08/06/2001 11:00PM

Ackerman finds spot for 'Cat'

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CHICAGO - Trainer Kelly Ackerman is a slightly different breed of racetrack gypsy. Instead of moving from racetrack to racetrack with his stable of horses from meet to meet, Ackerman follows individual horses as they travel to various tracks.

"I'm sitting in Muskegon right now," Ackerman said when reached by phone Tuesday morning. Ackerman had traveled to Michigan to saddle a horse at Great Lakes Downs Tuesday night. On Thursday he will be in Arlington Heights, where his filly Island Riffle Cat will be favored in Arlington's feature. Ackerman will leave after the race, only to return two days later.

The copious driving is the downside to a setup Ackerman otherwise relishes. Ackerman, 34, trains his 30-horse stable at a farm 30 miles outside Ellis Park in Carmine, Ill.

He has a half-mile training track on the property, his brother-in-law gallops horses in the morning, and his father and sister help out in the barn. "I can sleep awfully well at night because my family works for me," Ackerman said. "Plus I have the option to run where I want to run."

When a horse needs a serious breeze, Ackerman ships him to Ellis Park or to Fairmount Park. When they're ready to race, he vans horses to the track offering the best spot, be it in Kentucky, Michigan, West Virginia, or Illinois.

The system works. Ackerman has started 53 horses this year and posted 15 wins for a 28 percent strike rate. Two wins have come from Island Riffle Cat, a 4-year-old Illinois-bred filly. Island Riffle Cat, owned by Joe and Hugh Scates, debuted last summer in an Ellis Park maiden claimer, which she lost by a nose, then was out of action until this spring, when she surfaced in an Illinois-bred maiden special-weight sprint. Bettors made the filly an 8-5 favorite; she broke on top and won by almost seven lengths.

The results were similar in a June 17 state-bred allowance sprint at Arlington. Island Riffle Cat rocketed to a clear early lead from post 12 and never was threatened on the way to an easy win. "She's got Quarter Horse speed," said Ackerman.

Island Riffle Cat "spiked a fever," Ackerman said, just before she was to have run in an allowance race here last month, but she is back on her game and will be difficult to catch in an eight-horse field here Thursday.

The main competition will come from Sexy Lexie and Missyshy, piloted respectively by Rene Douglas and Robby Albarado, who are waging war in the jockey colony here. Shane Laviolette rides Island Riffle Cat.