Activity has been at a heightened pitch at Arlington Racecourse in advance of its signature International Festival of Racing on Saturday.
Nearly every day on the backstretch has brought an influx of talent shipping in from both sides of the ocean. And on the eve of the card headlined by the track's trademark Grade I Arlington Million, representatives of some of the sport's elite operations dotted the track's apron and made the people-watching almost as intriguing as the exploits on the track.
One of the more prominent figures at Richard Duchossois' showplace, trainer Wayne Catalano, has been missing since July 22, however. It would be fitting for Arlington's marquee day of racing to also serve as the official welcome back party for the track's 11-time champion.
Earlier this week, Catalano was released from Saint Alexius Medical Center in Illinois having been hospitalized there with a severe case of influenza and pneumonia.
One would be hard-pressed to find a more distinctive personality than the gravelly voiced, big-hearted Catalano. With his graded stakes winner I'm Already Sexy slated to start in the Grade I Beverly D., maiden winner Highball going in the Grade I Secretariat, and Infinite Magic in the American St. Leger, it has been a feat trying to convince Catalano to rest up so he can saddle his charges on Saturday as he has planned.
"He wants to be (at the barn) so bad that it's just killing him to be away from it," said Anna Seitz, who heads the all-female syndicate Hit the Board Stables, which owns I'm Already Sexy. "I spoke to him (Monday) afternoon, and it was the best that I've heard him since he got sick. He sounded like himself.
"He said he still doesn't have a lot of energy, and, of course he said 'I'm going to the barn' on Wednesday. I said, 'You're crazy, Wayne, you can't.'
"Thank God he's through the worst of it now and we just have to keep him from working too hard so he doesn't get sick again. That's my only concern."
One of the best tributes to Catalano's operation is that his staff — headed by assistant Fernando Canteria — has kept the barn running without any outward signs of anything amiss during his illness.
"To see how great his assistants were in a crisis like that, and how much they love Wayne, was like the best," Seitz said.
A little more than a week before Catalano went into the hospital, his Arlington Million Day plans were already being set.
Purchased for $20,000 at the 2011 Fasig-Tipton October Yearling Sale, I'm Already Sexy halted a four-race losing skid on July 12 when she won the Grade III Modesty Handicap, going 13⁄16 miles over the Arlington turf.
The 4-year-old daughter of Ready's Image will travel the same distance in the Beverly D. but will have to contend with a field that features Grade I winners Stephanie's Kitten, Alterite, Emollient and Somali Lemonade.
The horses-for-courses angle does swing in I'm Already Sexy's favor as four of her six career wins have come at Arlington Park.
"This is obviously a really tough race," said Seitz, who is also the marketing assistant/client coordinator for Fasig-Tipton. "This has been hard for me, because managing a syndicate for Hit the Board Stables, you want to put them where they belong. But she just loves Arlington so much, and even though there are really, really nice fillies coming ... sometimes you've just got to take a chance and you've just got to go have some fun and see what happens."
Arguably the best thing that will happen on Saturday is the expectation of Catalano being on the grounds, reminding everyone of why the sport just wasn't itself without him at full strength.
"I know (his staff) is happy to get him back and be able to talk to him every day now," Seitz said.
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.