07/19/2004 12:00AM

American Derby is looking like Timo time


CHICAGO - It was a dim, misty Sunday this past weekend in New York - but the Arlington stakes coordinator, Keith Kelly, was hoping for something more like a deluge.

On Belmont's Sunday program was the Lexington Stakes for 3-year-old grass horses, a race that butts heads with Arlington's Grade 2 American Derby this Saturday. Had rain forced the Lexington to the main track, some New York-based horses might have been hustled west this week.

No such luck for Kelly and Arlington. But one New Yorker was coming here all along. Timo, who won the Grade 3 Kent Breeders' Cup at Delaware in his last start, is due to fly in on Wednesday.

And as Sunday's Lexington winnowed down Timo's potential opposition, it also boosted his stock. Icy Atlantic, the colt Timo narrowly beat at Delaware, scored a game win in the Lexington, and though his number was taken down for interference in the stretch, Icy Atlantic's performance further validated Timo's quality.

Timo has won two of four starts during a measured campaign (tack his horrible-trip eighth in the Jan. 1 Tropical Park Derby onto his 2003 season), with a second to the high-class Artie Schiller in the June 6 Hill Prince, and a third to Artie Schiller and Lipan in the May 15 Woodlawn. The Woodlawn, trainer Billy Badgett said, was an unmitigated disaster; the Hill Prince, in which Artie Schiller dictated a dawdling pace, merely a disappointing loss.

"A couple things here and there, and who knows," Badgett said.

Badgett went slowly with Timo over the winter at Fair Grounds just so he could have a horse for this time of year.

"He's really matured the last few months," said Badgett. "A week before the Hill Prince, Angel Cordero breezed him, and he said, 'Don't be afraid to run this horse on dirt.' He's gone from breezing [five furlongs] in 1:03 to going in 59. He makes very few mistakes on his own."

Timo's participation sets up a good East-West showdown in the American Derby, one of three graded turf stakes on Saturday's program. Toasted, who won the Arlington Classic two weekends ago, ships from California this week. Samwise also is coming from California, while an Irish-based colt named Simple Exchange was due in early this week. Also expected to start are the locals Gwaihir, Kilgowan, and Up Anchor.

In the Arlington Handicap, seven or eight are expected to start. Considered likely for the 1 1/4-mile race are Ballingarry, Grey Beard, King's Drama, Mystery Giver, On the Course, Rowans Park, and Sharbayan.

Aud, Bedanken, Blue Sky Baby, Delicatessa, Julie's Prize, Ocean Silk, and Shaconage are the probables for the 1 1/16-mile Modesty Handicap.

Nicole's Dream crushes males

The turf-sprint specialist Nicole's Dream could not beat Dyna Da Wyna on July 10 at Arlington, but a week later she trounced males in an overnight handicap here at five furlongs on grass.

"Yeah, we actually were thinking of running in both races all along," said Larry Rivelli, who trains Nicole's Dream for the Dare to Dream Stable. "There aren't that many races out there for her, and she's only run four times this year. It's either ship her to run at Monmouth for $60,000 or run her back in a week. I figured if the race didn't come up too tough, we'd run her back. That's one of her attributes - she's sound."

She is very fast, too. In the female grass sprint, Nicole's Dream had to work to establish her customary position on the lead, and she had no answer for Dyna Da Wyna's stretch punch. But that race was run on a wet course, and "firm turf makes a big difference for my filly," Rivelli said.

In Saturday's race was the extremely fast 3-year-old Wildcat Shoes, but Nicole's Dream beat him out of the gate by a couple lengths. She cruised along in front, and had plenty left for the finish.

"I don't think there's anyone around who can beat her out of the gate," Rivelli said.

And in five-furlong turf sprints, that's half the battle.

Contreras suspended - again

Cruz Contreras, who led the jockey standings early this meet, returned from a five-day suspension last Thursday, and promptly got three more days for a riding infraction on Saturday. Contreras, agent Tom Morgan said, will serve his days beginning Thursday.

Contreras also has under court appeal two other three-day suspensions from this season. He currently is tied for fourth among Arlington riders with 32 wins at the meet. Rene Douglas is on top of the standings with 61 victories through Sunday's races.