03/29/2006 1:00AM

Devilofarush a contender on the upswing

Vassar Photography
Cause to Believe, winning the California Derby, will try the Illinois version.

STICKNEY, Ill. - Trainer Mike Maker and owner Ron Peltz just took down first prize last weekend in the $500,000 Lane's End Stakes with 48-1 shot With a City, but that's not the only weapon in their 3-year-old arsenal.

Maker confirmed on Monday that he and Peltz plan to start Devilofarush next Saturday in the $500,000 Illinois Derby. And yes, Devilofarush will be a longshot, but he won't look as improbable on paper as With a City did in the Lane's End.

Devilofarush, in fact, was here at Hawthorne on March 14, winning an open allowance prep for the Illinois Derby by three lengths. There were only three others in the race, and his winning time of 1:47 for 1 1/16 miles didn't seem especially fast, even on a dull racing surface. But Devilofarush earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 92 for the win, and has obviously improved in his last two starts, both wins in route races.

"We always thought he'd be a route horse, but the first couple times we ran him long he kind of flattened out," Maker said. "The last two times, he obviously finished much better."

Devilofarush began his career last May at Arlington, finishing last in a maiden special weight race. Because Devilofarush had run so poorly, Maker and Peltz decided to risk him for a $30,000 claiming price in his second start, and the prominent owner Bob Bone jumped in with a claim and took Devilofarush to California. When he showed up for a $32,000 claiming price at Hollywood Park in July, Peltz took him back.

"We won a five-way shake to get him back," Maker said.

Since then, Devilofarush has raced at eight different racetracks, run long on turf, dirt, and Polytrack, and raced in sprints on turf, dirt, and Polytrack. Devilofarush definitely is versatile, and appears to have gotten good at the right time.

"He's doing great, and he's had a really good winter," Maker said. "We're taking a jump up in class, but hopefully he's ready."

Cause to Believe due in next week

Cause to Believe, who projects as the Illinois Derby favorite, is scheduled to ship from his home base at Golden Gate Fields on Tuesday, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said.

"We hope we have a horse good enough to take the next step, and the Illinois Derby's that step," Hollendorfer said Monday.

Cause to Believe has swept the northern California 3-year-old route stakes, having most recently won the California Derby by four lengths to remain unbeaten in two-turn races. Cause to Believe had a good six-furlong work on Friday, and Hollendorfer plans to give the colt his final Illinois Derby work before leaving home, but just when that work will take place depends on the weather, Hollendorfer said.

"We're in the middle of a rainstorm, and he needs a good track to work," he said.

Racing officials here have listed 11 horses, including Cause to Believe and Devilofarush, as probable Illinois Derby starters, but the field may not fully take shape before next week. Sweetnorthernsaint, who could challenge Cause to Believe for favoritism, may well end up here on April 8, but trainer Mike Trombetta said he would wait until the end of the week to pick his horse's next spot.

"If I had to guess, I'd say he'd probably run," Trombetta said. "It'll be between there and the Wood."

If he comes, Sweetnorthernsaint - who finished third by less than a length in the Gotham - almost certainly will ship by van, said Trombetta.

Warren Stute, his son Glen, and owner B. Wayne Hughes won the 2005 Illinois Derby with Greeley's Galaxy, and they're coming back with Mister Triester, most recently fourth in the March 4 Santa Catalina Stakes. Mister Triester is shipping in early, scheduled to arrive here Friday after flying from California to Kentucky the day before.

And finally, Todd Pletcher confirmed Monday that his Illinois Derby starter will be My Golden Song. Fourth in the Fountain of Youth last out, My Golden Song is scheduled to ship from Florida to Kentucky on April 3, and will van to Hawthorne the day before he races.

First twilight card: 3 p.m. post

A pair of second-level allowance races, one written for open company and the other restricted to Illinois-breds, highlight Friday's card, the first of National Jockey Club's twilight programs this season. First post Friday is 3 p.m., and several enticements are being offered to ontrack patrons, including reduced admission and discounts on concession items.

There are just six horses in race 4, the open allowance, but the race still is tough to figure.

Pentelicus Dance just returned from Florida, where she faced much stronger competition, but though she could easily improve Friday, Pentelicus Dance has just two wins from 25 career starts. Keystone Gulch looked good winning here March 5, but beat only four rivals in a race restricted to 3-year-olds, while Clever Comique will appreciate returning to a sprint race after a third-place finish in a rare two-turn appearance the last time she raced. And finally there is Internship, who stands a decent chance to improve off a distant third-place finish two weeks ago in a race at this class level.

Race 7, the Illinois-bred allowance, will see the return of Alabama Clay, who won two in a row here last fall before flopping in an Illinois-bred stakes race and a pair of open allowance races at the Fair Grounds meet at Louisiana Downs.

* The Tom Tomillo barn won three races each on Sunday and Monday to seize the lead in the trainer standings. Through Monday, Tomillo had 17 victories at the meet, four more than Brian Williamson.