07/21/2004 11:00PM

Ballingarry's new style fits well here

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - From top to bottom, Saturday's Arlington Handicap is a cut above recent editions of the race. Designed as a local prep for the Aug. 14 Arlington Million, it might really serve as one.

But there is one thing missing from Grade 3, $250,000 Handicap, and that is any semblance of pace.

Arlington's European-style turf course should showcase a European-style race: slow fractions, a bunched field, and a mad dash home.

The horse that best adapts will win - and that horse might be . He is, after all, a European himself. But when the Irish-bred Ballingarry first came to this country late in 2002, he was a long-distance galloper, a horse with an even pace that wore down the opposition over a mile and one-half. He has a new style now. In the Louisville Handicap on May 31, Ballingarry dropped back some 15 lengths, but came with a furious rally to finish third. He took no prisoners here July 4 in the Stars and Stripes Handicap, rating in fifth, then fourth, then third before Rene Douglas, his rider again Saturday, let Ballingarry roll to the lead on the far turn.

Ballingarry won the 1 1/2-mile Stars and Stripes by 1 3/4 lengths. When asked about a turn back to 1 1/4 miles this time, trainer

Laura de Seroux said: "I think he would have won at a mile and a quarter last time, wouldn't he?"

Ballingarry has won only twice in two calendar years, but de Seroux believes nagging physical problems that curtailed Ballingarry's development have been left behind.

Saturday, he will try to leave behind six rivals, the best-known of them Senor Swinger and Mystery Giver. Senor Swinger, who began his career with Arlington-based trainer Mickey Goldfine, struggled over the winter, but came to hand this spring, and won the Opening Verse Handicap over the classy Hard Buck on June 12. Three weeks later, he finished second but was disqualified to third in the Grade 2 Firecracker Breeders' Cup.

Another Arlington Handicap horse, On the Course, also ran in the Firecracker, and trainer Mike Stidham still is trying to figure out how On the Course dropped almost 20 lengths behind the early leaders.

"I have no idea, other than he wasn't handling the surface," Stidham said.

On the Course has positional speed, and this could be an excellent time to employ it. "We'll be lying in a forward spot this time," Stidham said. Mark Guidry, a two-time winner of the Handicap, is in to take the mount.

Grey Beard, Sharbayan, and Rowans Park complete the field.