06/24/2003 11:00PM

European makes attack on U.S.

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - The star turf mare Ipi Tombe makes her highly anticipated U.S. debut this weekend at Churchill Downs, and her long shadow extends all the way to Arlington.

Here, another overseas import, like Ipi Tombe owned by a Team Valor partnership and trained by Elliott Walden, runs for the first time in this country.

His name is European, he has started his career with two wins, and Team Valor is plenty high on this colt.

"We bought him about a month ago," said Barry Irwin, head of Team Valor. "I don't think I've bought a horse like him in 12 years."

European is an Irish colt by Great Commotion. Trained in Ireland by Conn Collins, he began his career last June with a win over 15 rivals at The Curragh. Put away for the rest of the season, European returned with another victory May 11 at Leopardstown.

The tentative plan for European, Irwin said, is to get started Saturday in the Arlington Classic, then return to Arlington for the Grade 1 Secretariat in August.

Irwin's name is way out there in the international horse market. He constantly fields calls from bloodstock agents trying to sell him horses. Irwin said "some guy we bought one horse from seven years ago" put him onto European, and Irwin was surprised the colt's connections were willing to sell.

"I had someone come up to me and ask how we pried the horse away from these gentlemen," said Irwin. "His form's superb, and he's got the right kind of style. He ran on the only left-handed course in Ireland. When the rider pressed the button, he just exploded."

The connections put European away after just one 2-year-old race, said Irwin, "because he's a big, gangly type."

European arrived here last Sunday. The Thursday before, he was sent from his training quarters to The Curragh to put in a major work with four horses, and, said Irwin, European easily outworked them.

"We're cracking, and we want to win this," he said.

Ten horses were entered Wednesday in the $175,000 Classic, the first leg of Arlington's Mid-American Triple for 3-year-old grass horses. Besides European, they are Lone Star Deputy, Lismore Knight, Good Day Too, Ontario, Remind, Distinguishable, Scottago, Herculated, and Rapid Proof.

Catalano, Calabrese replace Bourque

The surprising Arlington slump of owner Frank Calabrese and trainer Wayne Catalano drags on, and the operation has switched riders to try and come out of it. Curt Bourque was riding first call for Catalano and Calabrese as they came bursting out of the gate at this meet, but on Wednesday, Catalano said Bourque no longer is riding for the stable.

"We have to do something to shake things up," Catalano said. "This is what we're going to try."

Catalano liked the idea of having a set, first-call rider for his entries, but that won't be the case any more. "We'll be riding whoever," he said. "Whatever rider we think fits a particular horse."

Once a big leader in the trainer standings, Catalano has seen his lead cut down to one by trainer Gene Cilio. Near the beginning of this dry spell, Calabrese fired his stable manager, Steve Leving.

Ask the Lord thriving on dirt

Last season, when he was 6, the trajectory of Ask the Lord's career appeared to be spiraling downward. Once a fairly promising grass horse, Ask the Lord fell into $75,000, then $50,000 claimers. Decline comes calling for all racehorses, and Ask the Lord was fading.

But a funny thing happened on the way down. Ask the Lord got good, and not just for a race or two. He won last September at Arlington, won again this past winter at Fair Grounds, then ran creditably in four straight stakes races. He will run in another here Sunday as part of a compact field in the $100,000 Hanshin Handicap.

"He threw in enough clunkers on grass, we finally found out he was a better dirt horse," said trainer Al Stall. "We never really did anything differently."

Ask the Lord has been freshened since April - "We may have run too much this spring," Stall said - but has been hitting every work for the Hanshin. Starting in late May, Ask the Lord has breezed here every six to eight days, and he has worked well.

"He's a tough old gelding," Stall said. "He goes out and does everything the same every day."

El Condor takes to grass

Two second-level allowance races - one for males at nine furlongs on turf, the other for females at 5 1/2 furlongs on dirt - highlight Arlington's nine-race Friday program.

The grass races is the fourth, and in it El Condor and Mr Mississippi are the horses to beat. El Condor has raced just three times on turf and has found a home there with a win, a place, and a show. He led into deep stretch in his last start before losing by a neck to North of Six, a tough customer for the second allowance level.

El Condor, trained by Michelle Boyce and ridden by Zoe Cadman, and either will make the lead or get first run at the pacesetter.

Mr Mississippi hasn't raced since April, and is a 3-year-old taking on older horses, but has shown plenty of ability in his grass races.

The filly sprint allowance, race 8, features the North American debut of My Countess, who won both of her starts last year in Argentina. She races for owner Calabrese and trainer Catalano, and has to contend with two drop-ins from stakes company, Feisty Princess and Crow Jane.