07/02/2003 11:00PM

Dr. Brendler keeps his trainer rooting for rain


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Trainer Graham Motion has kept one eye fixed on the national weather map the last several days. It's common practice for a horseman pointing a grass horse to a stakes race, as Motion has been with Dr. Brendler.

But there's one slight twist to Motion's designs - instead of avoiding rain, he is trying to steer into it.

"It's a little unusual to be looking for wet weather with a grass horse," Motion said Wednesday afternoon.

But Dr. Brendler is a little unusual. Many grass horses struggle to get their footing on sodden turf courses, but for Dr. Brendler, the wetter the better. He raced over a bog May 17 in the Dixie Handicap at Pimlico and out-kicked top Canadian turf horse Perfect Soul. Motion found Dr. Brendler's preferred going again three weeks later in the Grade 1 Manhattan Handicap, where he rallied in deep stretch to finish less than two lengths behind Denon, one of the best 10- to 12-furlong grass horses in the country.

Wednesday, Motion said Dr. Brendler was "80-20" to fly Thursday to Chicago for Saturday's Stars and Stripes Handicap. Motion was looking at the weather here and in New Jersey, where Dr. Brendler could have run in the Grade 1 United Nations Handicap. But Thursday morning, Motion said Dr. Brendler "was sitting on the runway at Kennedy" airport, waiting to leave for Arlington. And Motion surely would be pleased to know the skies at Arlington were darkening Thursday afternoon.

Still, there's another component to Dr. Brendler's recent surge - distance. Motion stretched Dr. Brendler out to 1 1/2 miles in an April 5 allowance race at Keeneland - Dr. Brendler won, and has been a different horse ever since.

"The Keeneland race was a turning point for him," Motion said. "He was running good races at Gulfstream, but they were just too short. In hindsight, maybe I would have been better putting him in one of those long-distance stakes, but I wanted to keep him in his conditions."

Apparently, the only conditions Dr. Brendler really needs are wet ones.

El Ruller runs for new connections

From top to bottom, Saturday's card may be the best of the Arlington meet. Besides the Stars and Stripes, there are promising maidens racing, as well as a nine-furlong overnight handicap for 3-year-olds that serves as a prep for the July 26 Round Table.

Seven were entered in the handicap, race 5 on a 10-race card, and the best of them may be El Ruller, who makes his first start since being purchased privately by owners William and Suzanne Warren. Turned over to trainer Tom Amoss, El Ruller has been training with aplomb at Churchill Downs.

"We've gotten a little creative working him on the grass," Amoss said Thursday. "His works really have all been very good."

El Ruller was based at Woodbine for much of his career, and when Wando destroyed the field in the Queen's Plate there, it meant a lot to El Ruller's new connections. El Ruller faced Wando in his last two starts, finishing third behind him April 19 and second in the Grade 3 Marine May 17.

"I liked his progression on the Ragozin sheets," Amoss said. "He had a very progressive line, and he ran well in his only route."

Even if he runs well, El Ruller has competition. Grendel showed enough promise that trainer Al Stall tried him in the Lone Star Derby May 10, but Grendel raced in traffic the whole trip and never made a move. In his last start, Grendel finished a distant third in his turf debut at Churchill Downs, and last week Stall said he wanted to try Grendel, a scopey, long-striding colt, on Arlington's sweeping turns.

Also dangerous is Bannock Burner, who began his career with two wins - one on turf and one on dirt - for trainer Mike Stidham.

Beret will try to take next step

Beret, a sharp allowance winner here Wednesday, has been penciled in for the Grade 3 Modesty Handicap here July 26. Beret has never tried a graded stakes race, but earned a chance with her second win in as many starts this year.

Beret launched a bid behind a slow pace midway through Wednesday's eighth race, and suddenly he and jockey Chris Emigh found themselves right on top of the leaders. "She made the lead and kind of threw her ears up on me," Emigh said.

Beret still won comfortably, and impressed with her quick acceleration.

"She came out of the race great. She was fine this morning," said Brian Williamson, trainer Harvey Vanier's assistant and son-in-law. "It seems like she's relaxing more this year. Last year, she wanted to lay a little closer."