Wayne Catalano, Arlington Park's trainer champion for two of the past three seasons, and Rene Douglas, back-to-back riding leader at the Chicago-area track, return to defend their titles at the 108-day meeting, which begins Friday.Arlington runs until Sept. 27.Catalano is coming off a 2002 meeting in which he saddled 64 winners from 180 starters to establish a single season record at the Arlington. During the 2000 season, Catalano won the Arlington trainer championship for the first time in his conditioning career, and in 2001 the former reinsman was in the hunt until the final day before falling two winners short to California invader Jerry Hollendorfer. He's not overly confident of a repeat title heading into the new campaign."We're not as strong as we'd like to be," said the 46-year old Catalano, "but we should do okay. It's always a fight. Reavis (trainer Michael, who just won the Hawthorne title) is pretty strong, and I don't see him slowing down at this meeting. "Steve Asmussen will be tough," Catalano said. "He always has a lot of horses here and they are coming from everywhere. And you can never forget about Harvey Vanier.He's got a few (Arlington Park) crowns under his belt." Asked about the best horses in his barn, Catalano starts with Fight For Ally, Frank Calabrese's 6-year-old who will shoulder the high weight of 117 pounds in Saturday's $100,000 Black Tie Affair Handicap. "We're trying for six in a row with him," said Catalano of Fight For Ally, "but it is going to be a tough race. It's certainly no walkover. A threesome of 4-year-olds bred in The Argentine that may prove to be the brightest stars from the Calabrese-Catalano tandem. Ajedrez was unplaced in the Group I Joaquin de Anchorena in December when making his last South American start, but had finished second, beaten only a half-length in Argentina's Group I Joaquin Gonzalez International in November. My Countess is a 4-year-old filly by 1996 Preakness winner Louis Quatorze who was two-for-two as a sophomore in Argentina. Un Galito is a colt who broke his maiden in October last year while in South America and won the second race of his Southern Hemisphere season in November. Douglas comes off a successful meeting at Gulfstream.
"It's great to be back at Arlington," said Douglas mid-week during training hours. "It's a little chillier than it was in Florida but I don't mind. I've been very fortunate during my career at Arlington and this track has a lot of good memories for me." Douglas arrived in Chicago from South Florida in time to ride Bare Necessities to win the Sixty Sails Handicap (gr. III) at Hawthorne on April 26. He then won a race Sunday at the Southside oval. "My family is still in South Florida until the end of the school year," said Douglas, "but they will be joining me for the summer once that is finished." Douglas, a 36-year-old native of Panama, has enjoyed an invigorated career since hooking up with agent Dennis Cooper at Arlington two years ago.