07/04/2003 11:00PM

Ballingarry snaps mini-slump


CHICAGO - Jockey Rene Douglas's hands began moving ever so slightly on the backstretch. By the half-mile pole, Douglas's movements had intensified, as he got into a rhythm with Ballingarry, the heavy favorite Saturday in the Grade 3 Stars and Stripes Handicap at Arlington.

The pace had been fairly slow, and Ballingarry is a horse who needs some urging. Douglas sensed that waiting patiently was no option, and by the quarter pole he basically had put Ballingarry into a drive. He was in full steam as a seam opened turning for home. Ballingarry hit the hole hard, shot through, and had enough momentum to hold clear Dr. Brendler, who rallied late to miss by a half-length.

Ballingarry, a standout on paper, paid just $3.20 for the first win of his 4-year-old season. Trainer Laura de Seroux had targeted the Stars and Stripes for Ballingarry, who had lost his first two starts this year after running seventh last fall in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Arlington. The $219,200 Stars and Stripes, de Seroux hoped, would match Ballingarry against inferior competition. A convincing win would set him on the path to a positive summer and fall campaign.

And that's just about what happened. "I knew this was a really good spot for the horse," de Seroux said in the winner's circle with part owner Sidney Port, a Chicagoan, looking on. "He's 4 now - he's big and strong, and he's got a big year in front of him."

Extra Check, off since last year, set the early lead in the 1 1/2-mile race, and reeled off a quarter-mile in 24.78 seconds, a half in 49.88, and three quarters in a manageable 1:15.26. North of Six remained close, while Private Son and Scooter Roach prompted at various times.

But all eyes were on Ballingarry, and when he attacked Extra Check turning for home, the leader had no answer. Dr. Brendler came between horses and made a race of it over the last half-furlong, but the outcome never was in much doubt, as Ballingarry finished in 2:28.30 over a course rated yielding. Jack's Own Time made a little late move to edge Extra Check for third.