07/03/2008 12:00AM

Cloudy's Knight has tough act to follow - his own

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - What Cloudy's Knight accomplished as a racehorse last year, his seventh upon this earth, was remarkable. Before 2007 dawned, Cloudy's Knight never had won a graded stakes race of any sort, his best victories having come in little overnight turf stakes. But in a nine-race campaign, Cloudy's Knight won the Grade 3 Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup, and almost won the Grade 2 Mervin Muniz in New Orleans. Later on, he won a pair of Grade 2's at Woodbine before capturing the Grade 1 Canadian International there last September.

The question now is whether Cloudy's Knight has anything comparable waiting in his future. Cloudy's Knight, a massive chestnut specimen, didn't start after the Canadian International until May 31, when he finished eighth in the $119,000 Opening Verse at Churchill Downs, and though trainer Frank Kirby has remained bullish on Cloudy's Knight all along, it will be interesting to see if the 2007 version of the horse shows up in the $175,000 Stars and Stripes Handicap on Friday at Arlington.

To win the Stars and Stripes - in which Cloudy's Knight finished second last year - he had better, since Lattice will be waiting for him. Half Cloudy's Knight's age, Lattice comes into the Stars and Stripes off a win in the Louisville Handicap at Churchill Downs, Lattice's first start over 1 1/2 miles, the Stars and Stripes distance, and perhaps Cloudy's Knight's favorite.

"We were concerned about his first time going three turns, but he handled it great," said trainer Al Stall. "A lot of horses have a tendency to want to go on their own, and you have to have a horse that will turn off."

Lattice already has demonstrated his compatibility with the Arlington grass course, having taken the American Derby here last summer before injury sent him to the sidelines for several months. Lattice ran well in two defeats to start 2008, and may not have been at his peak even in the Louisville win.

"He's dead fit now," Stall said. "I know people bet on him last time, when he was 5-2, but that was a risky proposition."

With Robby Albarado riding Einstein in the Firecracker Handicap at Churchill on Saturday, Julien Leparoux picks up the mount on Lattice. Both Leparoux and Ramsey Zimmerman on Cloudy's Knight should find themselves behind a decent pace, provided the proven front-runners - Canela and A.P. Xcellent - both make the gate. Also in the race is 9-year-old Major Rhythm, who won the local prep for the Stars and Stripes, and scored a 35-1 upset in the Stars and Stripes itself back in 2006.