08/29/2001 11:00PM

Dream Run's illness blessing in disguise


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - The promising colt Dream Run is set to make his return to racing Sunday at Arlington in the $55,000 Native Dancer, an overnight handicap for 3-year-olds at one mile.

Dream Run, owned by John Murphy and trained at Churchill Downs by Paul McGee, hasn't been out since finishing second in the April 28 Derby Trial at Churchill. Before that start, Dream Run finished third in the Illinois Derby, fourth in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, and second behind Hero's Tribute in a fast Gulfstream Park allowance race.

Dream Run contracted an upper-respiratory infection shortly after the Derby Trial and missed some training time. But after a long winter and spring campaign, Dream Run may actually have benefited from the down time.

"I do think he's stronger now," McGee said. "He's put on some weight, and he's doing as good as he's ever done."

McGee has put a series of regular five-furlong breezes into Dream Run to ready him for this race, and the last two were strong, including an Aug. 20 work in 1:00.60.

If the colt runs well Sunday, McGee will consider shortening him up for the Kentucky Cup Sprint on Sept. 22 at Turfway Park.

The field for the Native Dancer is coming up strong. Also considered likely to start are the Grade 1-placed Outofthebox, as well as stakes winners San Pedro and Tub Tosser.

Meanwhile, McGee reported that Bet on Sunshine came out of his narrow win in the Arlington Sprint last weekend in good shape. The 9-year-old Bet on Sunshine, third in the Breeders' Cup Sprint last season, is pointing for that race once again, and will follow the same schedule that took him there last year, with a final prep in the Phoenix Breeders' Cup at Keeneland.

Desert Sage goes in Top Flight

Anne Mitchell is so busy caring for the small string of horses she trains at Thistledown in Cleveland, doing everything from galloping to grooming to feeding, that a van ride to Arlington at 3 a.m. Friday will qualify as a mini-vacation.

"I ride in the back on a lawn chair with two sleeping bags and, as soon as it gets light, do all the reading I don't usually get to do," Mitchell said. The reason for Mitchell's trip is the 2-year-old filly Desert Sage, who "will stand there, just eating hay, drinking water, and looking out the window."

The pair will arrive fairly early Friday morning at Arlington, where Desert Sage might be favored in Saturday's $75,000 Top Flight Stakes. Thistledown shippers rarely merit that role, but Desert Sage proved her merits in a trip here July 25, when she beat a good allowance field going six furlongs, the same distance as the Top Flight.

Mitchell, 47, has long galloped

horses for top outfits, often in the popular winter training grounds at Aiken, S.C., but now, with a string of seven horses, six of whom are owned by Helen Andrews, Mitchell has emerged on the training scene. Racing mainly in Ohio and West Virginia, Mitchell has compiled a lofty win percentage this year by caring intimately for her stock and spotting them deftly at tracks around the region.

Mitchell said she loved Desert Sage, a Salt Lake filly, from the moment she first saw her on a racetrack. "I remember very, very clearly the first time I saw her galloping," she said. Mitchell, who has close personal relationships with all of her horses, does not train her stock hard. Desert Sage, for instance, has had but one breeze since her last race.

If Desert Sage has anything to prove, it is whether she can run as well on a dry racetrack. Her debut win at Thistledown came in the slop, and it was muddy when she won at Arlington.

Lunar Bounty eyes Spectacular Bid

Lunar Bounty, the 2-year-old colt who won the Grade 2 Bashford Manor Stakes at Churchill Downs but flopped two weeks ago in the Saratoga Special, breezed five furlongs in 1:00 Thursday at Arlington. Trainer Ronny Werner is pointing the colt to the $75,000 Spectacular Bid here Sept. 8.

"I don't like making excuses for horses," Werner said Thursday from Saratoga. "But I really don't think he cared for the track" when he was beaten 17 lengths at Saratoga. "[Jockey] Frankie [Lovato] was having to push on him in the first eighth of a mile. He was spent when he got back."

Lunar Bounty, by the obscure sire Migrating Moon, won his maiden at first asking on this racetrack, and Werner wasted no time shipping him back here after his last race. If Lunar Bounty runs well next weekend, he will be pointed for the Arlington-Washington Futurity.