08/03/2006 11:00PM

Diverse paths converge in Sprint prep

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CHICAGO - In October 2005, Elusive Jazz was in New York, finishing a close fifth of 11 in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, while down in Bossier City, La., Smalltown Slew was taking his shots in mid-level optional claiming races at Louisiana Downs. Sunday at Arlington their paths converge in the Better Bee, an overnight sprint stakes meant to serve as a local prep for the Aug. 26 Arlington BC Sprint, the lone graded sprint stakes for older horses in Chicago.

And while were separated by performance level as well as raw distance last fall, they may not be so far apart when it comes to guessing at a winner in the six-furlong Better Bee. Trainer Tom Amoss claimed Smalltown Slew for $30,000 last February, and after a second-place finish for a $32,000 claiming tag in April at Oaklawn, Smalltown Slew has won four in a row, rising from a $40,000 claiming price to $55,000 at Churchill, then to $80,000, and most recently winning a $50,000 stakes at Thistledown near Cleveland.

"It's been a progression," Amoss said. "So far it's worked, and when the wave hits the beach, we'll stop."

Smalltown Slew conjures up the name Robin De Nest, who rose to the class of stakes horse after Amoss claimed him during a Fair Grounds meet several seasons ago. Smalltown Slew, a 5-year-old, might not be at that level yet - but he is not far behind, either.

"I can't really tell you what's made him good," said Amoss. "We claimed a horse that we knew from previous races, and we thought he wanted to sprint, not route, which they had done with him the last couple times."

Elusive Jazz was mired in second-level sprint allowance races before leaping forward last summer, his breakthrough race a close second in the Arlington Sprint. He went on to win the Grade 3 Phoenix at Keeneland before his fifth in the Breeders' Cup, but after finishing sixth in the Grade 1 De Francis Dash, Elusive Jazz went to the sidelines because of a chipped bone in his ankle.

"He's training really well," said trainer Bobby Barnett. "This is a prep for the Arlington Sprint, and we look for him to run a big race."

, third in the Claiming Crown Rapid Transit last out, has the rail, while Wonone, a potential upsetter, might make the pace from post 4. Outside him is Alabama Clay, another threat to win, and Monkey Hill, second last weekend in the Don Bernhardt at Ellis Park.