09/12/2002 12:00AM

Blinkers mean business


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - There's Zealous is a monster of a horse, standing close to 17 hands tall, but the signs trainer Paul McGee began picking up this summer were small and subtle.

There's Zealous wasn't digging in when it counted most in his races. He would come up to horses but not quite go past, or let others go by him in the stretch even when he still had a little something left.

McGee outfitted There's Zealous with a set of blinkers in July, and in two starts since then he has become one of the most exciting horses in the Midwest. He smoked a good allowance field in late July at Churchill, and on Aug. 17 at Arlington Park he won a tough overnight handicap by six lengths, running a mile in 1:33.60, the best mile time at Arlington this summer, which earned him a Beyer Speed Figure of 115.

"He's been a nice horse all along," McGee said. "He's run good against real good horses and not quite been able to beat them."

McGee thinks he can now, and There's Zealous will get a chance to prove it in the Kentucky Cup Classic, the best field he has been in, while racing two turns on dirt for the first time in his career.

At first, There's Zealous wore his blinkers even during routine gallops. But now that he has responded to the equipment, McGee has kept the blinkers off in the morning. McGee wants There's Zealous to understand that when his blinkers go on, it's time for business.

"I want him to associate them with race day," McGee said. "It definitely plays into the mental aspect of things, focusing and getting ready to run."

Meanwhile, McGee has focused on keeping There's Zealous relaxed when he races, the ticket to his staying the 1 1/8 miles of the Kentucky Cup Classic. "If we're on the lead, fine, but I don't think he has to be on the lead," said McGee. "The key is him relaxing, and that's what Kent [Desormeaux] said he did so well at Arlington."

There's Zealous, a 4-year-old gelded son of Broad Brush, has had a couple of long two-mile gallops, going slowly the first mile and picking up the pace the second time around. That's also the type of workout he had Sept. 9, when There's Zealous went five furlongs in 1:01.40 but sped his last quarter-mile in about 23 seconds, McGee said.

"He's always been a real sound horse, which has helped," McGee said. "He's better than he's ever been now, and I think this is a good spot for him."

A sprinter for much of his career, There's Zealous was a betting interest in the last future pool for the Breeders' Cup Sprint. That was flattering, McGee said, but with a good race Saturday other plans may be in the works.

"I kind of hoped he'd pop up in the pool for the Breeders' Cup Classic," said McGee.