09/25/2003 11:00PM

After subpar summer, Reavis regroups


CHICAGO - In September, the Arlington racetrack was nearly deserted each day during the last half-hour of morning training. An inordinate number of exercising horses seemed to be wearing saddle towels initialed "MR." And perched on his pony in front of the winner's circle, cell phone in hand, following his sets of horses as they came down the stretch, was MR himself, Mike Reavis.

What he was working for was Sunday, opening day at Hawthorne. Reavis is coming off a disappointing Arlington meet, where he had won only 16 times in 147 tries through Thursday. But that may only mean he will be stronger at Hawthorne. Reavis has won seven of the last nine training titles at Hawthorne and the defunct Sportsman's Park, and he has been gearing up for a run at another one this fall.

"It got a little rough over at Arlington," Reavis said. "Hopefully we can get back on track. You can't have the same Hawthorne horses and take them to Arlington and expect their form to hold up. Over there, they have to get better."

Reavis operates a claiming stable, which means he runs headlong into Wayne Catalano at Arlington. And you can tell that Catalano and his owner, Frank Calabrese, occupy a significant portion of Reavis's mind. "They make it tougher to win, that's for sure," he said.

This year, they may make it tougher to win at Hawthorne, too. Catalano will focus more on Hawthorne this year than he did last, but whether he can keep up with the onslaught of Reavis entrants the next few months remains to be seen.

Roussel makes a change

Owner and trainer Louie Roussel actually owns the barn at Fair Grounds where his horses stable. Only they aren't going to be stabled there this season. Roussel's 20-horse string will remain in Chicago all winter with his assistant, Lara Van Daren, while Roussel himself plans on wintering in a little-used home in Florida.

"I've raced at Fair Grounds for 33 years," Roussel said. "I'm going to spend the winter in Florida and see how things are down there. If I like it, next year I might split the stable [between Chicago and Florida]. If not, I'll go back to Fair Grounds."

Roussel said he had reached a tentative agreement for owner Michael Gill to lease his Fair Grounds barn this season. "We have a signed agreement with a deposit," Roussel said.

Roussel runs Bright Valour in Hawthorne's opening day Zany Tactics, but the most talented horse in his barn, In Secure, is almost certain to be retired, Roussel said. In Secure has been turned out at an Illinois farm and is likely to be bred this winter.

Besides Roussel, there are other newcomers to this meet, most notably trainers Stanley Roberts and Kelly Von Hemel. Both Roberts and Von Hemel race at Prairie Meadows, and neither has spent a meet in Chicago before. Roberts will have 40 horses in his string here, Von Hemel 25.

Who will complete the trifecta?

Perfect Drift and Tenpins seem nearly certain to finish one-two in the Gold Cup. Who can be third? Perhaps San Pedro, the veteran Illinois-bred who has come on strongly this summer.

San Pedro blew out three furlongs in 35.20 seconds on Thursday and may be in the best form of his career.

"I'm going to take a shot," said trainer Spanky Broussard. "He's had two or three different problems over the years, but he's over them now. He acts like he'll go a mile and a quarter."