06/18/2001 11:00PM

All eyes on St. Chapelle


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - In Thursday's featured ninth race at Arlington, 10 fillies face off in a first-level turf allowance race. A battle also will rage between quantitative and qualitative analysis.

The question: Was St. Chapelle's maiden turf win as good as it looked?

Or do the numbers, a slow final time and a low Beyer Speed Figure, cut to the heart of the matter?

The senses say St. Chapelle's race June 8 at Hawthorne was something special. After lagging hopelessly behind a field of maiden turf runners, with just more than a quarter-mile to run St. Chapelle grew wings, flying through the stretch to pass 11 horses and win by a length. On a quiet Friday in industrial Stickney, Ill., the track buzzed with excitement.

The numbers told a different story. St. Chapelle's final time barely beat that recorded in the other division of a split maiden race that day. The filly's Beyer Figure, 66, was ordinary.

But the belief remains that St. Chapelle is headed for important races.

By St. Jovite, a standout turf horse overseas, St. Chapelle trains with Harvey Vanier, the crusty Nebraska native who has developed of a long line of turf standouts, including St. Chapelle's dam, Bungalow. And the consensus around the Vanier barn is that St. Chapelle's race upheld the family tradition.

"It was just like Bungalow used to run," said Brian Williamson, Vanier's assistant and son-in-law.

Williamson got first crack at St. Chapelle. While Vanier wintered in Florida with a string of horses, Williamson slogged through a brutal Chicago winter on the South Side. St. Chapelle came into the barn in January. "She didn't show much," Williamson said. "She was green, but she started working better, nothing spectacular."

St. Chapelle made her debut in a dirt sprint, breaking slowly and finishing seventh, beaten nearly 25 lengths. "I knew she had more ability than she showed there," Williamson said.

"She worked super between her first and second races. She's not much of a work horse, but put her in company and she's much better."

Put her in a race, and she's better still.

But St. Chapelle can't afford to bury herself early as she did at Hawthorne, and Williamson hopes jockey Ramsey Zimmerman can help the filly stay closer to the pace Wednesday.

Her rivals include Flinch, a European import who finished sixth, beaten only three lengths, in her U.S. debut this spring at Keeneland. "She was looking around a lot that day and wasn't on her best behavior," trainer Dick Lundy said. "I expect her to run pretty well."