05/31/2004 11:00PM

Capable despite class rise


CHICAGO - On the Course has handled about everything they've thrown at him so far. Two racing surfaces, three different racetracks - he has been there and done that. The only stumble so far was a much-better-than-average second-level allowance race April 3 at Keeneland. Even then On the Course finished a good third, and he easily cleared that allowance condition in his next race, this time at Hawthorne.

So yes, Thursday's featured eighth race at Arlington is the deepest, toughest spot On the Course has entered in his nascent career, but the horse has a good chance of handling this, too.

On the Course was one of nine horses entered in the Thursday feature, a third-level allowance with a $62,500 claiming option carded for about one mile on turf. On the Course, a late-starting 4-year-old by Spinning World, just made the races in February. He ran three times for his breeder, the Cobra Farm of Gary Bisantz, before being privately sold to the Chicago owner Barry Golden. Mike Stidham has remained his trainer throughout.

When On the Course debuted at Fair Grounds his race was switched from turf to dirt, and he won anyway, beating a moderately talented horse named Haitian Morality. On turf in an entry-level Fair Grounds allowance, On the Course found room in the final furlong and finished powerfully to win by a length. He was not quite ready for the more seasoned, talented pair of European and Halawellfin Hala in the Keeneland allowance, but both those horses are something at least close to stakes class, and On the Course missed by only a length. He then made short work of Hawthorne opposition, and here we are at Arlington.

This is an open allowance that feels like a statebred race, since five of the nine were bred in Illinois. Among them is Scooter Roach, resurgent this season with a statebred stakes win on dirt two starts ago and a close fourth in a higher-level Hawthorne turf allowance in his most recent start. Just Gossip hasn't raced since early March, but probably is ready for a solid effort, while longshot-inclined bettors should look carefully at a horse named Lacer.

Lacer has not raced since January, and has not won in a year, but that is nothing compared to stablemate Apalachee Special, who won his first race in five years last week. The trainer Charlie Livesay has a knack with long layoff horses, and Lacer's best race of last season was his first one.