08/02/2005 11:00PM

Don't let Fairmount address fool you


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Seven horses were entered Wednesday for Saturday's $150,000 Sea O'Erin Handicap. The favorites are the New York-based Remind and the Chicago-based Fort Prado. Gin and Sin, Old Deuteronomy, and Parker Run call Louisville, Ky., home this summer, while Gondolieri, like Fort Prado, has been training in Chicago.

And then there is Mr. Mabee, who toils away in obscurity in Collinsville, Ill., at tiny Fairmount Park. But the last time they let this guy out of his cage, he dominated a decent field in the $122,000 Claiming Crown Emerald at Canterbury Park, winning by more than five lengths. And with only two career starts on turf, Mr. Mabee, claimed for just $17,500 in April, might still have more to give.

"Well, hell, the owner will take a gamble, so let's step the horse up and see if he can make the grade," said Jimmy Zook, who trains Mr. Mabee for owner Bill Stiritz.

Refreshingly, Zook has yet to attend trainer's finishing school. Rather than measure his words for political effect, he shoots from the hip. He also does just about everything else in Stiritz's vast and still-growing operation. A blacksmith for 20 years, the 47-year-old Zook shoes his own horses, breaks his own yearlings, and hauls shippers like Mr. Mabee by driving the horse van himself. Five-foot-five and by his guess 200 pounds, Zook also will ride his own stock in a pinch.

"If I don't like the way a horse is going, I'll gallop one myself," he said. "They saw me out on the track at Canterbury and they said, 'Who's that good-looking horse with the fat guy on him?' "

Mr. Mabee, by Storm Cat out of a Flying Paster mare, was first campaigned by WinStar Farm and trainer Elliott Walden, but after only one win in six races, and two terrible tries to start this season, Mr. Mabee wound up in a conditioned claimer at Hawthorne. Zook convinced Stiritz to go for the horse, and then spent the next month trying to set Mr. Mabee right.

"I tell you, his feet were killing him," Zook said. "They had some square-toed shoes on him, and being a blacksmith for 20 years I didn't like that at all. His ankles were warm, and I think it was coming from the feet. We worked on his hocks a little bit - I think that was from trying to get off his front feet. I just put some queen's plates" - standard horseshoes - "on him, and he started going better."

Mr. Mabee also had laser surgery to remove a vocal cord that was affecting his ability to get his air during heavy exertion, and that has also boosted his performance level, Zook said.

"I'm really tickled with the way he's coming around," he said. "I think he still is getting better, and I have no reservations about putting him where we're putting him."

As well as he ran in the Claiming Crown, Mr. Mabee will need more Saturday. Fort Prado is the sharpest middle-distance grass horse in training at Arlington, and Remind has long been a graded-stakes-class turf miler.

Up to 13 pre-entries expected for Million

If trainer Graham Motion wants to pre-enter both Better Talk Now and his rabbit Shake the Bank in the Arlington Million, there probably will be room for both. The Million can accommodate 14 horses, and after Prince Arch and the European Hazyview were declared from the race, the number of expected pre-entries, not counting Motion's pair, stood at 11 as of Wednesday.

Motion said earlier this week that he probably would pre-enter both horses by the midnight Friday deadline, but that he still was leaning toward running Better Talk Now in the Sword Dancer at Saratoga.

The loss of Hazyview, whose travel plans hit a snag, is at least mildly significant, since he was fourth last out in the Group 1 Eclipse Stakes in England.

Another European, New Morning, was taken out of the Beverly D., leaving seven overseas shippers expected for Arlington's three Grade 1 turf races on Aug. 13. The Irish colt Merger, sixth in the American Derby, has stayed for the Secretariat Stakes, and breezed seven furlongs in 1:34.60 on the Arlington turf Wednesday, working in company with the 3-year-old filly Whimsy. Eight horses are now expected for the Secretariat, with Rey de Cafe reportedly bowing out in favor of the Hall of Fame Stakes at Saratoga.

West Virginia Derby next for Devilment

Devilment will make his next start in the Aug. 14 West Virginia Derby rather than the Haskell Invitational this weekend, trainer Mike Stidham said Wednesday. Devilment, an impressive winner of the Round Table Stakes here last out, worked an easy half-mile in 50 seconds here Sunday.

Lord of the Game also could be headed to Mountaineer for an Aug. 14 race, with his connections weighing a start there in the $125,000 West Virginia Governor's Stakes. Trainer Tom Tomillo said that Lord of the Game, most recently second in the Claiming Crown Jewel, also could start in an overnight stakes race at Arlington later this month.

* The Friday feature here, a strong high-end sprint allowance, drew a field of six horses. The race pits the Illinois-bred Big Bold Sweep against Fifteen Rounds, the horse with the fastest six-furlong time this meet.

* Coach Jimi Lee stumbled badly and dumped his rider at the start of Saturday's Don Bernhardt Stakes at Ellis Park but emerged from the mishap unscathed, trainer Jim DiVito said.

* The prominent owner Charlotte Weber, who will be honored next week with Arlington's Penny Chenery Distinguished Woman in Racing Award, has pledged a $50,000 matching gift challenge over the next five years toward Arlington's annual Riding for a Cure cancer research benefit event.