07/06/2004 12:00AM

El Condor can take it to next level


CHICAGO - There is little doubt El Condor is good enough to win the featured seventh race Thursday at Arlington Park. But he might need a rousing pep talk, preferably of the "You gotta want it" variety.

has started 11 times on turf, and he is quite decent. But in six of his starts, El Condor has finished second, and paired up with one lonely win, his grass record makes one suspect El Condor is not on full throttle at the wire.

"He seems to be kind of a perennial second-place horse," said trainer Michelle Boyce. "It gets to the point where he seems to be aiming for second. When it happens six or seven times, you start to wonder."

El Condor is part of a full field entered in Thursday's seventh race, which is carded for second-level allowance horses at about one mile on turf. Second-level allowance races are what El Condor is all about. He cleared his first allowance condition in April of 2003 and since then has finished second six times and third twice at this class level.

Why expect a breakthrough? First, El Condor has been broken of his habit of going to the front and waiting on horses in the stretch. He did that several times last season. Boyce and company have taught El Condor to rate and rally, tactics that were used with some success in his two turf races this season. But El Condor still has found a way not to win.

El Condor might simply run to the level of competition, but has faced stronger horses than this in his two recent turf losses. There is speed to set up his late run, and Rene Douglas, El Condor's rider, has been tearing things up the last couple weeks.

Douglas and agent Dennis Cooper had choices to make in the Thursday feature. Douglas rode a horse named Public Official to a win in his last start, but he and Cooper took El Condor and the dirt-only horse Arbitrate ahead of him.

"I hope he's wrong," said Paul Lewellyn, who started training Public Official when Jeffrey and Joanne Richards bought him privately this past spring. In two starts since then, Public Official finished second and first, his recent win a solid score over 11 entry-level turf allowance foes.

There are other contenders, like Saltire, Iceanwater, and Major Frank. All can be considered for the top slot with El Condor in the race.