08/21/2005 11:00PM

Brazil champ just part of dandy card


CHICAGO - Out of nowhere Wednesday comes the best weekday card of the Arlington Park meet. Some good-looking maidens, above-average Illinois-breds, and even an appearance by a champion.

Durban Thunder makes his first start in the United States on Wednesday in a five-furlong grass race for third-level allowance horses or $62,500 claimers. A claimer Durban Thunder is not. Last year he was named champion juvenile in Brazil after compiling a perfect 3-for-3 record. In Brazil's top 2-year-old race, the Grande Premio J. Adhemar de Almeida Prado, Durban Thunder faced 13 rivals and won by six lengths.

The former trainer Ken McPeek, who makes regular South American horse-hunting trips, took over Durban Thunder's training this year, and sent him to the United Arab Emirates Derby in Dubai. A grass horse in Brazil, Durban Thunder could contend in the UAE Derby if he handled dirt, McPeek was quoted as saying before the race, but apparently Durban Thunder did not. After briefly making the lead, he faded to eighth, beaten more than 30 lengths.

McPeek has become a bloodstock agent now, and his former assistant Helen Pitts trains Durban Thunder, who shows steady workouts dating to mid-July at Churchill Downs. Back on grass, and in a race lacking star power, Durban Thunder should start the U.S. phase of his career with a victory.

But this is not even Wednesday's highest-class race. That distinction goes to race 4, a money allowance with a $100,000 claiming option for fillies and mares at one mile on turf. The race drew an excellent field of eight, including Rue des Reves, a seven-time winner this season alone. Racing for the Louisiana-based trainer Dwight Viator, Rue des Reves won her first seven starts of the season before a seventh-place finish July 16 at Ellis Park. Rue des Reves - now in the care of trainer Michael Baird - is in deep again Wednesday.

Rue des Reves has the rail, and just outside her is Chic Dancer, a three-time turf winner this meet. Chic Dancer has a strong galloping pace and a powerful finishing kick, but can't afford to battle on the lead with Code of Ethics or Vitamin Bag. Waiting to pounce will be Atlantic Frost, beaten just more than four lengths last out in the 1 3/16- mile Modesty Handicap.

"We were very pleased with her last race," trainer Mickey Goldfine said. "We knew all along there was a question of the distance, and if you look at the charts, if the race is a mile and a sixteenth, we're right there."