05/04/2004 11:00PM

On the Course joins Herculated as barn's rising turf stars

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STICKNEY, Ill. - Herculated, one of the more promising middle-distance turf horses around, has laid low since he narrowly missed winning the Grade 2, $500,000 Mervin Muniz Handicap at the end of the Fair Grounds meet. But it has not been idle time. While stabled at Keeneland with trainer Mike Stidham, Herculated breezed twice, and has worked once at Arlington, with another breeze scheduled this weekend. Then it is time to dust off the racing plates.

Stidham said Tuesday morning that Herculated will resurface May 15 at Pimlico, where he is penciled in to run in the Dixie Handicap at nine furlongs on grass. Many of his potential rivals raced last weekend in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on Kentucky Derby Day, and Herculated should be one of the favorites in the Grade 2 Dixie.

And now he has some competition in his own barn. Sunday at Hawthorne, On the Course, another Stidham-trained horse, made his first start since being purchased from Cobra Farm by owner Barry Golden of Chicago. Golden, Stidham, and assistant trainer Hilary Pridham had a nice run with the turf stakes horse Where's Taylor a few seasons ago, and On the Course appears to be a nice prospect. He won a second-level allowance race here by almost three lengths despite encountering traffic trouble, and now has won 3 of 4 races since launching his career last winter at Fair Grounds.

"Certainly, the way he ran the other day is a good indication," Stidham said. "The way the horse did it, and what he seemed to have left in the tank - all the things put together made it impressive."

Herculated, off much of last season because of a troublesome ankle, ripped through allowance conditions at Fair Grounds, and nearly won the Muniz in his first start against top-class grass horses. He was flattered, too, when Mystery Giver, who edged him in New Orleans, came back with a good third last weekend in the Woodford Reserve. You could say Herculated's long-term goal is the Arlington Million, but Stidham still wants validation of his colt's class.

"To me, this horse has to keep proving himself to make him worthy of considering a race like the Million," Stidham said.

Herculated will travel by van Tuesday from Arlington to Churchill, and fly on to Pimlico the next day. He could be joined by the 3-year-old filly Native Annie, who is possible for the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes.

Statebreds gaining stature

It has been a good spring for Johnathan and Synco Peach, Illinois-bred 4-year-olds who have risen through the statebred ranks and toppled open company. Johnathan won a third-level sprint allowance here Friday; Synco Peach scored at the same class level on Monday. Both horses have won three straight and are headed toward sprint stakes on June 26 at Arlington, Johnathan the White Oak for males, Synco Peach the Isaac Murphy for females.

"I was really proud of him," trainer Justin Johns, 24, said of Johnathan. "I never expected him to be this kind of horse. You always wonder going into open company. I was tickled to death with him."

Percy Scherbenske, Synco Peach's trainer, has slightly more stock than Johns, but horses as good as Synco Peach do not regularly come his way.

Synco Peach easily won her maiden last summer, but missed more than nine months because of injury.

"I couldn't ask for anything more of her," Scherbenske said Tuesday. "To be off and come back like this. Before, she had done things effortlessly. [Monday], she showed me she has heart."

Synco Peach gutted out a win less than two weeks after having won a statebred allowance race, but will get a month between starts now.

Scherbenske is targeting a stakes race at Canterbury Park in late May before sending Synco Peach to face the standout statebred sprinter Summer Mis at Arlington.

Nicole's Dream headed to Pimlico

Chicago-based turf-sprint specialist Nicole's Dream ran the best race of her career last Thursday, scoring a narrow victory in the Mamzelle Stakes at Churchill. Nicole's Dream ran hard to win, but has come out of the race in good physical condition and is scheduled to run again May 14 in a turf sprint at Pimlico, The Very One Stakes.

"She should be even better next time," trainer Larry Rivelli said. "She's doing super. She came out looking like a million bucks."

Defuhr appears formidable

Three second-level statebred allowance races - two of them on turf - highlight the Friday program here. The third is for Illinois-bred fillies and mares at one mile and 70 yards on dirt, and the race has a solid favorite in Defuhr, who showed sparks of talent last season, and turned in a strong performance here April 9 in her second start of the season. Breaking from post 11, a treacherous spot in a Hawthorne route race, Defuhr effortlessly made the lead before the first turn, and galloped to a nine-length victory.

The second-level statebred grass race drew sufficient entries to be split into two divisions, which go as races 5 and 8. The Ironworker would have a strong chance to win the first leg, but he is a need-the-lead type horse in a race filled with pace elements. The pick is Hidden Danger, whose late run will be effective if the pace is hot.

Chris Block trains Hidden Danger, and Block has another contender in the eighth, Explosive Green, who prepped for this grass start in a dirt race here April 18.

Persuaggle, a 3-year-old facing his elders, also merits a long look. Persuaggle has shown ability on the main track, and brings a turf-oriented pedigree into his grass debut.