08/22/2001 12:00AM

Douglas establishes himself - again

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Just in case some uninitiated locals were unaware: This Arlington meet is not the first rodeo for Rene Douglas.

Douglas came to Arlington with some pretty flashy credentials, which makes it entirely understandable why the 34-year-old jockey has been a major force in his first season here. As the 102-day meet hit its midpoint following the Wednesday card, Douglas had a comfortable lead atop the jockey standings.

Since coming to the United States in 1983, Douglas has been highly competitive riding regularly in Florida, Southern California, and New York. At 23, he won the Washington D.C. International, then a prestigious Grade 1 at Laurel, on Caltech. In 1996, he won the Belmont Stakes aboard Editor's Note for D. Wayne Lukas.

Since teaming with Dennis Cooper, who long has been the most sought-after agent on this circuit, Douglas again has confirmed his status as a world-class rider. The only Arlington regulars considered his equal are perennial Chicago champion Mark Guidry, who is riding at Saratoga this summer, and Robby Albarado, who came to the Arlington meet late after riding in Kentucky.

"I'm very, very happy here," said Douglas. "I like this area, and I like the racing."

Douglas, a Panama native, said he hopes to become an Arlington fixture. His wife and three young sons spent the summer here before returning last week to the family home in Aventura, Fla., just a few minutes from Gulfstream Park. Douglas is hoping to establish the following circuit for himself: Gulfstream through late April, Arlington in the summer and fall, and Tropical-at-Calder in December.

"I'd like to be able to take a month off sometimes," he said. "This is one of the hardest sports, and in some places you can't even take a week off. I've been working very hard for a long time and I'd like to take a break."

When he is working, Douglas goes all out. His extremely polished riding style is characterized by patience, strength, and a honed ability to find the right holes to maneuver through. His talent is accentuated in grass races; through last weekend, Douglas had won a meet-high 17 turf races from 69 mounts (24 percent).

"I love riding on the grass," he said.

"He's a smart rider who's getting on good horses, and that's what it takes to make it, talent and stock," Albarado said of Douglas. "He's riding with confidence right now, that's for sure."

With Albarado scheduled to leave to ride at Keeneland in October, Douglas seemingly has a base on balls in becoming leading rider here. But the title is not very important to him; establishing himself on what he hopes will become a circuit for many years is.

"This is really working out for me," he said.

Trio of allowances highlight card

Three allowance races are scheduled for Friday, when first post is 3 p.m. The richest is the eighth race, a $43,000 sprint for fillies and mares, with the probable favorites being O Lo, Triple Threat, and Asheville.

The other allowances on the 10-race program, each worth $41,000, are carded as the sixth and 10th.

The last Friday with a twilight post time will be Sept. 28. First post daily during October will move to 12:30 p.m.

* The annual Arlington golf outing, open to the public, has been scheduled for Sept. 11 at Maple Meadows in Woodale, Ill. Cost is $85 per person, with proceeds going to the Horsemen Helping Horsemen organization. For more information, call Dennis Petrucelli at (847) 385-7643.

* A field of at least eight older horses is likely for the $100,000 Arlington Sprint here Saturday. Bet on Sunshine, shipping in from Churchill Downs, is the 123-pound highweight in the six-furlong race.