07/19/2006 11:00PM

De Seroux in pair of stakes

Reed Palmer Photography
Rush Bay (right), outdueling Purim in the Opening Verse, is a top contender in Saturday's Arlington Handicap.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Laura de Seroux trains horses in California, but she has been a regular player in Arlington Park turf stakes races the last four years. This week, she sent three horses for two of the graded stakes on Arlington's Saturday program: Artiste Royal starts in the Grade 3, $200,000 Arlington Handicap, and Royal Copenhagen and Round Heels start in the Grade 3, $150,000 Modesty.

Artiste Royal won't be favored, but he is one of the big three in the six-horse Arlington Handicap, a local prep for the Arlington Million. Red Fort, in from California for trainer Neil Drysdale, may take slightly more betting action than Rush Bay, and de Seroux said she thinks Artiste Royal stacks up against Red Fort.

"I don't think there's much separating them," she said.

Lightly raced at age 6, Red Fort had a strong, if brief, 2005 campaign, narrowly missing a Grade 1 win in the Whittingham Handicap. Away from the races the better part of a year, Red Fort hasn't yet run back to that form this season. He finished fourth, a nose and a head behind Artiste Royal, in the April 29 Inglewood, and third, three-quarters of a length ahead of Artiste Royale, in this year's Whittingham.

Artiste Royal was wrestled back from the lead in the June 10 Whittingham, and Lava Man, the eventual winner, set a dawdling pace. De Seroux said Artiste Royal wouldn't be ridden the same way Saturday if, as appears likely on paper, there is no real pace in the Arlington Handicap, either. "He's a galloper," she said. "He can be up closer."

Rush Bay, who may have more upside than the two Californians, could wind up on the lead by default. He contested a slow pace in his last two starts, both wins at Churchill Downs, and "can be placed wherever the pace suggests he needs to be placed," said trainer Tom Amoss.

"The idea is to teach him to relax, but we'll take the lead if it's there," Amoss said.

De Seroux believes there is more pace in the Modesty, which at 1 3/16 miles is a half-furlong shorter than the Arlington Handicap. That would suit Royal Copenhagen, who has lost four races in a row since winning the Pucker Up on this course last September. Two of those losses came at nine furlongs, another two at a mile, and de Seroux thinks a longer distance Saturday, plus the wider turns of the Arlington grass course, suit her filly.

"The mile races [in California], the turf courses are just too sharp for her," said de Seroux. "She doesn't run a bad race, but those are her poorer races."

Round Heels, coupled with Royal Copenhagen because Arlington chairman Dick Duchossois owns both horses, has some tactical speed, but the real pace in the Modesty looks like Potra Clasica, one of two horses shipped for the Saturday stakes by Florida-based trainer Marty Wolfson. Potra Clasica was placed first through disqualification last out in a $40,000 Calder stakes, and a win in the Modesty would be the most important of her career.

That's also true for Atlantic Frost, who has improved steadily the last two years for trainer Mickey Goldfine, to the point that she is a legitimate threat to win the Modesty. Atlantic Frost tried the race last season, but drew poorly, raced wide and close to the pace, and finished 10th. At the time, Atlantic Frost remained more of a project than a polished horse, but in winning an overnight stakes here June 25 in her first start this season, and coming from well behind in a slow-paced race, Atlantic Frost suggested she has hit a new peak at age 5.

"This is about as even a race as I've seen in a long time," said Goldfine, "but she's doing really well, and I'm hoping she takes a step forward off that last race."

Goldfine fears a wet turf course, and there were torrential rains here Thursday morning, but the forecast for the next two days calls for dry, cool weather, and the grass figures to dry substantially for Saturday's three turf stakes.