09/12/2004 11:00PM

'Coach Jimi' in first start since clunker

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CHICAGO - Excuse-making is a cottage industry in Thoroughbred racing. The trainer Jim DiVito isn't even going there. Coach Jimi Lee simply threw in a clunker Aug. 28 at Arlington. He finished fifth, beaten 13 lengths in the Arlington Sprint, a race that on paper he seemed to fit.

"Why'd he run like that? That's a good question," DiVito said. "I can't really come up with the reason."

Blood tests turned up negative. came back to the barn after the debacle, and a couple hours later gobbled his dinner. He never showed signs of pain, and DiVito let him breeze just eight days after the bad race.

"I guess the only way to really find out is to run him," said DiVito.

And that is exactly what DiVito intends to do. Coach Jimi Lee is one of seven horses entered in the $42,000 Dr. Fager, a 7 1/2-furlong overnight stakes featured on a strong Wednesday program at Arlington.

If DiVito was looking for a sweetheart spot to get his horse back on track, he didn't find it. The Dr. Fager looks more like a lower-end Grade 3 than a mid-week overnight race.

deserves to be the favorite, though he has failed to win in four starts this year. Apt to Be finished a good second to Crafty Shaw in the Grade 3 Hanshin Cup, but has had little luck since. Foot problems took him out of training early this summer, and two races since his comeback have produced second-place finishes. Both times, Apt to Be wound up on the inside part of a track that favored outside paths.

In his last start he was passed late by returning rival Silver Zipper, like Apt to Be a 7-year-old clinging tight to top form. Silver Zipper, from the Hugh Robertson barn, has made 19 starts at Arlington, finishing in the top three in 15 of them.

, winner of the $100,000 Omaha Handicap on July 18, makes his first start in six weeks for leading trainer Frank Kirby. Arbitrate comes off a career-best performance here three weeks ago, while Discreet Hero was second last out in a $75,000 Mountaineer Park stakes, and Intrinsic Worth exits a $52,000 stakes in which he lost all chance at the start.

But Coach Jimi Lee on his best day might be faster than these horses, and he ran a powerful seven furlongs here last summer.

"At Turfway last year he did the same thing once," DiVito said. "He came out of the gate and just stood there. And then he came back the next time and ran a big race."