05/27/2005 12:00AM

Best two in split stakes face hurdles

Rugula, who tried but failed as a longshot in the Kentucky Oaks, may switch to turf racing for her next start.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - It wasn't a difficult call for Arlington Park racing officials. Two stakes are better than one.

Twenty-one horses were entered in the Reluctant Guest, which became the Reluctant Guests when the one-mile overnight grass stakes for fillies and mares was split into two divisions, races 6 and 8 on Sunday's card here.

The best horse in each division has something to overcome. Native Annie, who starts in the sixth race, almost certainly is a better horse on dirt than turf, and will have to be at her best to win on grass. Humorous Miss, a good fourth in the Grade 3 Pucker Up on this course last season, goes in the second division, the one that lacks the pace Humorous Miss needs to set up her late kick. She might be superior enough to win anyway.

Native Annie is a Texas-bred, but a classy one. Bred and owned by the Stonerside Stable of Janice and Robert McNair, and trained by Mike Stidham, the 4-year-old Native Annie has banked more than $333,000 in a 15-start career. The filly's talent has taken her part of the way, good management the rest. But while Native Annie won a Texas-bred stakes on turf earlier this year, she would look even better Sunday if the Reluctant Guest were moved from grass to the main track.

The race should have a hot pace, but if Code of Ethics is willing to rate off of it, she has a good chance to win. Code of Ethics ran poorly three weeks ago at Churchill in her first start of the season, but was beaten only a neck by the top filly Shadow Cast in the Pago Hop last winter on the Fair Grounds turf, and was second to Humorous Miss here last season in an overnight grass stakes.

Humorous Miss hasn't started since Feb. 9, when she rallied for fifth in the Grade 3 Bayou Breeders' Cup at Fair Grounds, but she has run well after other layoffs, and has won half her six starts on the Arlington turf course. Ghostly Gate, third to Isola Piu Bella in the Sixty Sails at Hawthorne last month, is the one to beat if the eighth race is taken off turf.

Rugula works fast

Rugula took owners Al and Sandee Kirkwood and trainer Grant Forster to the Kentucky Oaks.

"It was great fun until about the quarter pole," Forster half-joked.

Rugula started backing up before she turned into the stretch, and though she faded to last of seven, she was beaten only 10 lengths by the winner, Summerly.

"It didn't look like the strongest Oaks, so we took our shot," Forster said.

On Thursday, Rugula got back to business, logging her first workout since the May 6 Oaks. It was a fast one, too, a half-mile in 46.80 seconds on a morning where the average half-mile work at Arlington went in just under 51 seconds.

"I'm out in Seattle, but my guys out there said she did it really easy," Forster said. "She went her first quarter in about 24 [seconds], and came home in 23 and galloped out strong."

Rugula, who was privately purchased over the winter, began her career at Arlington, where she impressively won her career debut about a year ago. And, she is likely to make her next start here.

"I'd like to find an allowance race on the grass, if not [then it's] the Double Delta on [June] 19th," Forster said. "We really want to giver her a shot on the grass. That would open up a lot of options for her."

Pretty Jenny beats elders

It was only a second-level, statebred-restricted allowance race, but Pretty Jenny showed Wednesday why she could be the best Illinois-bred 3-year-old of her generation. Facing older horses for the first time, and trapped along the rail while battling for the lead, Pretty Jenny fell about a half-length behind the high-quality filly Slewville at the top of the stretch in Wednesday's sixth race. What she was doing was waiting for jockey Chris Emigh to ask her to run. When he did, Pretty Jenny surged back to the front and won by a nose. Her time of 1:10.65 for six furlongs was strong for the class level.

"We felt like she just refused to lose," said trainer Christine Janks. "We were really proud of her."

Now Pretty Jenny is unbeaten in three races - including a Hawthorne stakes win in her second start - and all set for the Purple Violet Stakes on the June 25 Prairie State Festival card.

"We always thought she was going to be a good one, but sometimes you're wrong," Janks said. "From the very beginning, it was like she just knew what to do."

* Out of the gate quickly early last week, a proposal in the Illinois state legislature that would bring slot machines to racetracks in the state had lost some momentum by Thursday. Legislation to change the gaming landscape in Illinois reportedly was circulating in draft form, but no bill had yet been written. The legislative session will run at least through Tuesday.

* Because of Memorial Day racing Monday, Arlington is dark on Wednesday.