06/03/2003 11:00PM

Awesome Humor tries route

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - The Grade 1 Acorn was a no, a Churchill allowance race didn't go, and so Awesome Humor has wound up at Arlington for the second start of her 3-year-old season.

Awesome Humor, based at Churchill Downs with trainer Elliott Walden, snuck quietly Wednesday into a money allowance race carded for Friday at Arlington. The race marks Awesome Humor's first start at two turns and offers her a chance to rebound from a 14-length loss in her first start of the year May 14.

As a 2-year-old Awesome Humor won all four of her starts. She won three graded stakes races, including the Grade 1 Spinaway. After her Grade 1 win, Awesome Humor went down with an ankle injury that required season-ending surgery. Awesome Humor made her return to racing last month, but broke awkwardly and was never a factor in a fourth-place finish.

"Very disappointed," trainer Elliott Walden said of that race. "She got away bad, and she got some dirt thrown in her face, which she never had. Until I run her back, I'm going to think that's what happened. Now, she did have ankle surgery, so there's that to think about, but she's been training great. She had a work last Sunday that was exceptional."

Walden felt last season that Awesome Humor could stretch her plentiful speed around two turns, a feeling that has grown stronger this season since Awesome Humor, like the Triple Crown hopeful Funny Cide, is by the young stallion Distorted Humor.

"She got seven-eighths as a 2-year-old, and usually that means they can go two turns," Walden said.

Awesome Humor's first route test will be at nine furlongs, and she is likely to be sent for the lead under rider Rene Douglas from post 1. There are other speed horses in the race, including Balla Twine, who is likely to try for the front following a sprint-prep race here May 16.

Business as usual for Vanier

Harvey Vanier turns 80 in 10 months, but very little has changed in the last several decades of his life - barn in the morning, races in the afternoon. At Arlington alone, Vanier has won 677 races.

And Vanier is in line for another in Friday's seventh race, a second-level allowance for fillies and mares in which Beret makes her seasonal debut. Owned by members of Vanier's family, Beret is one of the brighter stars in the Vanier barn, and though she hasn't raced in seven months Beret is the horse to beat in this turf race at about one mile.

There has been one recent change in the Vanier operation - his son-in-law and longtime assistant, Brian Williamson, started horses in his name at Hawthorne this spring. And it was there Beret did most of the work getting ready for this start.

"We ran out of grass racing last year, so we decided to give her a nice break," Williamson said Wednesday. "She's doing good, breezing good. She's just about as fit as a horse can be without racing. I think she could win first time back."

Beret definitely fits on talent. In four grass races she's won twice and finished second twice, with both losses coming by narrow margins. Racing over this course last October, she dropped a neck decision to Attico, a talented turf filly who recently finished third in an overnight stakes race here.

Pass the Pepper works swiftly

Pass the Pepper, an impressive winner of an allowance race here opening week, worked a very sharp half-mile in 47.20 seconds Monday. The workout was the fastest of 40 moves at the distance.

"It looked like she was going in 50 [seconds], she was doing it so easily," Boyce said.

Pass the Pepper would be a candidate for the Grade 3 Chicago Breeders' Cup here next weekend, but Boyce said her filly isn't Breeders' Cup eligible and thus ineligible for $50,000 of that race's $150,000 purse. A logical alternative to that spot is the $100,000 Saylorville Stakes June 28 at Prairie Meadows.