08/03/2004 12:00AM

Calabrese, Cuccurullo split


CHICAGO - Long rumored, the split between the owner Frank Calabrese and trainer Pat Cuccurullo has been made official. The bulk of Calabrese's horses were transferred this week from Cuccurullo to Jodie Sinclair, who trained in Chicago between 1989 and 1996. Sinclair's first starter for Calabrese will be a mare named Famula, who starts Thursday in the sixth race.

The Calabrese-Cuccurullo association, while fruitful, has been fraying all summer. The two have clashed several times over various issues, and finally parted company this week.

"I'm going on vacation for a little bit," Cuccurullo said Tuesday morning. "I really don't have any comment on the situation at this point."

Calabrese, the perennial leading owner at Chicago Thoroughbred meets, hired Cuccurullo last summer at Arlington. At the time, Wayne Catalano was Calabrese's main man, and Catalano cruised to a training title at the 2003 meet. Hiring Cuccurullo, however, gave the win-crazy Calabrese more stalls and more runners - and, eventually, a backup.

When Calabrese and Catalano parted ways last winter, Cuccurullo stepped in and took over. He won the training title this past spring at the National Jockey Club at Hawthorne meet, less than a year after his stable had been reduced to a handful of horses, leaving Cuccurullo with an uncertain future.

Cuccurullo's success carried over to the first six weeks of the Arlington meet, but then came spell of losing, and with it tension in the operation. Still, even after a quiet July, Cala-brese was the leading owner here, and Cuccurullo second in the trainer standings with 20 wins, two fewer than Frank Kirby.

Sinclair is a surprising replacement, if only because he has not even been a head trainer in years. When he was hired, Sinclair was serving as a Canterbury Park-based assistant to the Chicago trainer Joel Berndt. He also has worked as a jockey's agent.

"I was called about the job," Sinclair said. "I had an interview, and I got it."

Sinclair said he had 32 horses for Calabrese, and called his position "the opportunity of a lifetime for me."

Straight Line a good prospect

Each summer at Arlington, the Harvey Vanier barn brings out at least a couple of decent Illinois-bred 2-year-olds. Straight Line, however, is a Kentucky-bred, and he appears to be much better than decent.

Sunday, Straight Line ran his record to 2 for 2, winning the $50,000 Honest Pleasure by 1 1/2 lengths over Toliver. The favored Toliver had impressively won his maiden at Churchill in his career debut, while the third-place finisher Sunday, Smoke Smoke Smoke, was coming off a win in the $40,000 Canterbury Juvenile. If the horses behind him gave Straight Line's performance legitimacy, so did his time, a strong 1:04.65 for 5 1/2 furlongs.

"He's doing everything right so far," said Brian Williamson, Vanier's son-in-law and the barn's de facto manager.

Nancy Vanier, Harvey's wife, co-owns Straight Line with a small partnership headed by Bill Cartwright. Nancy, Williamson said, picked Straight Line out of Keeneland's 2003 September yearling sale, and he was purchased for only $15,000. The price looks like a bargain based on Straight Line's two wins - and the fact some offered a quarter-million dollars for him this week.

Whether Straight Line will be sold is uncertain, but Williamson said, "The guys in the partnership, they're not doing this as a business thing."

Straight Line had shown only modest potential in his workouts earlier this summer, and the original plan was to run him first out in a $35,000 claimer. The claiming price was bumped to $50,000 after a strong gate work, and now the one time claimer is headed to open stakes company. There is nothing here for Straight Line until the Sept. 19 Arlington-Washington Futurity, and Williamson said Straight Line is being considered for the Ellis Park Juvenile later this month.

Nothing definite for Eye of the Tiger

Eye of the Tiger, who won the Grade 2 Washington Park Handicap here last Saturday, has returned to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin's barn at Saratoga.

"He's back and he seems great," McLaughlin said Tuesday.

McLaughlin said it's too soon to commit Eye of the Tiger to a schedule, and how the horse bounces back from his gritty win will determine his next start. If Eye of the Tiger comes around quickly, he could run in the Saratoga Breeders' Cup or the Iselin at Monmouth later this month.

Cilio scholarship set up

The owner Mike Panitch has established a memorial scholarship in the name of Gene Cilio at The Chicago Lighthouse, a charitable organization helping people who are blind and visually impaired.

Cilio, a longtime Chicago horseman, died last fall.

Panitch is a significant contributor to The Lighthouse, and several of his horses - including the stakes winner Lighthouse Lil - bear the organization's name.