07/18/2002 11:00PM

Douglas top gun in Land of Lincoln


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - He came, he saw, he conquered. After just one full season and a third of another here, jockey Rene Douglas rules the Arlington rider colony, plain and simple.

Last season, Douglas won 134 races here, more than double the total of his closet pursuer. The emergence of the hot apprentice Elvis Trujillo has kept this jockey's race tighter than expected, but Trujillo has lost his bug now and Douglas is pulling away. After Thursday, he led by nine wins with 50.

Moreover, Douglas has won all three graded stakes at the meet and is on live horses in this weekend's graded races: Slider in the Hanshin Cup on Saturday and Mananan Mclir, the likely favorite Sunday in the American Derby.

Douglas has ridden with confidence and aplomb all meet. Because of that, and because his agent, Dennis Cooper, is constantly hustling, Douglas has his pick of the best ship-ins besides getting a steady diet of live local horses. And as it is at any other racetrack, the jockey considered to be most talented rider at a meet looks even better because he often rides the best horses.

"Rene's a very good rider," said Randy Meier, at 48 one of the senior members of this jockey colony. "But whenever you're riding the best horse, or training the best horse, it makes you look pretty good.

"I like riding with Rene," Meier said. "Some guys like him, but then there are some that are jealous of him."

There's a lot to be jealous of, especially the $1.5 million in purses Douglas has earned in less than two months. But if the surge of success has gone to his head, it is not immediately evident.

Polite and friendly, Douglas has a good reputation on the backstretch for helping out with morning works and acting like a professional.

But nowhere is his reputation better than on the grass course. Douglas already has won 12 turf races at the meet, and he piloted Mr. Mellon to win the Grade 2 Arlington Classic and Cetewayo in the Grade 3 Stars and Stripes Breeders' Cup.

For trainer Chris Block, Douglas gave Mystery Giver a perfect ride to win the $75,000 Cardinal Handicap, another grass stakes.

"I hate to tell him anything before he rides a grass race," Block said. "He always seems to find room, and he always seems to know where the seam is going to be. When he goes out there, you just have the sense that he has all the confidence."

Douglas rides for just about everybody here, but his most important regular client is trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, who doesn't want to pigeonhole Douglas as a grass rider.

"He's good on everything, not just turf," Hollendorfer said. "But his style of riding does seem to fit this grass course. He's real steady and he doesn't get too excited out there."

Hollendorfer also nailed Douglas' major selling point at his summer quarters. "He just wins races, that's that."

Halo Cat going in tough sprint

It didn't take Hollendorfer long to find a spot for Halo Cat, the hot new horse in his barn. Halo Cat joined Hollendorfer's Arlington string less than two weeks ago after being privately purchased, and he races here in Sunday's seventh race, a 5 1/2-furlong allowance with a stakes caliber field.

Halo Cat came strongly to hand this spring and has reeled off four straight wins, most recently beating the good sprinter Beau's Town by more than four lengths at Louisiana Downs.

After Halo Cat worked

a strong half-mile here Thursday, Hollendorfer felt the colt was ready to roll. "I was looking at this spot, but a lot depended on if I was going to be able to get Douglas."

He did, and Halo Cat is in, but the race is tougher than anyone could have envisioned. Chief among Halo Cat's rivals is Talknow, the amazing $5,000 starter allowance horse that has won seven of his last nine starts. Talknow beat a good field in an overnight handicap here June 30 and his headed toward a start in the Claiming Crown next month.

Doyle gets first U.S. victories

The seven-pound apprentice rider Michael Doyle won for the first time in the United States on Wednesday, taking the first race here on the Elmer Miller-trained Money Stretcher. Doyle won again Thursday with Eagle Reigns.

A 21-year-old native of County Wexford, Ireland, Doyle rode 13 winners last year in England. He rode briefly this winter at Gulfstream Park but did not win a race there.