07/15/2004 11:00PM

Al's Dearly Bred not done yet

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CHICAGO - Yes, the aging turf horse Al's Dearly Bred is taking a class drop on Sunday at Arlington, but only if you take the short view. Al's Dearly Bred ran a month ago for an $80,000 claiming price, and in Sunday's featured fifth race he is in for $62,500, his lowest level in quite some time. But consider that at age 4, the 7-year-old Al's Dearly Bred could have been purchased out of a race for only $10,000.

His transformation has been radical - and surprisingly durable. "Especially when you see the legs on him," said trainer Hugh Robertson, who, along with his son and assistant, Mac, has overseen Al's Dearly Bred's glory years. "He's not very sound, and he's a big, fat horse."

won the Claiming Crown Jewel two summers ago, and he held his form through the rest of 2002 and all of 2003. He won a couple of lower-level stakes races last season and probably would have won the Grade 3 Carey Handicap last fall at Hawthorne with a better trip. And then he finally started to slide, finishing 11th, seventh, and ninth in his first three starts of 2004.

"I thought he had maybe just quit running," Robertson said. "But he woke up again when he got back up here."

Indeed, Al's Dearly Bred looked very much like the horse of last season when he was a close second to the sharp, 8-year-old Illinois-bred Ivan Jay Perry here June 20. That was a fourth-level allowance race with an $80,000 claiming option contested at 1 1/16 miles. Sunday's is a third-level allowance with the lower claiming option, run at one mile. The class drop and the shorter distance should help Al's Dearly Bred.

But there is plenty of competition, too. In fact, Al's Dearly Bred loses leading rider Rene Douglas to a Steve Asmussen-trained horse named Image, though his new rider, Eddie Martin, rode Al's Dearly Bred to a pair of seconds last season. Image, who also runs for the claiming price, lost by a neck at this class level in his last start, but he probably is more effective at slightly longer distances and could be hurt by an apparent lack of early pace in Sunday's race.

On the rail is a horse with more positional speed, , and he could be well served by using it in this spot. General's Sword won four in a row over this course last summer, and though he was fifth in Al's Dearly Bred's last race, that was a major improvement over his season-opening ninth.