05/24/2007 12:00AM

Another shot for Lewis Michael


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - About every Memorial Day weekend you read stories in the racing press about how the Grade 1 Metropolitan Mile serves as a proving ground for stallion prospects. The top milers, the line of thinking goes, make the best stallions.

Well, welcome to the Met Mile light. The Grade 3, $100,000 Hanshin Cup, featured on Arlington's 10-race program Saturday, is - believe it or not - a one-mile proving ground for potential stallions.

The connections of the two likely favorites, Lewis Michael and Purim, both have glanced up at the horizon line where racing careers give way to breeding. Lewis Michael, kin to the turf star Kitten's Joy and a full brother to champion 2-year-old filly Dreaming of Anna, has obvious pedigree credentials, but has yet to win a graded stakes race. The hole in his resume is not for lack of talent, but every time Lewis Michael has given a top performance, he's run into one horse better on the day.

A year ago in the Peter Pan Stakes, it was Sunriver, who has accomplished little since then. Last fall, in the Perryville at Keeneland, Lewis Michael ran a winning type of race, but was second to Midnight Lute, who might have run a career-best. And last month in the Commonwealth Breeders' Cup, like the Perryville a one-turn Keeneland Polytrack stakes, Lewis Michael finished second to Silent Name, who might have turned in the best all-weather performance of the spring.

"Everything's real good with him at this point," trainer Wayne Catalano said this week. "I think he's ready to run as well as he can."

But, once again, will another horse do better? Maybe this time it's Purim, who by trainer Tom Proctor's own reckoning turned in a career-best performance when he finished third, beaten a half-length by Showing Up and three-quarters by Kip Deville, in the Grade 2 Maker's Mark Mile, also last month at Keeneland. Purim does have a Grade 3 win to his credit, but Proctor believes a significant victory on an all-weather track - which could be America's racing future - can only enhance a horse's chances at stud these days.

Proctor said Purim "seemed to train really good" on Keeneland's Polytrack, but the horse has yet to race on a synthetic surface. Purim, however, has run well on both turf and dirt, around one turn and two, and the racetrack alone shouldn't get him beat Saturday.

But the Hanshin, which drew a field of 11, doesn't end with the two likely favorites. Buddy Got Even beat Throng by a nose in the May 5 overnight-stakes prep for the Hanshin, while Fort Prado won the Illinois Owners Stakes the same day. An established graded stakes horse on turf, Fort Prado had yet to race on a synthetic surface, but more than held his own on dirt early in his career.

Star By Design, trained by Richard Hazelton, has won 4 of his last 6 races, earning a slot in the toughest race of his career. Connections is 2 for 2 on Polytrack, and worked a half-mile here in 45.60 seconds on May 18. High Expectations is one of the better Illinois-breds in training. And do not forget about Gouldings Green, who makes his first start since October. Second across the line in the last two Hanshins, Gouldings Green was placed first in the race last year via disqualification.