In last year's Jockey Challenge Race on Arlington Million weekend, legendary rider Earlie Fires just missed getting to the winner's circle, finishing second for the second straight time.
"I probably should have won that race last year, but I wasn't fit enough," Fires admitted recently.
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Well, the 65-year-old isn't taking any chances heading into Friday's third running of the event, and if you're at Arlington early enough you'll see Fires out on the track working horses in preparation.
"I'm getting pretty fit now," said Fires, who retired in September 2008 with 6,470 lifetime victories. "I started getting on one horse a morning a little over a week ago, but I'm picking up the pace."
Joining Fires in Friday's eighth race at one mile on the turf will be former riders Larry Melancon, Patti Cooksey, Frank Lovato Jr. and Zoe Cadman. They will be competing against Arlington's top five active jockeys, a list headed by Francisco Torres and James Graham.
Cooksey will ride 3-1 morning-line favorite Stanley G., and Cadman will be aboard second favorite Hungry Wildcat. Fires' mount, Texas Hedge, is listed at 15-1.
And the winner is?
In races on Arlington's world-renowned turf course, it's often tough to tell for both the trained and untrained eye.
Not having a finish-line pole on the turf course will do that to you.
As it is now, there is simply a strip of tape that looks like a colorful Band-Aid affixed onto the inner rail of the turf course.
Arlington jocks have figured out where the line is, but the question is, how will jockeys who come to town just for Million Day handle things?
An Arlington source said officials are looking into the issue and may have at least a temporary pole set up by the weekend.
That would make for a good finish.
A look ahead:
Friday's Jockey Challenge Race is just one of many special events during Million Week.
Things kick off Wednesday with the postposition draw for the Arlington Million, Beverly D. and Secretariat Stakes at noon from the WGN-TV studios.
The annual Arlington Million Ladies Luncheon "Racing for the Cure" will be Thursday in the International Room from 11:45 a.m. until the end of the day's racing card. For ticket information, call (708) 267-6706 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Million Day, gates open at 10 a.m. and the first post is 12:15 p.m.
The day starts with a Jockey Legends autograph signing from 10 a.m. to noon. Daily Herald and horseplayernow.com handicapper Joe Kristufek hosts a handicapping session at 11 a.m. at the Starting Gate Theater.
General admission on Million Day is $18.
He said it:
"I think the 1¼ miles is a legitimate question, but I don't think he'll have a problem with it."
-- Trainer Dale Romans, whose Million entrant, Little Mike, will be making his first start beyond 1 miles.