07/03/2002 11:00PM

Cetewayo, forever

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CHICAGO - It's not true. Cetewayo was not around during the founding of the United States. The old man, however, will show up for Saturday's Stars and Stripes Breeders' Cup Handicap at Arlington.

And at age 8, Cetewayo, a Grade 1 winner earlier this season, clearly is the horse to beat in the Grade 3, $200,000-added Stars and Stripes.

Outside of Cetewayo, the race shapes up as a rerun of Churchill's June 1 Louisville Handicap. The first five finishers from that race - Two Point Two Mill, Pisces, Classic Par, Red Mountain, and Riddlesdown - join Cetewayo, Bahroba, Private Son, and Red Antics in the 12-furlong turf race.

It was December of 1996 when Cetewayo, bred and owned by Dr. John Chandler, began his strange journey, debuting in a $20,000 maiden-claimer. Late in 1997, after being switched to strictly turf, Cetewayo finally started showing ability, and at 4, he rose to the top of the East Coast turf division for trainer Michael Dickinson.

But during the next three years, Cetewayo started only seven times, winning twice. And after concluding last season in poor form, it seemed fair to suspect that at age 7, Cetewayo was finished.

One person who did not was Dickinson, who continued working to get his horse sound and happy. When he thought he had Cetewayo right this winter, Dickinson stuck the horse in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Handicap, where Cetewayo won by more then three lengths.

"This year, he's trained and raced as well as ever," Dickinson said.

Cetewayo, to be ridden Saturday by Rene Douglas, needs an honest pace. He has not gotten one in his last two starts, but won the June 8 Greenwood Cup at Philadelphia Park on class. The competition is better Saturday, and while there are two horses who could show speed, Red Antics and Private Son, only one, Riddlesdown, actually has raced on the lead recently.

Riddlesdown set a slow pace in the Louisville but wound up fifth. He was passed first by the 67-1 shot Two Point Two Mill, who went on to win the race but was disqualified to eighth, moving up Pisces and Classic Par, who dead-heated for second.

Of those two, Pisces, a Grade 2 winner, is the more proven, and he only recently has switched from middle to long distance turf racing. "If he's going to do it, he's going to have to do it at longer distances," said trainer Ken McPeek. "I don't think there's any reason he won't get 12 furlongs."

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