06/06/2005 11:00PM

Apalachian Thunder tough despite layoff


Apalachian Thunder last raced at Prairie Meadows when finishing fifth in the Iowa Sprint Handicap last July 4. He has since trained at Hollywood Park and Churchill Downs, and on Thursday he will resurface at Arlington Park.

All the moving around probably will prove worth the trouble when Apalachian Thunder goes off as the favorite in the Thursday feature, a $31,000 allowance with a $50,000 claiming option. The six-furlong event occupies the customary eighth-race feature spot at the Arlington Heights, Ill., track.

Owned by Don Dizney and trained by Bob Baffert, , 5, has raced only three times since April 2003, and although that sporadic record is cause for concern among horseplayers, it does not overshadow some of his more impressive lifetime efforts, including strong back-to-back efforts last spring at Churchill following a lengthy layoff.

So assuming he will return sharp and fit, Apalachian Thunder certainly would seem to have an edge against his seven rivals, all of whom, curiously, are entered for the claiming tag. Apalachian Thunder, with Shaun Bridgmohan to ride, is the only horse entered under a three-other-than allowance restriction.

First post for the nine-race card is 1 p.m.

Straight Line bound for Iowa or Ohio derby

Straight Line, a four-length winner of a Saturday allowance under Chris Emigh, will run next in the July 1 Iowa Derby or July 2 Ohio Derby, said Brian Williamson, assistant to Straight Line's trainer, Harvey Vanier.

, winner of the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes last fall at Churchill Downs, was making his first start since suffering a 41-length defeat in early March at Gulfstream Park.

"Chris said the horse did it pretty easy Saturday," said Williamson. "We were thrilled with the way he came back. Ever since I got him back here in Chicago, he's been looking good and training good."

Williamson said a hock ailment that had plagued Straight Line over the winter is no longer an issue. "To the untrained eye, you couldn't tell a thing was wrong," he said.

McPeek mulls spot for Exceptional Ride

Trainer Ken McPeek said he has "plenty of options" with Exceptional Ride, who won the Awad Stakes as the favorite Saturday. McPeek said the next race for Exceptional Ride, by Chester House, could be the June 18 Jefferson Cup at Churchill Downs, the June 25 Colonial Turf Cup, or the July 2 Arlington Classic.

"The Jefferson Cup might be coming back a little quick, but we'll see how he does once he gets back to the track," McPeek said.