10/09/2004 12:00AM

'Afternoon' may be Robertson's best

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STICKNEY, Ill. - In late August, trainer Hugh Robertson was asked where and when his good Arlington-based 2-year-old might show up next.

Robertson needed more information first. "Which one?" he asked.

From the outside, the obvious answer was Three Hour Nap, who at the time had won a maiden race and an entry-level allowance in his first two starts and would go on to win the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Futurity on Sept. 19.

But Robertson wasn't so sure Three Hour Nap had much, if anything, on a colt named Stormy Afternoon. An Illinois-bred, Stormy Afternoon won a statebred-restricted maiden race Aug. 6 at Arlington, and he finally gets to make another start Monday at Hawthorne. Robertson has tried for six weeks to find a race for Stormy Afternoon. None filled, but Hawthorne's eighth race on Monday, an open first-level allowance with a $50,000 claiming option, drew a full field of 12.

Stormy Afternoon has only faced Illinois-breds so far, but that might not matter. He was based over the summer in Kentucky with trainer Bob Desensi, for whom Stormy Afternoon made his career debut July 17 at Arlington. In that race, Stormy Afternoon was shuffled back at the start and lost all chance. In his second start, he broke on top and led all the way, winning by six lengths in a fast time.

Saturday afternoon, Robertson was at Keeneland, a couple of hours away from saddling Three Hour Nap in the Grade 2 Breeders' Futurity. And still, Robertson said he wondered if the horse back at Hawthorne is the better of the two.

"He could be better," said Robertson of Stormy Afternoon. "He's a pretty nice colt. I'm sure he's better sprinting than the other one."

Sprinting is the game Monday in this six-furlong race for which Stormy Afternoon tuned up with a bullet half-mile breeze here Wednesday. Stormy Afternoon's immediate goal is the $100,000-added Sun Power Stakes for Illinois-breds here Nov. 13, and Robertson says he wants to get him to the race the right way. "He doesn't have to win this one," said Robertson.

There are a couple of other ways to gravitate here. Santana Strings twice ran impressively at Arlington, winning his debut by nine lengths and finishing second to the fleet Rocky River in the Spectacular Bid. Santana Strings was fifth in the Futurity, but bled in the race and adds Lasix on Monday.

Fear of Secrets, another Illinois-bred, looked good coming from off the pace to easily win a statebred maiden race Sept. 11 at Arlington, and he should have pace at which to run again Monday.