09/27/2003 12:00AM

Despite shaky start, Cactus Ridge cruises

Benoit & Associates
Cactus Ridge remains undefeated while setting a stakes record in the Arlington-Washington Futurity.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - A brief stumble at the gate and an extra furlong could not stop Cactus Ridge from easily winning the Arlington-Washington Futurity on Saturday at Arlington Park.

Cactus Ridge now goes into the Breeders' Cup Juvenile undefeated in four starts.

Cactus Ridge used a tremendous burst of early speed to blow away the competition in the seven-furlong Ellis Park Juvenile on Aug. 17, but this time he had to dig in and run hard in the stretch. Cactus Ridge responded beautifully to the challenge, pulling away for a three-length victory while setting a stakes record of 1:35.44 for a mile on dirt in the Grade 3, $150,000 Futurity.

Owned by the Dream Walkin Farm of country singer Toby Keith, Cactus Ridge failed to meet his reserve when he passed through sales as a yearling and a 2-year-old, and there was speculation after a fast debut win here in June that Cactus Ridge would be sold. But Keith still has the colt, and now he has a Breeders' Cup horse.

Saturday, Cactus Ridge was unsettled in the gate, pawing the ground - "He's just so eager to get going," his trainer, Bret Calhoun, said - and he nearly blew the start.

"We stumbled a little bit, but the second stride he had regained his composure, the third stride he was out of the bridle," said jockey Eddie Martin.

Martin eased Cactus Ridge to the front, and the first quarter-mile was moderate, 23.03 seconds. "I was liking that," Martin said. But the slow pace meant his rivals were closer on the backstretch than they had been in his last two starts. Korbyn Gold and Glittergem tracked Cactus Ridge through a half-mile in 45.73 seconds, and turning for home, the outcome seemed uncertain.

Not for Martin. "I had so much horse in the stretch," he said. "I just flagged him a little, and he got another gear."

Glittergem won a three-way photo for second, finishing a neck in front of Texas Deputy. Korbyn Gold was fourth, followed by Orphan Brigade and Night Charger.

Cactus Ridge paid a paltry $2.40 to win and triggered a minus show pool greater than $60,000.

Lassie: Zosima wins in record time

Another stakes record fell in the $100,000 Arlington-Washington Lassie, where Zosima, under a perfect ride from Pat Day, wore down heavily favored Everyday Angel to win by one length.

Owned by the Darley operation of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum and trained by Eoin Harty, Zosima won her career debut by more than four lengths, but was a soundly beaten second here July 27 in the $53,000 Silver Maiden Stakes. She got back on track with a comfortable allowance victory Aug. 17, and came into the Lassie in strong form.

With just a big maiden win at Saratoga to her credit, Everyday Angel gave up seasoning to Zosima. Everyday Angel, who shipped in from Kentucky for trainer Pat Byrne, also may have felt the effects of an upper respiratory infection she battled two weeks ago.

Under Shane Sellers, Everyday Angel set a quick pace, 23 seconds for a quarter-mile and 45.97 for a half. Everyday Angel put away her pesky pace foe, Cryptos' Best, turning for home, but Zosima, who had stalked the leaders, attacked at the eighth pole. Under steady urging from Day, she drove clear for a convincing win, setting a stakes record of 1:36.02 for a mile on a fast main track.

The clear second choice, Zosima paid $7.40 to win, while Cryptos' Best held third over Lovely Afternoon.