10/06/2003 11:00PM

Drought could end for Rufus the Glider

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CHICAGO - Sometimes it can take months to win a race. A horse may be talented enough, even healthy enough, to knock out a victory, but for long stretches no suitable spot will arise.

That is what has befallen Rufus the Glider, an Illinois-bred gelding who has not won in nearly five months. He had better have his mind on running Thursday in the eighth race at Hawthorne, because the long wait could finally come to an end.

Rufus the Glider was one of 11 horses entered in a second-level statebred allowance at six furlongs on dirt, a spot his connections have not found in months. Rufus the Glider cruised to a maiden win at Hawthorne May 3 and easily won a first-level statebred allowance at Arlington later that month. But tough opponents and bad luck led to an eighth-place finish in the Springfield Stakes in June, and he floundered on grass in his next two starts before trainer Percy Scherbenske gave Rufus the Glider a break.

Lacking a better option, Rufus the Glider made his comeback in a tough open allowance race Sept. 24 at Arlington. He finished eighth after getting shuffled back at the start, but the conditioning from that race should set Rufus the Glider up for one of his better races Thursday.

"The only reason he was in open [company] is the Illinois-bred dirt races didn't go for him," Scherbenske said. "Things should definitely be a little easier over at Hawthorne."

Scherbenske was looking forward to a summer of grass racing with Rufus the Glider, but was dismayed to find his horse had no affinity for turf.

"He's really bred for the grass," Scherbenske said. "I trained his mother, and she loved grass. But I think his two worst races were his grass races. Just because they're bred for it doesn't mean they'll like it."

Rufus the Glider's maiden win shows he likes the Hawthorne surface, which is half the battle. Rufus the Glider might be best as a closing sprinter and should have ample pace to chase in Thursday's race.

Unlock the Vault and Moscow Caper also figure to run late, and both merit win consideration. The knock on Unlock the Vault is his tendency to find trouble and lose focus, but he finally cleared his first allowance condition late last month at Arlington. Moscow Caper was eligible for a first-level allowance when he won a second-level race in his last start; he runs back at the same class level, but horses have a tendency to regress in that situation.