09/03/2001 12:00AM

Happy turnaround for Zarb's Magic


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - What trainer Louis Roussel saw in Zarb's Magic over the winter at Fair Grounds wasn't visible to everyone. Zarb's Magic, a stakes winner who had fallen off the map, had withered down to skin and bone. A few days after Roussel bought him privately, Zarb's Magic stood listlessly in his stall, threatened people who tried to handle him and practically refused to train. The winner of the 1996 Arkansas Derby and $780,456 could not even win a $10,000 claiming race.

You would not recognize the 8-year-old gelding today. Monday morning at Roussel's Arlington barn, Zarb's Magic tussled with assistant trainer Lara Van Daren and nickered as he heard the feed cart being wheeled about the barn. You could not see his ribs, and there were even dapples popping out of his chestnut coat.

An old bowed tendon in his right front leg still needs to be monitored, and Zarb's Magic still regularly bleeds through Lasix, but Roussel and Van Daren have managed to turn the gelding's form around. When he runs Wednesday in a $25,000 claiming race, Zarb's Magic enters on a two-race win streak.

Zarb's Magic began coming around when his physical problems were properly addressed and his needs started to be met. "At first he would fight with me," Van Daren said. "He just thought everything people did to him was bad. But after a month of fighting, he started accepting it. At first, he would wheel around every time I came into the stall, threatening me. He never does that now."

It's great that Zarb's Magic has regained his form, but Van Daren, cozying up to Zarb's Magic in his stall Monday, said she's just happy the gelding regained his will to live. "I'll kill anyone who claims him," she said.

Sellers back in winner's circle

On Sunday, jockey Shane Sellers, who came back from a career-threatening injury here last month, won his first races since returning to action. Sellers piloted Bet on Joe to an upset win in the fourth race, then won again three races later on the favored Summerhill Gal.

"It felt great," Sellers told Arlington television host Christine Gabriel. "I'm still a couple weeks away from being 100 percent, but if I can get back to riding the kind of horses I was riding, I'll be okay."

Sellers badly injured his knee over the winter at Fair Grounds when the first-time starter Hike threw him during the warm-up period for a race. Sellers wasn't sure he would be able to ride again, and has been pursuing a career as a country-music singer.

During his time off, Sellers lost his agent, Ronnie Ebanks, who now handles Mark Guidry's book. Sellers is represented now by Dennis Cooper, who also handles Arlington's leading rider, Rene Douglas. On Monday, Sellers was to ride Pass Rush, the likely favorite in the Cradle Stakes at River Downs.

San Pedro: Illinois or Iowa Derby next

The progressing Illinois-bred 3-year-old colt San Pedro is headed to either the Indiana Derby or Ohio Derby after winning the Native Dancer Handicap here Sunday.

San Pedro had sore shins last summer after making just one start and suffered a hairline fracture of the cannon bone when in peak form this winter. He has come through his injuries no worse for wear. In the Native Dancer, a one-mile overnight stakes for 3-year-olds, he beat a solid field and recorded the fastest mile time of this meet, 1:35.60.

"Of course he didn't come back tired," a happy trainer Spanky Broussard joked Monday morning. "I don't lead them over there short."

The Native Dancer was run around one turn, and Broussard thinks that San Pedro may be even better in two-turn races. San Pedro won his first two-turn race, the Fair Grounds Sales Stakes this winter, but was defeated in the nine-furlong Round Table Stakes here.

Lassie next for Vicki Vallencourt

Vicki Vallencourt, upset winner of the Top Flight Stakes here Saturday, will start next in the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Lassie here provided she continues to train well up to the race.

Vicki Vallencourt is 2 for 2 now having won her maiden in a $50,000 claiming race here Aug. 22.

In the Top Flight, she ran the way Robertson expected, rating behind the early pace and rallying wide, on the best part of the racetrack, for the win. "She's a nice, big, strong filly with a good temperament," Robertson said. "I don't think she'll have any trouble with a mile," the distance of the Lassie. "I would think two turns would be good for her."