09/03/2001 11:00PM

DQ'd Saint Damien to make amends


CHICAGO - Phase three of Arlington's marathon 4 1/2-month meet begins this week. Gone is the Summer Festival, with its heightened purse structure, the dramatic build-up to the Arlington Million, and a steady stream of live runners from Kentucky.

September meets at Turfway Park and Kentucky Downs will take some Kentucky-based horses from Arlington's meet, and gradually, by October, when Keeneland opens, racing will look here very much like it does when the Chicago scene shifts to Hawthorne in November.

Thursday's Arlington feature, a second-level turf allowance, would have offered a $43,000 purse last week, but with the end of the Summer Festival, the four entrants run instead for $32,000. Yet with the presence of Saint Damien, a trace of the Festival remains.

Saint Damien far outran his 37-1 odds three weeks ago, finishing fourth and beaten by less than two lengths, in the Grade 1 Secretariat on Million Day. He finds a far easier spot Thursday, facing several horses he already defeated on July 27, when he won a race at this allowance level but was disqualified for bumping Raypour just before the finish line.

"They took that one away from us," trainer Ken McPeek said Tuesday from his base at Churchill Downs.

McPeek is coming off a great weekend with 2-year-olds. He won the Cradle Stakes at River Downs with Harlan's Holiday and finished second at Arlington with Don't Ruffle Me in the Top Flight.

Saint Damien, who is stabled at Arlington with assistant trainer Sally Schu, has found a home on turf in his last two starts, and will remain there in the foreseeable future. McPeek was looking at other stakes races for the colt, but rather than ship to the East Coast, he decided to keep Saint Damien at home for Thursday's race.

"You run when he's doing good," McPeek said. "That's why he's in Thursday. In the Secretariat, we had nothing to lose and everything to gain."

Saint Damien cuts back from 10 furlongs in the Secretariat to nine furlongs in this allowance, but though McPeek said, "he's made to go one-and-a-quarter miles and he'll go a mile and a half," the distance should fall within the colt's range. Leading rider Rene Douglas has a return call.

Saint Damien meets a solid field, and three of his rivals come off wins. However, the pick to fill out the exacta, Idarado, exits a subpar performance, having finished fifth in his last start. A lightly raced 5-year-old, Idarado still has not hit his ceiling and may rebound on Thursday.