10/05/2004 11:00PM

Chatlos, Singletary have plenty at stake

Benoit & Associates
Singletary could be BC Mile-bound if he runs well in Saturday's Oak Tree BC Mile.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Trainer Don Chatlos Jr. is almost 40, but he once wore a Chicago Bears jersey on a day his colt Singletary won at Santa Anita. A football jersey is something a college student might wear, but Chatlos decided to wear the jersey in honor of his colt and the colt's namesake, Mike Singletary, the former Chicago Bears linebacker who played in Chatlos's hometown.

Saturday, the Bears jersey will stay in the closet. Chatlos promises to be a sharp dresser when Singletary starts in the $250,000 Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita.

"There's more tradition at Santa Anita than to wear something like that on a weekend," he said with a smile.

There is also a lot at stake Saturday for Chatlos and Singletary. A victory or a strong finish could earn Singletary a trip to the Breeders' Cup Mile at Lone Star Park Oct. 30.

"He's definitely got to punch his ticket," Chatlos said. "He has to keep his form like he did earlier this year. I'm not so much looking for a dazzling performance, I want that to come three weeks later, but I want him to take us there."

In a sport where long-range goals are often idle chatter, Singletary's goals have not veered from the schedule Chatlos and the Little Red Feather Racing ownership group set out at the beginning of the year.

After a successful 3-year-old campaign that included a win in the Grade 3 La Jolla Handicap at Del Mar and placings in three other stakes, Singletary's 2004 campaign has always been geared toward the Breeders' Cup Mile.

Earlier this year, Singletary made four starts, winning the Thunder Road Handicap at Santa Anita in February and the Grade 2 San Francisco Breeders' Cup Handicap at Bay Meadows in late April. Singletary was second in two important races: the Grade 2 Frank Kilroe Mile, losing by a half-length to Sweet Return, and the Grade 1 Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile, losing by 1 1/2 lengths to Designed for Luck.

After the Shoemaker Mile on May 31, Chatlos took Singletary out of training, realizing the risk involved of letting down a horse in top form. Despite missing several lucrative stakes in recent months, Chatlos has stood by his decision. He gave Singletary a five-month break from September 2003 until February of this year, so he knew the colt could return in good form from a layoff.

"It doesn't take much to get him back," Chatlos said. "This summer, I kept him here with me. I didn't send him back to the farm like I did last year. It's not like he lost that much training."

Chatlos, 38, is the son of the retired Chicago horseman Don Chatlos. He has lived in California since 1987, when he traveled west to attend San Diego State but quickly found himself back in the racetrack culture.

"Once I got a taste of racing out here, I couldn't stay away," he said.

Starting as a groom with Jude Feld, Chatlos worked his way up over the next decade. He worked for John Sadler in the early 1990's and then briefly trained on his own. But with only a few horses, Chatlos abandoned his plans and took a job as an assistant to Ron Ellis, an arrangement that lasted from 1997 to 2001.

"I learned so much in four years," he said. "Being around Ron - Mr. Patience - a lot of things he does, I didn't agree with. But you start winning, so I guess what he's saying is true."

Chatlos was ready to try training again in 2001 and had the backers to support his stable. "I did what I could do" with Ellis, he said. "I had people that could spend money to be competitive on this circuit. Luckily, Singletary came up right away or I wouldn't have been able to make it."

Chatlos said Singletary on Saturday must run as well as he did in the spring to consider a trip to Texas.

"He would have to be first or second to be realistic about that thing," he said. "The Little Red Feather guys are so on the same page. We're trying to temper everyone's excitement. We're trying to focus on the first step and not the ninth step. We're not trying to look at the Breeders' Cup just yet. Maybe Saturday night or Sunday we can do that."