07/26/2001 12:00AM

Class drop could boost Polaire in Modesty

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Trainer Donald Burke shipped Falcon Flight here earlier in the month, and the horse responded with a sharp win in the Stars and Stripes Handicap. On Saturday, Burke hopes to be watching Polaire follow in Falcon Flight's footsteps when the mare starts in the Grade 3 Modesty Handicap at Arlington.

Like Falcon Flight, Polaire has faced the best California turf horses in many of her recent starts. Her last race was the Grade 1 Beverly Hills Handicap, in which she finished fourth behind Astra, Happyanunoit, and Kalypso Katie. The class drop that worked for Falcon Flight may also help Polaire. "We'd hoped she'd run a little better in the Beverly Hills," Burke said. "We decided it was time she ought to be in a spot where she wouldn't have to face all the heavy heads."

Burke passed on Saturday's Arlington Handicap with Falcon Flight, who will run next in the Del Mar Handicap, which is a furlong longer than the Arlington race. "He looks like a horse right now who'd want to do 1 1/2 miles," Burke said.

Burke trains Polaire for Gary Tanaka, who owns five of the six horses he trains from his Southern California base. Burke, 35, took over the Tanaka horses in late February after trainer Ben Cecil gave them up. The position with Tanaka is Burke's first job as a head trainer. He has worked for Charlie Whittingham, for whom he groomed horses for five years, and Dick Lundy, who saddles Badouizm in the Modesty.

More than cute talk at Mitchell barn

Chicago's first 2-year-old allowance race of the season was run Wednesday, and a filly from Cleveland won. The Thistledown-based Desert Sage shipped in and whipped At the Copa, the most impressive 2-year-old winner so far at Arlington, by more than two lengths.

The upset shouldn't have surprised close followers of the Ohio circuit, since Desert Sage is trained by Anne Mitchell. The filly's win was Mitchell's eighth from 16 starters this year. Mitchell, 47, trains seven horses - six of them owned by Helen Andrews, including Desert Sage - at Thistledown with help from her boyfriend. They gallop them, they groom them, they feed them, and they ship them themselves. "We got off the truck at 3:30 this morning," Mitchell said on Thursday. "Sagey was fine. She wanted her breakfast."

It's not just cute talk. Mitchell is attuned to the needs and personalities of her short string of horses. They're treated as individual personalities, and they only race when they're at a physical peak. "I don't run them very often," Mitchell said. "Only when they're ready to sparkle."

Not every trainer has that luxury, but Andrews, Mitchell's owner, doesn't treat racing with a cold business eye. "To Helen, the priority is the beauty of the sport," Mitchell said. Andrews, Mitchell added, also is a successful commercial breeder who routinely sells six-figure horses at auction.

Mitchell met Andrews when Andrews asked her to come to her farm and help break a yearling. That job went so well that Andrews gave Mitchell a horse to train, which launched this phase of her career. Mitchell, a Cincinnati native who started riding when she was 3 and has worked in the business since she was 15, trained some lower-class horses in the mid-1980's. "It was my first introduction to cheap horses," said Mitchell, who has galloped and broken young horses in Aiken, S.C., for years, and once worked for Dick Duchossois. "I was slaving and slaving before I realized it wasn't my fault they felt like tricycles with a broken wheel."

Desert Sage, by Salt Lake, was not cheap -- Andrews bought her for $75,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale. She won her debut at Thistledown June 22 by five lengths and Mitchell said she "is wonderfully talented." Since Mitchell likes her horses to have ample time between starts, Desert Sage is unlikely to start again until the Sept. 1 Top Flight Stakes here.

Small break for Fan Club's Mister

Trainer Rickey Harris, fresh off one of the biggest wins of her career with Fan Club's Mister in the Grade 2 American Derby, is on vacation in Oregon this week. Fan Club's Mister, Harris said, is getting his own vacation.

"He's just walking now," Harris said Wednesday. "He came out of the race beautifully. I like to let them walk and play around for several days after they run."

Harris said she wasn't likely to decide whether Fan Club's Mister would start in the Grade 1 Secretariat Aug. 18 until after the colt worked about a week before the race. "He did come back good," she said. "We're going to attempt to point for it."