlington Million Day in her previous start, "but she stuck to it and got the job done. She'd been training well (five-eighths in 1:06.80 on the grass six days earlier with a gallop out of 1:12 for the three-quarters) so I expected her to run well and she did. She didn't let me down."

Less than a week after the Pucker Up, Perez was in the middle of another workmanlike afternoon that eventually ended with no winners but three seconds and two thirds from six scheduled mounts when he took a few minutes to recap his current Arlington session.

"This filly (Team Block's Sorta Sassy) ran hard all the way, too," said Perez, immediately after the sixth race on Arlington's penultimate Friday. "She finished third (beaten less than a half-length), but in a race like this, if I get beat – I get beat. She did her best. That's all I can ask."

Throughout the summer, it should be noted, the jockey-trainer tandem of Perez and Block have recorded purse earning of $1,004,994 and are the only Arlington team to have earned seven figures in purses together so far this summer at Chicago's northwest suburban oval.

"I'm having a great meeting again this summer," Perez said. "I don't ride that many horses but the trainers who ride me always put me on their good horses. Chris Block and I have done very well together, but I've also done very well for the other guys I ride for like Dale Bennett and Moises Yanez."

In fact, it was Yanez who discovered Perez working as a busboy at a Chicago restaurant and brought him to the racetrack as a hotwalker, then a groom and finally as an apprentice rider.The 46-year-old Perez, a native of Taluca, Mexico, accepted his first mount in the fall of 1988 at Balmoral Park but soon after took time off because he didn't feel he was ready to ride. However, when he returned to the saddle he became the leading apprentice rider at Oaklawn Park and Louisiana Downs in 1991 and then went on to finish second in the standings at Detroit Race Course in 1992 and 1993.

Perez enjoyed his best Arlington season last summer when he finished fourth in the final standings, won Arlington's 2011 Grade III Washington Park Handicap aboard Lothenbach Stables' Mister Marti Gras and won his second straight White Oak Handicap on Team Block's Shrewd Operator.

However, probably what Perez has enjoyed the most this summer is his customized all-white Cadillac Eldorado that he has owned for a number of years but usually kept in his garage.

"That's my toy," Perez said breaking into his familiar ear-to-ear grin. "There are probably not many like that anywhere in the country. She's my baby and I love driving her."

What Perez doesn't love so much is riding in someone else's car when the operator is not such an accomplished pilot. During a marathon 17-hour one-day trip to southern Illinois for Fairmount's series of stakes races Sept, 18, Perez curled up in the backseat and went to sleep while two much larger adults shared the front. The driver reportedly kept veering to the left, flirting with the center line, and then kept overcorrecting to the right when trying to compensate for the error.

Finally, the constant change in direction caused Perez to wake up in backseat, sit up sleepily, look around and say, "This is like being on a bad cruise."

Arlington's second highest Jackpot High 5 payout of the summer was recorded Friday when one lucky bettor bought a ticket worth $291,981, topped only by a payout of $1.1 million recorded earlier in the season. That payout was the largest ever recorded in Arlington history.

Priscilla Vaccarezza's Little Mike, hero of this summer's 30th anniversary edition of the Grade I Arlington Million, worked five furlongs in 1:03.40 at Churchill Downs Saturday in preparation for Belmont's upcoming Grade I Joe Hirsch Invitational Turf Classic Sept. 29.

Mark Bacon and Dana Wells' Silver Max, winner of the Arlington Classic but fifth in the Grade I Secretariat Stakes, worked a half-mile in 48.20 and galloped out five-eighths in 1:02 under the Twin Spires in preparation for Keeneland's Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile Oct. 6.

At Arlington, Lothenbach Stable's Mister Marti Gras and Team Block's Suntracer worked in company, with Mister Marti Gras going six furlongs in 1:14 and Suntracer getting the same distance in 1:14.40.