05/21/2003 12:00AM

Assistant's touch a tonic for Bright Valour

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - In trainer Louie Roussel's barn some horses find the fountain of youth.

During the last few winters in New Orleans, Roussel and owner Ronnie Lamarque have privately purchased older horses whose form had begun to droop. Not all of them panned out, but some sprang back to life. Intern was a 5-year-old without a win in more than a year when he came into Roussel's stable two winters ago. He quickly went on a four-race win streak ending in a stakes score. Zarb's Magic was 8, his career at its nadir, when Roussel took over his training. He then won 11 of his next 18.

And now comes Bright Valour, who turned 7 just before Lamarque and Roussel acquired him this past winter. Winless last year, Bright Valour started turning around at Fair Grounds and bloomed in Chicago. April 25 at Hawthorne, he won a high-end allowance race by more than eight lengths, and last Saturday at Arlington - in a performance no less striking - he beat a stakes-quality allowance field by a nose.

Two seasons ago here, Bright Valour won the Grade 3 Hanshin Handicap. That race comes up in five weeks, and Bright Valour might be back in it.

"When these horses leave their old barn, they're in a routine," Roussel said Wednesday from his home in New Orleans. "In my barn, it's different than anything they've ever seen. I mix a lot of jogging in. I don't do as much galloping. I don't think they need to do as much."

Much of Roussel's soft touch is applied by his assistant trainer, Lara Van Deren. Van Deren gallops many of the reclamation projects, and when she takes a special liking to one of them - like Bright Valour - their careers often take off.

"I like all the horses, but sometimes I get attached to one of them, especially if I start getting on them myself," Van Deren said.

Van Deren said Bright Valour was tough to gallop at first. "He was tilting his head to the right all the time. He seemed to be expecting to fight the rider."

Van Deren left Bright Valour's head alone, and the horse started to relax. Back in the barn, his chronically sore feet got extra attention from his groom, and Bright Valour went on a full-bore anti-ulcer program and began to improve his eating habits.

"It drives me crazy if they don't eat," Van Deren said.

Bright Valour "has put on some weight," Van Deren said. "He's pretty fat and dappled and happy right now."

Fit now, Bright Valour can continue on his less-is-more regime until his surprising return to the June 29 Hanshin.

"Some of them do well with this technique - some don't do that well," Roussel said.

This one is thriving.

Shandy starting to shine

Richard Hazelton already trains the leading older Illinois-bred sprinter, Classic Appeal, and in his barn he may also have the top statebred 3-year-old sprinter. Shandy scored a two-length victory Sunday in the $40,000 Hi Oak Silver Handicap, an overnight race for statebreds, and left in his wake was Wiggins, one of the state's top 2-year-olds last year.

Hazelton said both Shandy and Classic Appeal are scheduled to start in Illinois stakes races here June 21, though Classic Appeal, revitalized this year by off-season throat surgery, will have an allowance prep for his stakes start.

Shandy has flashed talent but has been troubled by inconsistency. Hazelton said Shandy has become timid at times when he races in tight spots, but he won Sunday from post 1, and Hazelton hopes Shandy will become more assertive with age.

"He had run well last year, but he threw in clunkers," Hazelton said. "I think he will turn out to be a pretty nice colt."

Five in feature

There are decent enough horses in the twilight feature on Friday at Arlington - there just aren't very many of them.

A field of five was entered in Friday's eighth race, a one-mile, fourth-level allowance with an $80,000 claiming option. Not only is the group small, there's very little separating the horses in ability.

Stormy Impact deserves a close look in the race, having tackled tough allowance horses this spring at Hawthorne. Twice, Stormy Impact ran into Fight for Ally, whose productive spring culminated with a win in the Grade 3 National Jockey Club Handicap. And most recently, Stormy Impact ran second to McMahon, also a stakes-level horse on his best day.