07/25/2006 12:00AM

Former ace 3-year-old trying again


CHICAGO - It could be as few as six for the Washington Park Handicap, or as many as nine, but put a circle around Second of June's name - he's on his way.

Saturday's $300,000 Washington Park, Chicago's most important main-track route race of the season, will be much more a Midwest than a national affair, but the race still has a solid backbone, anchored by Perfect Drift, who won the race last year and in 2003.

Also expected to run are Suave, who beat Second of June by a nose when they met June 16 at Churchill; Three Hour Nap, second last out in the Grade 2 Cornhusker Handicap; Nolan's Cat; and Real Dandy.

The possibles are O'Connell's, Clear the Way, and Seek Gold, a huge upset winner of the Grade 1 Stephen Foster earlier this summer.

Second of June and trainer Bill Cesare were headed to Arlington from Churchill Downs on Tuesday, the horse back on track after returning last month from the second long injury-related layoff of his career.

One of the most promising early-season 3-year-olds of 2003, Second of June fractured a cannon bone after finishing second in the Fountain of Youth Stakes. And after a near-win last spring in the Oaklawn Park Handicap, Second of June was quarantined at Churchill Downs because of an outbreak of equine herpesvirus just as he was supposed to ship to Maryland for the Pimlico Special. A month later, he was out of action again with an ankle problem.

"That's the game, that's the nature of this game," said Cesare, who trains Second of June for his mother, Barbara Cesare, and once played in the NFL. "Things happen in this sport - horses get hurt, football players get hurt."

Up until his injury at 3, Second of June had a steady campaign, putting a string of regularly spaced races together, but his development since then has come in fits and starts, and Cesare would like to keep Second of June on track long enough for the horse to make his mark.

"We feel like he's one of the top horses in the country," Cesare said. "We felt that way when he was a 2-year-old, when he was a 3-year-old, and we felt that way when he was 4-year-old and he ran at Oaklawn."

* Eight horses were entered in Arlington's featured eighth race Thursday, a third-level allowance with a $62,500 claiming option carded for about five furlongs on turf. There's a chance of rain in the forecast all week, and a switch from turf to dirt would probably make this race easier to handicap, since this group has combined to win only three times in 37 grass starts.