05/13/2003 11:00PM

Catalano runs hot and cold


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Chicken one day, feathers the next. There's an antiquated backstretch saying for nearly every occasion, and this one illustrates the weekend the Wayne Catalano stable just had at Arlington.

Last Friday, Catalano and his sole owner, Frank Calabrese, won the first race of this meet with their only starter of the day, and Saturday they could do no wrong. Catalano and Calabrese had horses in four races and won three of them, with only Fight for Ally falling short in the Black Tie Affair Handicap.

Sunday, on a miserable day of squalling winds and rain, Catalano had a horse in five straight races, beginning with the second, and all of them appeared to be live. But when the mud had cleared only My Calabrese, a well-beaten second in the third race, had shown anything at all.

"I've always said it's just tough to win a race," said Catalano, leading trainer here two of the last three years. "Between the wind and the rain, and everybody else coming at you - it's tough. People will always say, 'Oh, you're a shoo-in there.' Huh-uh. Doesn't work that way. This is horse racing."

Even so, Catalano and Calabrese wound up with 4 wins from 10 starters in the first three days of racing here, a great start by about any measure except, perhaps, the standards Catalano himself has set at Arlington. And this week, it took all of one starter for the stable to get back on track: Agua Frio easily won Wednesday's third race.

"We're just going to keep getting horses and entering them where they can win," Catalano said.

And the way these people win, they can afford one lousy day.

Keep an eye on Fifteen Rounds

While My Calabrese put in the only decent run for Catalano on Sunday's card, he was no match for a colt named Fifteen Rounds, who pressed My Calabrese from the outset of a six-furlong allowance sprint and passed him easily in the stretch. Fifteen Rounds, ridden by Marlon St. Julien, wound up an easy 1 3/4-length winner after having won his debut by more than 10 lengths on April 1 at Hawthorne.

According to trainer Christine Janks, the performances are no fluke.

"He's really, really, really good," said Janks, who trains Fifteen Rounds for Emerald Ridge Farm. "He's never really extended himself yet. The jockey Sunday said he wasn't really handling the muddy track, but he ran over it anyway."

By Fit to Fight out of a Fast Play mare named Star of the Dance, Fifteen Rounds is one of those moderately pedigreed horses gifted with unusual talent.

"From the get-go he has been extremely well mannered, very professional," Janks said. "He does everything with the greatest of ease. This is the best horse I've had in 20 years."

Janks said she's not sure when Fifteen Rounds will start next, but hinted that after two sprints the colt now will get a chance at longer distances.

'Pepper' returns to sprinting

In the first six starts of her career, Pass the Pepper had never run poorly, winning four times with a second and a third. Her race March 29 in the $100,000 Lady Hallie Handicap at Hawthorne wasn't bad, either. It was abysmal.

It also should quickly be forgotten by handicappers seeking insight into Arlington's featured race Friday. Pass the Pepper finished last by more than 30 lengths in the Lady Hallie, but the race marked both her stakes and two-turn debut, and after a wicked early speed duel, Pass the Pepper simply ran out of gas and was eased to the finish.

"What happened in the Lady Hallie isn't a true measure of her," said trainer Michelle Boyce. "I was worried about her right after the race. She was extremely tired. A groom was staying with her, and about 8 that night she jumped up and ate her dinner, and she has been fine ever since."

Boyce still thinks Pass the Pepper might successfully travel a route of ground if she gets the right pace setup, but Friday she returns to a sprint, and around one turn she has been virtually unbeatable. Pass the Pepper won the first three starts of her career, and after tailing off at the end of last year, returned March 4 with a powerful allowance win in her 2003 debut.

Pass the Pepper has five rivals in Friday's six-furlong race, but now that she has gotten her bad race out of the way, they're in trouble.

* Tuesday's Illinois Racing Board meeting, the first under new chairwoman Lorna Propes, didn't produce news of great significance. The IRB did approve new offtrack betting parlors in Mokena and McHenry.