10/12/2002 12:00AM

Big heart Mckinney faces big test


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - If Monday's Sweetest Chant Stakes at Arlington comes down to heart, just give the race to Mckinney right now.

Mckinney is a throwback, a filly trainer Steve Asmussen can send out to the racetrack every couple weeks - at a sprint distance or a route, on turf or dirt - and know she will give her best. In 24 starts the last two seasons, Mckinney has won 11 times for owner Nelson Bunker Hunt at distances as short as six furlongs and as long as

1 1/16 miles.

Monday, however, her class will be put to the test when Mckinney faces six rivals in the $45,000 Sweetest Chance, a 1 1/8-mile overnight race for fillies and mares. Chief among her rivals are Sharky's Review, another prolific winner; Becky Virtue, coming off a layoff; and Softly, fourth and third in a pair of Grade 3's in her last two starts.

At this 1 1/8-mile distance, Mckinney should find herself stalking the pace of Becky Virtue and Pretty Gale. In her last start, a high-end seven-furlong allowance race here Sept. 15, Mckinney managed only a fourth-place finish, but was compromised by a slow break from an inside post, and had little in the way of pace to chase.

Becky Virtue hasn't seen action since she finished last in the Sixty Sails Handicap at the now-defunct Sportsman's Park, but had won four straight before that and is a winner on the Arlington surface. Trainer Mike Stidham, having a solid Arlington meet, does excellent work with layoff horses.

Softly had a four-race win streak of her own earlier this year, but may have been in a bit tough her last two starts, the Gardenia at Ellis Park and the Turfway Park Breeders' Cup a month ago. She was close at Ellis, but lost to the Turfway-loving Trip by 16 lengths in her last start.

Sharkey's Review, an Iowa-bred, has done her best in statebred company, but also has been competitive in open races at Prairie Meadows this summer and fall.

Whywhywhy works five in 59.60

Whywhywhy, who will be among the favorites in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, had his second-to-last work for the race Saturday, breezing five furlongs in a bullet 59.60 seconds for trainer Patrick Biancone.

"Patrick was very pleased with the work," said Biancone's assistant Yan Durepaire. "The colt wasn't even breathing hard when he got back to the barn."

o Arlington outrider Conrad Rountree died early Saturday morning after suffering a heart attack at Arlington on Friday afternoon. Rountree, 64, also had been a trainer and farrier during a long career in the horse industry.