07/23/2002 12:00AM

Ah, these surprising Europeans


CHICAGO - The Kentucky-based trainer Henry Cochran thought he was getting a couple of projects, mid-level European handicappers who might pan out in some modest way as American turf horses. What he ended up with is a pair of stakes horses.

Moon Solitaire already has won the King Edward Breeders' Cup at Woodbine and finished third in the Bowling Green at Belmont. Saturday, Catchy Word will try to keep pace with his stablemate when he starts in the Arlington Handicap.

Both horses are 5-year-olds owned by Gainsborough Farm, for whom Cochran has trained less than two years. Gainsborough, owned by Sheikh Maktoum al Maktoum of Dubai, campaigns its best horses in Europe but brings some runners to the United States. The best of them have gone to trainer Neil Drysdale, and though Cochran has gotten some decent horses from Gainsborough, nobody expected these two to show this much when they were shipped overseas earlier in the year.

"They sent them over with the thought that they might do some good here," Cochran said. "Believe me, nobody expected them to be group stakes horses."

Catchy Word still has to prove he's in the same league as Moon Solitaire, but his two starts in this country both were excellent. Catchy Word's U.S. debut came June 15 at Churchill, when he set a fast pace and finished second, beaten a length by Good Journey, who returned with a sharp score in the Grade 2 Firecracker Breeders' Cup. Catchy Word was back three weeks later, this time scoring a head win over Tubrok, another likely starter here Saturday.

When the two horses showed up in his barn, Cochran worried they would be plodders, horses without any natural speed who rely on a sustained run or a quick burst of late speed. "Those horses won't do here," Cochran said. Instead, Cochran found Moon Solitaire and Catchy Word had plenty of natural speed. Catchy Word, in fact, has been so sharp in his two starts that Cochran has worked on getting him to relax.

"He's getting better at that," said Cochran. "The 10 furlongs of this race probably hits him right between the eyes."

Catchy Word is scheduled to van from Churchill to Arlington on Friday. Cochran said jockey Larry Melancon has a return call on the horse.

Strut the Stage in Arlington Handicap

Trainer Mark Frostad confirmed Tuesday that Strut the Stage will ship in from Woodbine for the Arlington Handicap. He will be ridden by Robby Albarado, who is scheduled to shift his tack here this weekend.

Strut the Stage will board a van Tuesday night and arrive here about 12 hours later, giving him a couple days to settle in before his race, said Frostad, who hopes the Handicap will serve as a prep for the Arlington Million.

Strut the Stage will try to rebound from a disappointing sixth-place finish July 4 in the Firecracker Breeders' Cup. He raced at Arlington once last year, finishing second by a nose in the Grade 1 Secretariat.

Pisces stays home

One Kentucky horse who won't make the trip for the Handicap is Pisces, who came out of a third-place finish here in the Stars and Stripes Handicap with a jammed shoulder.

Trainer Ken McPeek has seen several of his top horses go down with injuries this year. Repent, Take Charge Lady, and most recently Sarava all have needed injury-related layoffs. Pisces will spend about three weeks on a farm before he resumes training. "He should be fine," McPeek said.

Others possible for the Handicap are Bahroba, Falcon Flight, Gretchen's Star, Kappa King, Mystery Giver, National Anthem, Private Son, and Riddlesdown.

Drysdale gets temporary restraining order

A United States district court in Chicago granted a temporary restraining order to trainer Neil Drysdale Tuesday that bars the Illinois Racing Board from imposing penalties it levied against him.

On June 14, stewards at Arlington handed Drysdale a 45-day suspension and a $2,500 fine after a urine-blood sample taken from Flying Dash after his win in the Hawthorne Derby tested positive for clenbuterol and a metabolite of acepromazine, two medications that aren't permitted on race day in Illinois.

Drysdale's attorneys appealed the ruling and requested further urine and blood testing as well as DNA testing to verify that fluids belonging to Flying Dash were those being tested. The IRB issued Drysdale a stay, which ended July 19. The restraining order extends the stay until a hearing officer can be presented evidence from the IRB and Drysdale's attorneys and turn his findings over to the 11-member board. The board then will issue a decision on the case, probably at its meeting on Sept. 20.