11/04/2003 12:00AM

Dillinger looks ready to rebound

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Dillinger, a very profitable claim for trainer Steve Attard in 2001, is the horse to beat in Thursday's Woodbine headliner, an $80,000 optional claimer for 3-year-olds and up.

Attard took Dillinger in October 2001 for $40,000 from Dillinger's second and final 2-year-old outing. Dillinger was winless in 12 starts in 2002, but he hit the board on nine occasions and banked $126,552 on the year. The highlight of his campaign was a close second-place finish on turf in the restricted Bold Ruckus Stakes.

Dillinger has two wins in eight outings this year, and has earned nearly $150,000 for the Astor Racing Stable. He ran the race of his life Aug. 23 in the 6 1/2-furlong Shepperton Stakes, which he lost by a neck to Forever Grand, who has a big shot to capture this year's Sovereign Award as champion sprinter. Dillinger subsequently ran third as the favorite in an $80,000 optional claimer, and is coming off a rare out-of-the money finish in an $80,000 grass event.

Jono Jones retains the mount on Dillinger, who finished second in his lone attempt at seven furlongs, the distance of Thursday's race.

Challenging Dillinger will be Line of Defense, Potato Lad, Awesome Action, and All Star Lover.

Awesome Action, owned in part by Detroit Red Wings goaltender Curtis Joseph, has had a productive meeting, winning two of nine starts and $126,769. He was on the Queen's Plate trail in the spring but never made it to the Plate and has done most of his best running in sprints.

Awesome Action rallied stoutly in the two path, over an inside-biased track, when he won a second-level allowance at seven furlongs Oct. 10. Trainer Sue Leslie sent him out to work five furlongs last Friday, and he went in 1:02.20.

Late-running Line of Defense would probably be better off in a larger field containing more speed, although it wouldn't be surprising to see him garner a top-three placing. Both of Line of Defense's victories this year came at seven furlongs, one on turf, and the other in his last outing, against $62,500 opposition, in which he rallied wide from nearly 10 lengths off a fast pace to prevail by a neck.

Potato Lad won a six-furlong preliminary allowance on the front end Oct. 9, but most recently got cooked in a pace battle going long. He has a poor seven-furlong record, but could challenge if he ends up pressing a moderate pace.