10/05/2005 12:00AM

BC Mile: Chatlos's season condensed into three weeks


March 24, April 9, and Aug. 13. Those are the days the trainer Don Chatlos Jr. won his three races in 2005. But the year is not a loss. The year, in fact, is really just beginning.

Singletary, Chatlos's lifeline since he went out on his own as a head trainer, makes his first start in 10 weeks on Saturday in the Oak Tree Mile at Santa Anita. A strong showing, and Singletary will be back in the Breeders' Cup, trying to join Lure and Miesque as the only horses to win consecutive editions of the Mile.

Chatlos, 39, is not sweating his 3-for-37 record. Nagging physical problems with several horses in his small string - currently 14 strong - have blown a hole in the season.

"When you have as few horses as I do, you can't afford to get two or three hurt," Chatlos said. "That's 25 percent of your stable."

Chatlos failed to stick in his first try as his own boss, in the mid-1990's. "The first time around, it was like a nightmare," he said. "Coming back hasn't been easy, either, but you see, I'm comparing it to the first time, and that was hell."

Chatlos, a transplanted Chicagoan, takes pride in his management of Singletary. But the general school of thought says Singletary is not the same horse as he was this time last year, when he finished an onrushing third in the Oak Tree Mile, and three weeks later won the BC Mile by a half-length. Singletary has raced only four times this year, his only win having come April 9 in the Arcadia Handicap. He was seventh in his first start of the year, the March 5 Kilroe Mile, a well-beaten fourth as the favorite in the May 30 Shoemaker Mile, and he wore front bandages when he faded to third in his most recent race, the July 24 Eddie Read at Del Mar.

And still, Chatlos insists, "So far, everything has been the way we wanted.

"Obviously, some of the races out here we would've liked to win. The Kilroe or the Shoemaker. The Eddie Read, at a mile and an eighth, we were going in there just hoping to run good. We hooked Leroidesanimaux, and Castledale ran the race of his life when he beat us."

Singletary has bad feet - "He pounds his heels down to nothing, they're like flat," Chatlos said - but thick-heeled shoes and the end of a wet California winter helped the horse along. The front wraps in the Eddie Read, Chatlos said, were simply a hedge against a very firm turf course. After that race, Chatlos wanted to give Singletary a short break and get in five works before the Oak Tree Mile. And Singletary has obliged, working every six days since Sept. 8, including bullet six-furlong dirt moves Sept. 26 and Oct. 2.

"We've got our training chart marked, and it's like he's been following the chart himself, training himself," Chatlos said. "The last two works, I couldn't have asked for more. This last work, they don't ever give breezing out here, but if any work was ever breezing, that was it. My rider was standing straight up, and he was galloping out as strong as he started the work."

Now comes the real test, Saturday's race. A somewhat short field is expected for the Oak Tree Mile, with Buckland Manor, Designed for Luck, and We All Love Aleyna the top contenders. Chatlos expects a strong performance, and isn't thinking of the start strictly as a prep.

"I think he can run a hard race this time and come back three weeks later and run huge," Chatlos said.

And if he doesn't, Chatlos is ready for that, too. "I don't really feel any pressure with him," he said. "For anyone to be disappointed now, that'd ruin it. No matter what happens in the next two races, you got to be proud of this horse. If he doesn't win the Breeders Cup again, it's not a failure. All these horses getting hyped up, they're all trying to accomplish what we've already done."

* The other major Mile prep this weekend, the Shadwell at Keeneland, could produce several Breeders' Cup starters. The ones to watch are the Aidan O'Brien-trained shipper Ad Valorem, Alinghi, Three Valleys, Cool Conductor, and outsiders Durban Thunder and Vanderlin.

* The top two finishers in Sunday's Kelso Handicap, Funfair and Artie Schiller, are expected to run back in the Mile.

Mile Contenders
3-year-olds & up, 1 mile (turf). Purse: $1.5 million.

1DubawiS. bin Suroor9-2
By all accounts, he got a bad ride when second in QE II at Newmarket
2LeroidesanimauxR. Frankel3-1
More dominating than ever in Atto Mile for 8th straight win; a monster
3StarcraftL. Cumani5-1
Connections mentioned the Classic after he won QE II; this more likely
4Three ValleysR. Frankel8-1
Liked his DMR B.C. Handicap win; major player in Saturday's Shadwell
5RaktiM. Jarvis8-1
Dull fourth in the QE II has his connections reconsidering this race
6ValixirA. Fabre6-1
May have tailed off after being Europe's best miler early in the season
7Artie SchillerJ. Jerkens8-1
Involved in close finishes in his last four; not the best habit to develop
8FunfairH. G. Motion12-1
Nailed Artie Schiller in the Kelso with better trip; 3 for 3 in this country
9SingletaryD. Chatlos Jr.15-1
Last year's Mile winner gets his prep in Saturday's Oak Tree B.C. Mile
10WhipperR. Collet20-1
Close 10th in this last year; his Timeform ratings are better this year
The top 10 contenders for each of the eight Breeders' Cup races are ranked by Mike Watchmaker, who set the odds and wrote the comments. Actual Breeders' Cup fields will have up to 14 starters.